Sesquicentennial Memories

Remembering the Presidency of Joseph Kauffman

By Michael Smith

Joseph KauffmanOn January 31, 1968 the Board of Trustees of State Colleges selected Joseph Frank Kauffman, Ed.D., Dean of Student Affairs at the University of Wisconsin, to serve as the fourth President of Rhode Island College. President Kauffman would serve during a key era in the history of the institution, characterized by rapid enrollment growth, new programs, a significant increase in the number of faculty, new construction, and campus expansion. Even more extraordinary is that these changes would all occur against the backdrop of growing student unrest, the war in Southeast Asia, the birth of the environmental movement, the civil rights struggle, the emergence of empowerment for women, the rise of professional unionization, and the lowering of the age of majority from 21 to 18. To say the least, it was an extraordinary time.

Born in Providence in 1921, Kauffman was educated in the Norwood, Massachusetts public schools. He earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Denver, a masters degree in Sociology from Northwestern University, and a doctorate in education from Boston University. He served in World War II as an infantry sergeant in the US Army and saw action in the North African and Italian campaigns. Dr. Kauffman, married with two children (a son and daughter), formerly served as Assistant to the President of Brandeis University and as Executive Vice President of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. He also served as Director of Training on the original Peace Corps staff.

Dr. Kauffman took office on July 1, 1968 and was formally inaugurated on Thursday, November 7, 1968. The Trustees set President Kauffman's initial salary at $27,000. At the time of his selection, Dr. Kauffman announced that his first priorities would include expanding the College’s general studies program, promoting greater student input in curriculum development, and providing an expanded role for the College in the life of the community. The record would show that he accomplished each of these goals.

President Kauffman served until January 8, 1973, at which time he returned to the University of Wisconsin as Professor of Higher Education. Dr. Kauffman, a respected author on student affairs and administration in higher education, served on many national-level education boards and in 1981-1983 served as President of the Association for the Study of Higher Education. At its 1978 Commencement, the College conferred Dr. Kauffman with an Honorary Doctor of Pedagogy degree. At the October 26, 1983 ceremony commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Mt. Pleasant campus, Dr. Kauffman, along with his predecessor, President William C. Gaige, was named President Emeritus of Rhode Island College. Today, Dr. Kauffman resides in Madison, Wisconsin.

A few selected highlights of the Kauffman Presidency:


  • New undergraduate majors, including: Art Education, Economics, Nursing, Political Science, Speech Communication, Theatre (also Secondary Education concentrations in Speech Communication and Theatre)
  • New graduate programs, including: MA in English, MA in School Psychology, MAT in Physical Science; Urban Education specialization for M.Ed. and MAT programs
  • Board of Regents endorses the concept of initiating an undergraduate program in Social Work
  • Office of Part-Time Undergraduate Programs established to expand undergraduate programs for older students
  • Development of New General Studies Program providing more freedom of choice for students
  • College-wide re-accreditation by the New England Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools
  • Credits for graduation reduced from, in most cases, 128 to 120
  • Reorganization of the Division of Professional Studies and the Division of Liberal Studies into the Division of Educational Studies and the Division of Arts and Sciences, respectively
  • Economics split from the Department of Social Sciences to become a separate department
  • First student-designed courses
  • First overseas study program
  • First student exchange program
  • Headcount enrollment of College increased by 59% in 4 _ years – from 5169 to 8204


  • Faculty votes to affiliate with the AFT for collective bargaining purposes (one of the first college faculties in the nation to do so); the first negotiated two-year contract provided faculty raises of 8% in the first year and 10% in the second year
  • FTE faculty expanded by one-third, from 237.5 positions to 316 positions


  • The Urban Educational Center, established by the Board of Trustees in 1968, becomes administratively affiliated with the College in 1971. The Center is located on Dodge Street in Providence.
  • Establishment of the Bureau of Social and Educational Services
    Observance of first National Environmental Teach-In (Earth Day)
  • Robert A. Taft Institute for the Study of Practical Politics first held
    Center for Economic Education established – one of four such centers in the country


  • Rose Butler Browne Residence Hall
  • Administration Wing of Roberts Hall
  • Faculty Center
  • Horace Mann Hall
  • Tower Addition to Craig-Lee
  • Purchase of 6.5 acres on western side of campus, including Alumni House, Doorley’s Barn, three other structures
  • Conversion of former Student Center into Art Center
  • Charles B. Willard Residence Hall
  • Approval of bond issue to finance construction of a biological sciences building (later dedicated as Fogarty Life Science) and a maintenance facility (Physical Plant Building)

Student Affairs:

  • Departmental Student Advisory Committees are established
    Student members added to Council of Rhode Island College as well as to committees of Council
  • Instituted new programs for incoming students to acclimate them into college life
  • Rhode Island College Radio Club, forerunner to today’s WXIN, is established
    Yearbook name changed from Janus to Exodus

College Traditions:

  • Tradition of freshman hazing, wearing of class beanies is ended
  • Commencement moved from front of Adams Library to front of Walsh Center
  • First separate Graduate Commencement

Governance and Fiscal Affairs:

  • Board of Trustees of State Colleges disbanded after 31 years, Board of Regents assumes authority over all public education in Rhode Island
  • First budget developed under President Kauffman (1969-70 fiscal year) was for $10,067,614, with 66% provided by the state appropriation.There was no tuition charged for Rhode Island residents, but there was a general fee of $300 per year and student fees of $75 per year; both fees were mandatory for all in-state full-time undergraduates
  • 1971-72 fiscal crisis led to hiring and pay freezes

Societal Changes:

  • Age of majority lowered to 18
  • Student unrest on campus: Moratorium Day in October 1969 and aftermath of Kent State/Jackson State in May 1970
  • Willard Hall, originally planned as a men’s residence, is opened as a co-ed residence hall


  • Theodore Bikel
  • Arlo Guthrie
  • Tom Rush
  • John Sebastian
  • St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
  • Livingston Taylor
  • Paul Taylor Dance Company
  • The Tempest (RIC Theatre)
  • Jethro Tull
  • Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (RIC Theatre)

Speakers on Campus:

  • Rev. Ralph David Abernathy
  • Isaac Asimov
  • Sen. Birch Bayh
  • Dr. Barry Commoner
  • Rep. Robert F. Drinan, S.J.
  • Eleanor McGovern
  • Ralph Nader
  • Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.
  • Albert Shanker

In each edition of What’s News at Rhode Island College during the course of the College’s Sesquicentennial observance, Michael Smith, Assistant to the President, presents a brief glimpse of an historic College event that occurred at some point in the institution’s history corresponding to the publication date of that particular edition of What’s News. This is the first installment.

top of page