New UPS president shares his vision of higher education

As the new president of the University of Puget Sound, Ron Thomas shared his vision of higher education with members of the Tacoma City Club during that organization’s Wednesday luncheon at the Tacoma Sheraton.

Thomas, who began his tenure as president of the 2,600-student university on July 16, stressed the value of education and the importance of creating ties with the local community during his address to a crowd of over 80 people at the noon event.

He spoke of the sometimes difficult nature of a career in higher education, saying it was a future-directed endeavor that often yielded no immediately apparent results, but was nevertheless richly rewarding.

“Because what we are producing doesn’t come to fruition until they’re gone,” Thomas said, using a former student of his who has gone on to become a successful businessman as an example.

“We remain the envy of the world,” he said, “for our higher education system.”

Calling Tacoma a vibrant center for formal education, Thomas said, “I’m a great believer – as I hope you can tell – in higher education.”

That higher education system also has local benefits, Thomas said, turning his attention toward the University of Puget Sound’s role in the community.

“We’ve been known affectionately as Tacoma’s college,” he said.

Thomas praised the city’s recent downtown cultural and economic renaissance, saying the University of Puget Sound will be part of that ongoing process.

He cited the school’s history of volunteerism as an example of community involvement, which he said his administration would continue.

“As far as I’m concerned, as Tacoma goes, so goes the University of Puget Sound,” he said.

A good deal of Thomas’ relatively short time in Puget Sound has been spent touring the area and listening to students, faculty and staff, community leaders, alumni and others.

He has visited many of the city’s cultural landmarks – including the Museum of Glass and new Tacoma Art Museum – in order to familiarize himself with the area. He had the honor of throwing out the first pitch at a Tacoma Rainiers game.

Thomas said he and his wife, Mary, who live in the on-campus president’s house in the North End, have felt very welcome.

Thomas is a former vice president and acting president at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. Prior to his arrival at the University of Puget Sound, he served as professor of English at the University of Chicago, Trinity College and Harvard University, where he was the Mellon Faculty Fellow in humanities. An expert in Victorian literature and culture, the New Jersey native has authored several works on literary criticism.

William Roden, who resigned earlier this week as the president of Bates Technical College amid allegations that he intimidated employees by yelling and swearing and making unwanted sexual advances toward a female executive, was originally scheduled to take part in the City Club luncheon.Trustees accepted Roden’s offer to leave and agreed to pay him $80,000 in damages for ending his contract. Roden, the product of a nationwide search, took the helm at Bates – the state’s largest technical college – on Aug. 1.