With Abiding Hope: President Fox Announces His Retirement | St. Lawrence University

With Abiding Hope: President Fox Announces His Retirement

St. Lawrence University President William L. Fox ’75 announced his plan to retire on June 30, 2021, after 12 years at the helm of his undergraduate alma mater. He shared the news with the campus community on Tuesday, Aug. 4.

“Bill Fox’s inspiring leadership for more than a decade deserves the highest praise,” said Board of Trustees Chair Michael Ranger ’80, P’17. “While we have known for some time that Bill intended to retire in 2021, it doesn’t make this moment any easier. Bill’s legacy is one that will be felt by every future generation of Laurentians.”

Fox will be best known for his forward-thinking approach to ensuring St. Lawrence provides a liberal arts education that opens doors and possibilities, while simultaneously being the president that put current and future St. Lawrence community members at the center of his work to ensure programs, buildings and spaces would exceed their needs.

He began his presidency as St. Lawrence and other colleges and universities were facing the effects of a serious recession. He commissioned two all-campus working groups to respond to the financial challenges, and then envisioned a bold next chapter for the University. With campus colleagues, he brought that vision to life through the Strategic Map, which shaped a decade of tremendous growth for the institution. During his tenure the University implemented a distinctive new curriculum that included the development of St. Lawrence’s popular business in the liberal arts major, an environmental literacy requirement, as well as in-demand programs such as a statistics major and public health minor. Off-campus study programs expanded during his tenure to include 30 programs in more than 20 countries, including St. Lawrence’s innovative Liberal Arts in New York City semester and the Sustainability Program in Canton.

Fox prioritized creating a more inclusive campus, including the Presidential Diversity Commission and hiring the University’s first Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion. Since his arrival in 2009, St. Lawrence’s total enrollment accounted for the broadest geographical representation ever in the university’s 164-year history, with U.S. students of color and international students making up more than a fifth of the current student body. In 2018, St. Lawrence received the prestigious Paul Simon Award for Comprehensive Internationalization, which recognizes institutions that use innovative and creative approaches to make significant, well-planned, well-executed, and well-documented progress toward comprehensive internationalization.

Under his leadership, St. Lawrence’s endowment has grown nearly 70 percent to about $320 million, in addition to producing nearly $140 million in endowment income, as Fox remained steadfast in his pursuit to ensure the brightest future for his alma mater. He has led the University to record fundraising results as The Campaign for Every Laurentian has raised more than 80 percent of its $225 million goal. The Campaign will continue to be a priority during his final year, with a focus on critical funding priorities that allow for innovation and the delivery of a 21st-century liberal arts experience for all students.

During Fox’s tenure, St. Lawrence’s sprawling campus grew to include timeless new buildings and renovated historical spaces spanning academics, athletics, and the arts. This effort included Kirk Douglas Hall, Appleton Arena, the Center for Student Achievement, Peterson-Kermani Performance Hall, Herring-Cole Hall, Owen D. Young Library, the Richard F. Brush ’52 University Quad and the Class of 1975 Promenade, among others. When the Gunnison Memorial Chapel spire was heavily damaged due to a fire in October 2013, he resolved to have it rebuilt, repaired, and added back to the North Country skyline. With every project, Fox ensured those most important to the use of each space were involved in the discussions, process, and design.

One of Fox’s greatest legacies will be how much he cared about the St. Lawrence community, which has been a distinctive part of his leadership and evident not only through his actions, but also in his speeches, letters and essays that Laurentians looked forward to and cherished. Throughout the last half of Fox’s presidency, St. Lawrence’s alumni network has been ranked among the best in the nation by The Princeton Review thanks to the strategic investments of resources and new career-related programming developed during his tenure. He cares deeply about students and the issues affecting them, regularly hosting Open Office Hours so they can confide in him, ask questions, and seek advice. The Innovation Grants program he launched in 2010 still funds campus community ideas that improve the quality of life at St. Lawrence through curricular, co-curricular, or campus life projects and provide a foundation for St. Lawrence’s future.

The community will also be saying goodbye to one of its strongest supporters in Lynn Fox. As presidential spouse, she brought decades of communications experience working at the highest levels of Washington, D.C., public policy and strategic leadership, and found ways to leverage her professional expertise into collaborations with alumni, parents, faculty, and students at St. Lawrence. She has worked with trustees on an innovative program of outreach to alumnae, co-teaches a course about the Federal Reserve, and is a founding board member of the North Country Women’s Leadership Initiative, a partnership among four universities in Northern New York.

“The invitation to serve St. Lawrence is the greatest honor of my life,” he wrote in his message to the community. “There is every reason, whether the lines are difficult or pleasant, for us to believe together that this year, this year, can be the best of the many Lynn and I have shared with you.”

Fox became the 18th president and senior lecturer in history of his undergraduate alma mater on July 1, 2009, after serving as president and senior lecturer in philosophy, religion and history at Culver-Stockton College 2003-2009. In the previous five years, Fox was special assistant to the president at Goucher College in Maryland. Earlier in his career, he served as a faculty member at Claremont Theological School, Montgomery College, and Howard University.  He received a Master of Divinity degree from Harvard University in 1978 and his Ph.D. in American religious history from George Washington University in 1989.

As a scholar, Fox has published three books: a study of Harvard theologian Willard L. Sperry (1991), Lodge of the Double-Headed Eagle: Two Centuries of Scottish Rite Freemasonry (1999), and the award-winning Valley of the Craftsmen (2001). He also was the founding and general editor of a 10-volume book series in church history studies by Peter Lang Publishing.  

In recognition of Fox’s leadership in higher education, the Council of Independent Colleges elected him to its Board of Trustees in January 2011. He also served as a team leader for the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. In 2015, he was appointed to the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities (cIcu) Board of Trustees. He is also a member of the President’s Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration.

While Fox’s departure will come near the end of an extended academic year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he has committed to presiding alongside St. Lawrence’s next president during the Commencement for the Class of 2020, which was postponed until August 1, 2021. He will also attend next year’s Reunion, scheduled for July 15-18, 2021.

In the near future, the Board of Trustees will appoint a committee to identify St. Lawrence’s 19th president and a national search will commence this fall. More information will be shared with the Laurentian community as it becomes available.