Outgoing Rhode Island School of Design President John Maeda addressed RISD's faculty on Wednesday, the day he released a surprise announcement that he is stepping down at the end of the semester. Many RISD professors expressed profound shock at the news, although Maeda was not popular with some professors.
People who attended the meeting say Maeda gave a heartfelt talk about his time at RISD, coming close to tears toward the end of the presentation. He did not stay until the end of the meeting, which had been scheduled prior to the announcement that he has taken a job at a Silicon Valley venture capital firm.
In his remarks, Maeda gave special thanks to former RISD Provost Jessie Shefrin, who resigned in 2011 following a no confidence vote from the RISD faculty. At the time, critics said Maeda was too focused on social media and not focused enough on connecting with RISD faculty.
Professors called the administration aloof, complaining that faculty was not consulted on key decisions, and some said critics feared they would lose their jobs for speaking out against Maeda. Some students also expressed concerns about Maeda.
Since the no confidence vote, some faculty members say the controversy over Maeda's leadership has abated considerably.
However, it remained on the mind of RISD Faculty Union President Henry Ferreira last week. Asked for a statement about Maeda's departure, Ferreira wrote, "[w]e have seen the last two presidents of the school receive No Confidence Votes. Roger Mandel's from the Department Heads and John Maeda's from a vote of the whole Faculty." Ferreira said despite the controversies, RISD has remained a top art institution.
"RISD continues to be the best art school in the country because of the incredibly talented students who come to RISD not for recreational facilities and posh student centers but for it's Faculty both Full and Part Time who know how to make art and teach it. We will carry on."
Ferriera added that the union wishes Maeda well at his new job in California.
Shefrin's replacement, Provost Rosanne Somerson, was unaware of Maeda's plans to leave the school until the news broke on Wednesday, according to one faculty member. However, many professors say they do not believe Maeda was forced out, noting that RISD's board voted last year in favor of a two-year contract extension.
The overall mood at the faculty meeting, professors say, was one of shock as people processed the news of Maeda's departure. Many said they agreed with Maeda's assessment that he leaves RISD in excellent condition, and they are confident the school will continue in a positive direction.