Dr. William E. “Bill” Troutt, president of Rhodes College, is the recipient of the 31st Annual Henry Paley Memorial Award presented during the 2017 Annual Meeting of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU).
Troutt has served as a private college president for nearly 35 years, including nearly 18 years at Rhodes College (1999-2017) and 17 years at Belmont University in Nashville, TN (1982-1999). He will retire at the end of the academic year.
Named for the late Henry Paley, president of the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities of New York from 1975 until 1984, the Paley Award recognizes an individual who embodies his spirit of unfailing service toward the students and faculty of independent higher education. The recipients of this award have set an example for all who would seek to advance educational opportunity in the United States.
“Bill Troutt may be the quintessential private college president,” said David L. Warren, president of NAICU. “During nearly 35 years as a college president, Bill has been an inspirational leader and leading proponent of private liberal arts education within two diverse campus communities. But even more, he has given his time and energy to provide extraordinary leadership to higher education at the national level, chairing both NAICU and the American Council on Education. And, he has done so while becoming an authoritative voice on the cost of college. I am delighted, he remains both an important colleague and valued friend.”
In accepting the award, Troutt said: “It has been such a privilege to serve independent higher education and work with so many talented people both in Tennessee and Washington. I am humbled and honored beyond measure to receive the Paley Award today.”
Unlike many others who pursue a career in academia, Troutt was not pulled to the professoriate, rather to campus leadership. After graduating from Union University (TN), he would earn a master’s degree from the University of Louisville (KY) and a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University (TN). Then came jobs in college admissions, state government, and a higher education consulting firm working with campus leaders across the country.
At age 30, he was recommended as a candidate to be the executive vice president at Belmont University (TN). Within two years, the campus president announced his retirement and, after a search, Troutt was picked as the next president, at age 32. Thus, started an extraordinary career as a college president that has stretched nearly 35 years.
At Belmont, Troutt found an institution operating in the shadows of Vanderbilt, with few connections and fewer resources. During a 17 year presidency, he led an effort to change the campus environment. Enrollment increased from about 1,400 students to about 3,000 students, and the admissions criteria changed from open admissions to a more competitive ACT average of 25.
Beyond campus, Troutt became nationally known for his contributions to higher education policy through his service as a board member (1997-2000) and board chair of NAICU (2000-01) and later with the American Council on Education (2003).
Troutt always was the most astute politician in the room, even as he presented as the “Awe shucks” kid from Tennessee. That became evident at his first NAICU board meeting in 1997, when the board was discussing their concerns about the upcoming National Commission on the Cost of Higher Education.
Catching a staff member at a coffee break, he mentioned that he “had a friend” who worked in the Senate who had said to let him know when there might be a commission on which Troutt would like to serve. He wondered if this would be the right assignment to take. Turns out the friend was the one person in the Senate with the true authority over appointments. Troutt, from “tiny Belmont University” was appointed to the Cost Commission and, soon after, was elected chair by his colleagues.
The Commission, an 11-member independent advisory body created by Congress to conduct a comprehensive review of the rising cost of college, wrote the landmark report: Straight Talk About College Costs and Prices. The commission’s findings and recommendations, which received bipartisan Congressional support and the endorsement of the higher education community, served as a guide for the Higher Education Reauthorization Act of 1998.
Troutt would often remark with humor that he had never before had so many high ranking figures in academia come visit him at Belmont.
In 1999, he was selected to be the 19th president of Rhodes College. During his tenure, the college has climbed to the top tier of national liberal arts colleges, achieved higher retention and enrollment rates, increased campus diversity, developed a student research partnership with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and recentered the campus around a new library and science center. Troutt also spearheaded the $314 million Campaign for Rhodes and secured the largest gift in Rhodes history, $35.5 million, to build the Paul Barret, Jr. Library.
Beyond his campus duties, Troutt has chaired the Jacob K. Javits Humanities Fellowship Board; served on the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Commission; chaired the Tennessee Independent Colleges Association, including two years as Interim President; and served on the College Commission for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. He has also served as an advisor to the Mellon Foundation College Sports Project, the National Association of College and Business University College Cost Project, and the Association of Governing Boards. Troutt has also served other institutions as a trustee, including: Fisk University (TN), Columbia Theological Seminary (GA), and the St. Jude Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (TN).
“I often counsel with students about discovering their strengths, finding their passions, and devoting their lives to what they love,” he said in a statement announcing his retirement. “I am so blessed that this is my life story. Serving as president of Rhodes has been, and will continue to be, the opportunity of a lifetime."
NAICU serves as the unified national voice of private nonprofit higher education. With more than 1,000 member institutions and associations nationwide, NAICU reflects the diversity of independent higher education in the United States. Since 1976, the association has represented private nonprofit colleges and universities on policy issues with the federal government, such as those affecting student aid, taxation, and government regulation.
Henry Paley Memorial Award Recipients:
2017 William E. “Bill” Troutt, Rhodes College (TN)
2016 John Bassett, Heritage University (WA), Clark University (MA)
2015 Christopher B. Nelson, St. John’s College (MD)
2014 NAICU Legal Services Review Panel
2013 Bernard Fryshman, Association of Advanced Rabbinical and Talmudic Schools
2012 Patricia A. McGuire, Trinity Washington University (DC)
2011 The Rev. Charles L. Currie, S.J., Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities
2010 Sister Kathleen Ross, SNJM, Heritage University (WA)
2009 Morgan Odell, Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities
2008 The Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., University of Notre Dame (IN)
2007 Alexander W. (Sandy) Astin, Higher Education Research Institute, University of California
2006 Clare Cotton, The Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Massachusetts
2005 Robert N. Kelly, Kansas Independent College Association
2004 Michael S. McPherson, Spencer Foundation, Macalester College (MN)
2003 James C. Ross, Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities of New York
2002 Allen P. Splete, Council of Independent Colleges
2001 (Special NAICU 25th Anniversary Meeting recognizing all previous recipients – no new award was given)
2000 Sr. Mary Andrew Matesich, Ohio Dominican College
1999 David Irwin, Washington Association of Independent Colleges and Universities
1998 Rev. William J. Sullivan, Seattle University (WA)
1997 James Whalen, Ithaca College (NY)
1996 John Frazer, Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities
1995 Richard F. Rosser, National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities
1994 Sr. Dorothy Ann Kelly, College of New Rochelle (NY)
1993 Derek Bok, Harvard University
1992 (Special Summit Meeting – no award was given)
1991 Francis "Mike" Michelini, Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania
1990 The Honorable Silvio Conte, U.S. House of Representatives
1989 The Honorable Thomas H. Kean, Governor, New Jersey
1988 The Honorable William H. Natcher, U.S. House of Representatives
1987 Frank "Sandy" Tredinnick, Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts
1986 James Ream, Pennsylvania Association of Colleges and Universities
1985 Rev. Timothy S. Healy, Georgetown University (DC)
(Published from NAICU News Release )