A Defining Decade

By Martha Hunter Shepard ’66


During the nine months between becoming the 19th president of Rhodes College in July 1999 and his inauguration in April 2000, Bill Troutt established a solid reputation as “listener in chief.”

His approach was to take time to listen to people—faculty, staff, students, parents and alumni—all the while envisioning the college’s future. He began those conversations with the question, “How can we make Rhodes the best it can be?” He was on the way to leading an already excellent institution to one that would become extraordinary.

During Troutt’s “listening tour,” themes began to emerge:

  • Faculty and staff members wished for more time to mentor students.
  • The student services division aspired to expand residential programming.
  • Everyone acknowledged the need to recruit and retain outstanding faculty by providing them the resources needed for happy and productive professional lives.
  • There was an equally widespread call for curricular revision.
  • The need for a new library was high on the wish list, but it didn’t stop there. The faculty requested that the college stay up-to-date with resources for both traditional learning and technology support.
  • Many felt that the college should interact more with the Memphis community.
  • The development of more opportunities for study abroad was another priority, along with increasing the diversity of the campus population. As one community member phrased it, “It is vital to a liberal arts education that students be exposed to a broad range of ideas and cultures.”

In his inauguration speech, Troutt articulated his conclusions and goals gathered from those listening tours in what he called “Ten Steps Forward To Advance Rhodes.” Several months later, 10 planning initiative committees were formed, each chaired by a faculty member, to make recommendations on how to achieve the 10 steps outlined in his inaugural address.

From those groups emerged the Rhodes Vision, a statement of the college’s mission along with four “strategic imperatives” on how Rhodes would achieve its goals. Adopted in 2003 by the Board of Trustees, the Rhodes Vision set the tone for what has come to be a defi ning decade in the college’s history.

The Rhodes Vision

Rhodes College aspires to graduate students with a lifelong passion for learning, a compassion for others and the ability to translate academic study and personal concern into effective leadership and action in their communities and the world. We will achieve our aspiration through four strategic imperatives:

Student Access

To attract and retain a talented, diverse student body and engage these students in a challenging, inclusive and culturally-broadening college experience

Student Learning

To ensure our faculty and staff have the talent, the time and the resources to inspire and involve our students in meaningful study, research and service

Student Engagement

To enhance student opportunities for learning in Memphis

Student Inspiration

To provide a residential place of learning that inspires integrity and high achievement through its beauty, its emphasis on values, its Presbyterian history and its heritage as a leader in the liberal arts and sciences

Working Together

For Bill Troutt, it’s always been about Rhodes community members working together, with the college benefiting from their solid interactions with one another, with Memphis and the world, all centered on a beautiful campus that inspires everyone to strive for excellence in all they do.

For openers, in 2001, students were greeted with a totally renovated Stewart Hall and brand-new East Village, an apartment-style residence hall for juniors and seniors. In 2005, after three years in the making, the college celebrated the opening of the Paul Barret Jr. Library, a state-of-the-art facility made possible by a $35 million bequest of Paul Barret Jr. ’46. It was the largest gift in the college’s history. In ensuing years, McCoy Theatre doubled its size, thanks to funding from the McCoy Foundation, a new outdoor track was installed, the Lynx Lair in the Bryan Campus Life Center was redesigned and Burrow Hall became the place where students could conduct the business of being a student.

Across the board, representative members of the entire Rhodes community, including students, were involved in each project.

Says Allen Boone ’71, vice president for Finance and Business Affairs: “Students were involved in focus groups on products/merchandise for the bookstore. They also served on the steering committee for the creation of the new Campus Master Plan, were involved in selecting furniture for Barret Library (in addition to the development of the program requirements for the building—study rooms, coffee shop, etc.) and gave input on classroom furniture during the production of the Academic Space Plan. Students were also extensively involved in the production of the Residential Master Plan, the results of which led to the construction of East Village and the Stewart Hall renovation, and improvements to various social spaces and other general residence hall improvements such as improved laundry facilities and reduced density.”

In another matter, one student, who knew Troutt would listen to her, literally took things into her own hands. While the president and the Athletics Department staff were very much aware that the outdoor running track was in a state of disrepair, runner Amy Paine ’03, with a piece of the damaged track in hand, visited with Troutt to discuss the situation. Her graphic demonstration was greatly appreciated, and the track was completed the following fall.

