By Casey Gale
After 20 years serving as dean and director of Westminster Choir College (WCC) and Westminster College of the Arts (WCA), Robert Annis has announced his retirement. His final day at the university will be Dec. 31, 2014.
When reflecting on his time as dean, Annis said that he felt he had accomplished his part in helping WCC find success.
“When I came here in 1994, WCC had just merged with Rider and had struggled in the late ’80s and early ’90s,” he said. “The fact that the Choir College is now flourishing, stable and strong, and that those particular challenges are behind us, is very satisfying.”
Annis said that while WCC already had a terrific heritage and legacy when he arrived, the challenge was to “bring innovation, bring more breadth and more vitality to a school that had struggled before it merged with Rider.”
The evolution of the college led to the development of WCA in 2007, which comprises WCC, the School of Fine and Performing Arts and Westminster Conservatory.
“How many people get to be a part of an expansion of the arts and connected to the creation of a new college within a university?” he asked.
Anne Sears, director of external affairs at WCC, said she will miss the qualities Annis brought to his position.
“I admire his commitment to excellence, his intellectual curiosity and his embrace of innovation,” she said in an email. “I’m certain that these personal strengths have played a vital role in the success of Rider’s Westminster College of the Arts. I wish him well as he embarks on a new journey next year.”
Even with such achievements, Annis cites “watching students grow and evolve” as his best experiences as dean.
“Performing at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Kimmel Center, and being chosen to be on the national PBS TV performance for the one-year anniversary of 9/11 — those are all such unique experiences that were great for me to be a part of, but even more for the institution and the students to be a part of,” he said.
Despite so many positive experiences, Annis said that 20 years as dean did not come without challenges.
“It has always been difficult for me when decisions had to be made that impacted lives, and not always in a joyous way; or decisions had to be made when we felt rushed, or maybe we hadn’t had the opportunity to bring everyone together and collectively communicate and kick around ideas,” he said. “Those are the things that can weigh heavily on a person.”
According to Provost DonnaJean Fredeen, the search for a new dean will begin in the fall semester. Annis intends to continue working as hard as ever.
“I’m going to work to enhance the whole College of the Arts, its visibility, its brand and the way it can touch and change lives,” he said.
“I’m also going to continue to try to raise money. We need scholarships for students, and there are always facility issues that can be enhanced by raising money.”
He said his love for his job will not fade as he begins to think about his retirement.
“Supporting the aspirations and career goals of students is day-to-day,” he said. “I can’t see any reason why I wouldn’t continue those things while I’m still here.”
At the end of the day, Annis wants to be remembered for the intermingling of Rider and Westminster.
“I don’t think that 7-mile distance is as far as it once was.”