Meadville, Pa. – April 30, 2007 – Richard J. Cook, president of Allegheny College since 1996, announced today that the 2007-2008 academic year will be his last year of active service as the college's president.
“This decision comes only after much soul-searching and deliberation,” Cook wrote in a letter to the college community. “I continue to marvel at our good fortune in having become part of Allegheny, and the thought of setting aside a daily role in the life of the campus is a difficult one. However, Terry and I have reached a point in our lives where we feel the need to be geographically closer to our families in Minnesota and Michigan.”
Christine Scott Nelson, chair of the college's board of trustees and a 1973 graduate of Allegheny College, commented, “Richard has brought an extraordinary intelligence, energy and dedication to his work as president of Allegheny College. The remarkable strides the college has made in the past 11 years are largely due to his vision, although he is genuinely humble about his own accomplishments and prefers to shine the spotlight on others. He has set the bar high, but he has made the work we do at Allegheny a truly collaborative process — one in which faculty, students, staff, alumni, trustees and community members all feel invested. His presidency is one in which we all feel a great sense of pride.”
Since Cook first became president of Allegheny College, the campus has seen remarkable growth, guided by two strategic plans developed with college-wide input. Applications for admission have set records for four consecutive years, the college's financial endowment has doubled to more than $150 million, and the largest fund-raising campaign in the college's history raised more than $115 million, with an additional $15 million in federal grants received.
The physical campus has also undergone a striking transformation during his presidency, while still reflecting Allegheny's long history and rich traditions. More than $85 million has been invested in renovation and new construction. Among the projects are the historic Tippie Alumni Center, the Fuhrer Athletic Field and the North Village residential complex. Currently under construction is the Vukovich Center for Communication Arts, designed by the world-renowned architectural firm Polshek Partnership.
During Cook's tenure, the college has become known on the national stage for its innovative work educating students to be engaged and productive citizens, with an emphasis on personal integrity and responsibility. Initiatives developed under Cook's leadership underscore values associated with a healthy participatory democracy: the Allegheny College Center for Experiential Learning (ACCEL), the Center for Economic and Environmental Development (CEED), the Center for Political Participation, and the college's participation in Project Pericles and the Bonner Leader Program.
Parallel to this emphasis on democratic values has been a commitment to a sustainable economic and environmental future. Cook himself became one of the first signatories of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, a national challenge to colleges and universities to develop a comprehensive action plan to reduce their global-warming emissions.
Firmly believing that environmental sustainability provides great opportunities for economic growth, Cook has expanded resources for students and faculty in the field of regional re-development. Allegheny established both an annual business roundtable of visiting executives and an entrepreneur-in-residence program with Cook's encouragement and support.
In addition, while chair of the board of the 85-member Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania (AICUP), Cook was a driving force behind a project funded by the Lumina Foundation to examine and shape public policy and college practices to ensure accessibility and affordability of higher education for students of modest economic backgrounds.
Nelson credits Cook's personal style with much of his success as president. “From the very first it was obvious that Richard and his wife, Terry Lahti, were a perfect fit with Allegheny,” she said. “They are genuine and warm—and absolutely unwavering in their love and support for the college. Last year, as we neared the end of our fund-raising campaign, they took the remarkable step of supplementing their previous financial gifts to the college to bring their total commitment to the campaign to $500,000. We know of no other college president and spouse who have given so much of their own resources.”
Cook is an honors graduate of the University of Michigan, with M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in organic chemistry from Princeton University. He began his professional academic life as a chemistry professor whose specialty was the intersection of science and public policy.
Following work related to the Love Canal hazardous waste depository at Niagara Falls (NY), Cook held gubernatorial appointments to the Michigan Toxic Substance Control Commission and later to the Governor's Environmental Science Board. His technical work has been widely published in professional journals and commissioned reports, and he has been appointed to numerous boards in the government and private sectors.
Before assuming the presidency of Allegheny College, he was provost and professor of chemistry at Kalamazoo College, a national liberal arts college in Michigan.
Richard Cook is the 20th president of Allegheny College. The 32nd oldest college in the nation, Allegheny will celebrate its 200th anniversary in 2015.