There’s more. When several students wanted to renovate the Lair, they organized, sought the help of staff members and alumni, thought the process through and achieved their goals. Says Andy Greer ’07:

“Before attending Rhodes, I was certain I would learn from outstanding faculty. I never dreamed that staff would have such a significant impact on my education. For me, I found that it was the two intersecting that enhanced my Rhodes experience.”

A Decade of Learning Opportunities

Academically, and in terms of service, the world has opened up to Rhodes students in the last decade. Some of the programs include:

Rhodes CARES (Center for Academic Research and Education through Service), funded by a grant from the Robert and Ruby Priddy Charitable Trust, strengthens undergraduate research and service tied to scholarship. It encompasses programs such as:

Rhodes Institute for Regional Studies: A summer research opportunity in Memphis and the Mid-South

Rhodes St. Jude Summer Plus research program: An intensive research program pairing Rhodes students with St. Jude researchers

Rhodes/UT: An intensive research program pairing Rhodes students with University of Tennessee neuroscience researchers.

CODA: Center for Outreach in the Development of the Arts, providing fellowships for students to become advocates for the arts in the community

Summer Service: A nine-week summer program that offers Rhodes students the opportunity to tackle a signifi cant community project

Bonner: A program that supports the development of leadership and service within a liberal arts education

Rhodes Learning Corridor: Partnerships with the neighborhoods adjacent to campus, four nearby public schools and other neighboring community and educational organizations to provide learning opportunities for Rhodes students and extend these opportunities beyond the classroom and into the immediate community

InMotion: The InMotion Musculoskeletal Institute is a nonprofi t orthopedic laboratory located in the Memphis Medical Center District.InMotion currently offers one research fellowship for a Rhodes undergraduate Rhodes

Student Travel Fund: To facilitate student travel to present research or creative activity at professional meetings

The Jack H. Taylor Fellowship in Physics: Given by Charles ’65 and Patricia Robertson to fund study and research by an outstanding student, in honor of the professor emeritus of Physics, a 1944 Rhodes graduate

Spence L. Wilson Service Scholarship Program

Wilson Family Foundation Service Scholarship

SunTrust Scholarship

The Michaelcheck Endowment Fund, Bill ’69 and Pam Michaelcheck to support student learning

The McNeill Family Scholarship Fund, Mabel and Phil McNeill

The L. Palmer Brown III Service Fellowship, Axon Brown and Bryan Morgan

• Rhodes was named a Watson Foundation school in 2002; each year, Rhodes seniors are invited to compete with other selected students around the country for a Watson Fellowship to study anywhere in the world for a year after graduation.

• Michael Lamb ’04 was named the college’s seventh Rhodes Scholar.

• The college’s first Luce Scholarship was awarded to Aaron Creek ’07, one of 15 new U.S. graduates to study in Asia for a year.

The Buckman Center for International Education was established by the family of Robert H. Buckman to place students in study and work settings abroad.

The Vanderbilt-Rhodes Academic Partnership was forged for student and faculty interchange.

• Rhodes and George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences entered an early selection program for Rhodes students.

The Mike Curb Institute for Music was established for study of the music and culture of the region .

• An interdisciplinary Environmental Studies minor was funded by a Mellon Foundation grant.

• Academic career advising came into being, with Alan Jaslow, Biology, as director of health professions; and Mike La Rosa, History, and Judith Haas, English, advising students on graduate school fellowships.

• A major revision of the curriculum called the Foundations Curriculum, an outcomes-based program of study, the product of a faculty-student committee, took effect in 2007.

• The Rhodes Student Associate Program was formed, providing students mentored, professional work experience on campus.

• Rhodes Fellowships were established, a mentored academic program for students to combine classroom knowledge with paid, real-world experiences in learning environments on campus and throughout Memphis and the world.

The college’s student-centered goal is reaping dividends. Admissions applications have doubled and the size of the student body has increased.

Student Support

Of primary importance, of course, is what goes on in—and outside—all those spaces. The answer is: plenty. Rhodes students are benefiting from initiatives born in the last decade. In the sciences, there are opportunities to do one-on-one research with a faculty mentor on campus, or at one of Memphis’ renowned medical facilities. In the humanities, students can do graduate-level research at the summer Institute for Regional Studies and receive a stipend for their work, or be a CODA fellow, advocating for the arts throughout the city and receive tuition for their efforts. The Mike Curb Institute for Music offers research opportunities for faculty and students who are interested in studying and experiencing the cultural history of the region.

