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Murray to retire with Marist at a historical high point

By Shannon Bales, Features Editor
On April 16, 2015

   Marist College President Dennis J. Murray watched unobtrusively as accepted students and their families filed into the gym, filled their plates with Sodexo’s finest and sat at round tables among other Open House guests. School administrators took their seats at the far end of the room while the potential class of 2019 chanted the fight song along with the music department. Murray’s lips curled into a small smile as he savored the moment before his welcome address for the 36th and second to last time.  

  With his contract expiring in June 2016, Murray announced his decision to step down in a statement released in the beginning of the Spring 2015 semester.  

  “I really wanted to go out at what I felt was a high point in my career and, literally, a high point in the history of Marist College,” Murray said. “By most measures we’re clearly at the most prestigious level that the college has ever been at in virtually every category.”

  Since Murray began his presidency over 3 decades ago, the college has transformed as an institution. Marist has grown exponentially from its beginnings as a small local college stricken with financial concerns, to the healthy national institution is today. Despite it’s growing global reach, Marist maintains a student-centered approach to higher education that sets the college apart as a unique American institution.

  Throughout Murray’s presidency, Marist has experienced a 245 percent increase in enrollment and admissions have become increasingly selective – from a 78 percent acceptance rate in 1980 to a 38.5 percent acceptance rate in 2014. Notable changes to the physical campus under Murray include the building or renovation of every major building on campus and 141 percent increase in campus acreage.

     “It is just such a dramatically different place, today, it’s hard to think back and even imagine what the college was,” Murray said.

  Murray has personally presented diplomas to over 90 percent of all of the graduates of Marist College, including his own son. “He graduated from Marist and that was a pretty neat occasion, not too many fathers get to do that,” he said.

  Throughout the years, Murray has met presidents, spoke privately with the Pope, and gotten to know the Dali Llama. The walls of his den are lined with pictures of Murray shaking hands with national intellectual leaders from virtually every field. Murray believes that Marist’s national presence – which he attributes greatly to the work of the Marist Institute of Public Opinion and the proximity of the college to New York City – has afforded him opportunities that presidents of similarly renowned institutions haven’t had.  

  However, Murray’s greatest pride in being president rests in the successes of Marist alumni. “There’s nothing I enjoy more than seeing someone succeed in their professional careers that have graduated from Marist, that I remember as students… to see those results is probably the most rewarding aspect of being a college president,” he said.

  “I’ve got Marist in my blood, so I want to make sure they get a very strong successor in here, someone who is going to be able to lead the college for at least the next decade... you have a better chance of getting a strong leader to come in if they know the institution is in good shape, in a strong position,” Murray explained.

  The college will be completing a phase of its current strategic plan when Murray’s contract expires next June.

  “I thought, ‘well if I stayed another year or so or even two, then I’d be putting the new strategic plan together for the next five or six years…’” said Murray. The new plan would then be passed on to and implemented by Marist’s new president. As an experienced leader Murray felt that doing so wouldn’t be beneficial to the college in its search for a new presidential candidate.

  “Leaders,” Murray said, “want to be able to frame their own strategic plan.”

  The Board of Trustees Chair Ellen Hancock will communicate with the community as the search for Murray’s successor progresses. President Murray himself will not be participating in the search.

  “I believe that it is important for the Board to independently choose the next president with input from representatives of the college community,” Murray said.

  However, the Board has asked Murray to serve as President Emeritus and Professor of Public Policy after the conclusion of his term. In taking on this traditional post-presidential role, Murray will continue to use the relationships that he developed over the past 36 years to benefit the institution and continue to give advice to the Chair of the Board of trustees and the new president when asked. Murray will also teach leadership and public administration courses when the need arises.

   “One of the things that is very important is that there can only be one president, so I don’t want people coming to me for help with things they should be going to the president for… I just won’t do that,” said Murray. “Everyone has to have their commitment and loyalty to the new president.”

  Murray is willing to help colleagues and community organizations that he has worked with in the past, however his involvement will be focused in a more “behind-the-scenes” way.

  “As you know, I’m a big promoter of all the great service projects and service our students do here at the college - that’s just the Marist way, it’s the Marist tradition and I intend to continue to be involved,” Murray said.

  Murray also emphasizes his plans to continue to work hard in the months before his last day in office at Marist.

   “There will be plenty of time to celebrate our accomplishments of the past 36 years when I complete my term in office, but for now I want to focus on the future and particularly note and thank the senior faculty members for the critical role they’ve played in helping Marist become a unique American College,” said Murray.

  “It’s been an honor and a privilege to serve here. No doubt the first day I wake up and I’m not president and I don’t have to worry about everything going on here and the people that make up this community is going to be difficult,” Murray admitted, “but you’ll have to wait about a year and a half until I can really tell you how that is.

"When I walked in the office was arranged very much the same as it is now," Murray said. His desk was nestled in the far corner of the room by a window. "I thought 'well why did they put the desk over in that corner?' It just didn't make a lot of sense, but if you sit at that desk and you look out and see the river, you know the answer. It's just a great view and that's a scene that changes every day."



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