Other research opportunites abound, and the college continues to seek ways to enhance the learning experience through study abroad, academic fellowships and internships. There are service fellowships as well, along with plenty of ways to volunteer in nearby public schools, neighborhoods and all over Memphis.

Says Bill Evans, director and CEO of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, “It has been remarkable working with President Troutt to develop partnerships between Rhodes and St. Jude. This has created ‘real world’ educational experiences for Rhodes students and on many occasions piqued their interest in medicine and science. Having these incredible students working at St. Jude has also enriched our environment and helped advance our mission. It has been a big win for everyone involved.”

Faculty Support

One of Troutt’s goals—to strengthen the faculty and the academic program—has led to increased opportunities and support. For example, Rhodes has been able to recruit excellent faculty during the current economic downturn; while many colleges and universities were experiencing hiring freezes, Rhodes took advantage of the situation to hire a significant number of outstanding teachers/scholars to enhance both our academic community and program. The college has established several endowed chairs and professorships that allow professors to expand research activities, often including projects that involve students. The Spence Wilson International Travel Fund, established by the Kemmons Wilson Family Foundation in honor of Rhodes’ longtime trustee and board chairman, enables faculty to conduct research outside the U.S., collaborate with colleagues throughout the world, travel to retool or expand the curriculum, present papers at international conferences and take students abroad. Faculty who teach the Search or Life interdisciplinary curricula have greatly benefited from trips to Italy and Israel to experience those countries’ historic cultures firsthand.

Says Darlene Loprete, the James H. Daughdrill Jr. Professor of the Natural Sciences, “I know from serving on the Faculty Governance Committee that the president is sensitive to the needs of the faculty. Also during his tenure, he’s done a lot to foster undergraduate research. Student-faculty research is a tremendous advantage for students to learn and to see what opportunities are available to them outside the classroom, both on and off campus. Everyone has benefited from it.”

A Decade of Faculty Support

Several endowed chairs and professorships have been established in the last 10 years, including:

The Spence L. Wilson Distinguished Chair in Humanities

The James T. and Valeria B. Robertson Chair in Biological Sciences, established by Dr. James Robertson ’53 to support faculty teaching and research

The Fulmer Chair in Political Science, established by Nancy ’51 and Arthur Fulmer

The Dr. Iris Annette Pearce Shakespeare Endowment, an interdisciplinary gift established by Dr. Iris Pearce ’42 to support lectures by visiting scholars, classes offered by actors and directors in residence, conferences, workshops and performances as well as research by faculty

The Martin-Kragh Faculty Development Fund for Biology and Chemistry, established by parents Steve and Nancy Martin in hope of perpetuating the close learning and working relationship their son Stuart ’08 had working in the laboratory of chemistry professor Loretta Jackson-Hayes.

The Virginia Ballou McGehee Chair in Muslim-Christian Relations supports a distinguished faculty member’s research and course development as well as the work of a student research assistant.

The Plough Foundation has endowed a chair in Urban Studies to strengthen public education, early childhood development, crime prevention, health care and economic development in Shelby County.

In addition, The Spence Wilson International Travel Fund, established by the Kemmons Wilson Family Foundation in honor of Rhodes’ longtime trustee and board chairman, enables faculty to travel and conduct research outside the U.S.

Also in support of faculty, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation provided a grant to support faculty in all stages of their careers to grow professionally.

Dr. John Gladney ’74 endowed The Jameson M. Jones Outstanding Faculty Service Award, named in honor of the former dean of the college, a 1934 Rhodes graduate, to continue the tradition of honoring faculty service at Opening Convocation every year.

The Environmental Studies program was established with a major grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, expanding the interdisciplinary Environmental Science minor and positioning Rhodes as a leader in the national conversation on the environment.

Trustee involvement

It was a propitious time in April 2000 when Bill Troutt was inaugurated president of Rhodes, for the next day, Memphian Spence Wilson, a Vanderbilt graduate, was elected chairman of the Board of Trustees. The goal of both men was the same—to lead an already excellent institution to become one that would be extraordinary. Through the years, several alumni have joined the board, reinforcing that goal. When Wilson stepped down from the chairmanship in July, New Yorker Bill Michaelcheck ’69 was named to head the group. He is the first alumnus to have done so.

That mutual support, understanding and hard work on everyone’s part have been responsible for the college’s many accomplishments of the past decade.

For a January 2001 board retreat, members of the board journeyed to Pomona College, where they met with that institution’s community for dialogue related to the theme “Understanding the Essence of a Liberal Arts Education.” As a result, the Rhodes trustees began discussions related to Rhodes’ strengths and distinctive characteristics.

Another board retreat was held a year later at Orange Lake, FL, hosted by Spence Wilson. For the first time ever, faculty were invited. There, faculty members shared their work on Planning Initiative Committees. At the May board meeting, their recommendations translated into the Rhodes Vision with its four strategic imperatives. The board adopted the vision at its January 2003 meeting and spent subsequent years addressing each of the imperatives and how the college could achieve them.

Says Spence Wilson, president of Kemmons Wilson Inc. and longtime Board of Trustees chair, “Bill Troutt is an outstanding leader. His immense contributions to Rhodes began at his inauguration when he articulated 10 college-wide initiatives that set the college on a path of creativity and great success. His knowledge of higher education and his innate insights have enabled our board to achieve the highest levels in trustee governance. His ability to move fluidly among all of the college’s constituencies has earned him their confidence; and, as a result, our institution is stronger than ever. I continue to marvel at Bill’s capabilities and his wisdom.”

Down to Earth

The Rhodes Vision, for all its lofty ideals, is also practical. A passion for careful preparation dominates the administration’s approach to the future.

In 1925, Charles Diehl referred to the move to Memphis as “the chance of a lifetime.” President Troutt believes he received a similar chance.

“This opportunity to reaffirm the values of Southwestern, to build on a tradition of academic excellence, to work with some of the finest professionals in the country—who would not feel blessed in my position?” he says. “This college and its people make me very proud.”

Off and on Campus

A nationally-recognized and well-connected academic leader, Bill Troutt moves easily among the movers and shakers of government and higher education, while remaining focused on all tasks at hand.

Before coming to Rhodes, Troutt had served as Belmont University’s president for the previous 17 years. In 1997-98, he chaired the National Commission on the Cost of Higher Education, an 11-member panel of the nation’s top educators, authorized by Congress.

As president of Rhodes, in 2000 he was elected chairman of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, and in 2003 was named chairman of the American Council on Education. In 2005, Troutt was named to the Commission on the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Fellowship Program, a 16-member group of academics, national and state elected officials, consultants and business representatives concerned with expanding study abroad opportunities for U.S. college and university students. In addition, he has testified before the U.S. Senate Governmental Affairs Committee on the rising cost of college tuition and the effectiveness of government financial aid.

Serious matters, to be sure, but as with all endeavors, the president of Rhodes undertakes them with equanimity. Down-to-earth, good-humored and practically a model for the bow-tie industry, he is as accessible to students and staff as he is to any senator. He loves meeting new and prospective students and their families, entertaining new students at his home in the fall with a barbecue complete with Elvis impersonator, even performing in All-Sing. In the office, he distributes candy door-to-door on Halloween and beads at Mardi Gras, and throws a mean first pitch at Rhodes home openers. Whether lecturing to a class on leadership, joining a student Habitat build, meeting with faculty and alumni, Bill Troutt can be expected to turn up just about anywhere.


• March—William E. Troutt named 19th president of Rhodes

• August—President Troutt begins listening tour

• April—President Troutt, inaugurated at Idlewild Presbyterian Church, articulates 10 initiatives for Rhodes

• Plans announced for $15.5 million East Village residence hall construction, Stewart Hall renovation and conservatory room in Voorhies-Townsend-Trezevant quad

• Rhodes invited to join Mellon Foundation collaborative for faculty career enhancement

• President Troutt named chairman of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities

• Trustees hold a retreat at Pomona College in California, begin discussions related to Rhodes’ strengths and distinctive characteristics

• A $35 million bequest from Paul Barret Jr. ’46 for a new state-of-the-art library is announced

• Rhodes St. Jude Summer Plus Program established

• President Troutt elected secretary of the board of the American Council on Education

• East Village residence hall for upperclass students opens

• Ten Planning Initiative Committees, based on 10 steps to advance Rhodes, are formed to make recommendations to achieve the 10 steps outlined in President Troutt’s inaugural address; each committee is chaired by a member of the faculty

• Robert and Ruby Priddy Charitable Trust grants $6 million to the college, creating Rhodes CARES (Center for Academic Research and Education through Service)

• The first trustee/faculty retreat, hosted by board chair Spence Wilson, is held in Orange Lake, FL

• Paul Barret Jr. Library groundbreaking Dec. 12

• With a Mellon Foundation Grant, Rhodes and Furman University partner to study long-term faculty career development and faculty support

• Profs. John Kaltner (Religious Studies) and Michael LaRosa (History) are awarded Fulbright grants

• Rhodes named a Watson Foundation school with first Watson Fellow, Jena Balton ’02

• The Memphis Connection begins, an immersion in Memphis culture for incoming students

• Board of Trustees adopts the Rhodes Vision and four strategic imperatives

• The Buckman Center for International Education established

• President Troutt named chairman of American Council on Education

• Rhodes receives federal Department of Education grant establishing the Rhodes Learning Corridor

• Vanderbilt-Rhodes Academic Partnership established

• Institute for Regional Studies begins

• Rhodes included in college guidebook, Colleges of Distinction

• Mobile/Gulf Coast Chapter established

• Summer Service Fellows program begins

• Michael Lamb ’04 named Rhodes Scholar

• Sunita Arora ’05 selected a Truman Scholar

• Mathematics professor Eric Gottlieb named a Fulbright Scholar

• Rhodes Student Associate Program begins with grants from the Mellon Foundation and the Lumina Foundation

• A Getty Trust grant enables Rhodes to study the adaptive re-use of several campus buildings and expand its listings in the national Register of Historic Places

• Atlanta Chapter established

• The state-of-the-art Paul Barret Jr. Library opens

• CODA, the Center for Outreach in the Development of the Arts, established with funding from the Robert and Ruby Priddy Charitable Trust

• Rhodes one of 13 U.S. colleges to receive HUD Community Outreach Partnership Center grants to partner with and improve the adjacent neighborhood

• President Troutt named to the Commission on the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Fellowship Program

• Rhodes joins the Consortium of Liberal Arts Colleges to explore and promote the use of information technology in the liberal arts

• Board of Trustees adopts Commitment to Achieving Our Aim

• Washington, DC, Arkansas, Memphis, Nashville, North Texas and Birmingham Chapters established

• The Mike Curb Family Foundation establishes the Mike Curb Institute for Music at Rhodes

• The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching announces that Rhodes has met its standards for both its Curricular Engagement and Outreach and Partnerships, a prestigious classification

• College receives a National Leadership grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services for Crossroads to Freedom, the digital archive of the Memphis-area civil rights movement

• McCoy Theatre doubles its size with a grant from the McCoy Foundation

• Rhodes receives a $1 million congressionally-directed grant to begin a NASA Stars Program to enhance the sciences in neighboring Memphis City Schools

• Rhodes first named to President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll; Rhodes again named in 2008

• First Rhodes science students successfully complete in-flight experiment in 0-gravity at NASA’s Microgravity University

• Campus recycling program begins, a student-facultystaff effort

• Houston, Chicago, New York and St. Louis Chapters established

• The Foundations Curriculum begins

• Rhodes receives National Endowment for the Arts grant to support the Big Read in Memphis

• College officially “adopts” Memphis’ Central High School, Cypress Middle and Springdale Elementary schools, joining Snowden School

• Aaron Creek ’07 is the college’s first Luce Scholar, provided by the Henry Luce Foundation

• Rhodes enters an early selection program with The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences

• Souper Contact, Rhodes’ student-run soup kitchen, wins the Youth in Philanthropy Award from the Association of Fund Raising Professionals

• Renovated Lynx Lair opens, the result of student-staff planning

• Trustees unanimously approve new bylaws for trustee governance

• Trustees formally adopt a goal for the Campaign for Rhodes, the largest financial goal in college history

• New Orleans Chapter established

• An Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant enables Rhodes to expand its Environmental Science program to Environmental Studies

• Trustees hold a retreat in New Orleans to continue work on leveraging strengths and maximizing assets of the college

• Chronicle of Higher Education cites Rhodes as “a great college to work for”

• Second team of science students successfully completes microgravity experiment at NASA

• New England Chapter established

• Burrow Hall, formerly Burrow Library from 1953-2005, re-opens as the Center for Student Opportunity

• Crossroads to Freedom recognized as a model by the Institute of Museum and Library Services

• President Troutt receives the Distinguished Alumnus Award from Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College and delivers the commencement address

• The Rhodes Chapter of the Bay Area (greater San Francisco) established

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