University of Saint Joseph Names Dr. Rhona Free as its New President

The appointment of Dr. Rhona Free as the 9th president of the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford was announced on March 12. Courtesy photo

Free will be the ninth president to head the university, which is located in West Hartford, and will officially take office on July 1, 2015.

The appointment of Dr. Rhona Free as the 9th president of the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford was announced on March 12. Courtesy photo

The appointment of Dr. Rhona Free as the 9th president of the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford was announced on March 12. Courtesy photo

Submitted by the University of Saint Joseph

The Board of Trustees of the University of Saint Joseph (USJ) today announced the appointment of Rhona Free, Ph.D., as president of the institution. Dr. Free will become the ninth president of USJ on July 1, 2015. Her official inauguration ceremony will be announced in the future.

“We are honored and thrilled to have Dr. Rhona Free join us as our next president,” said E. Clayton (Skip) Gengras Jr., chair of the University of Saint Joseph Board of Trustees. “Her extraordinary leadership skills, reinforced by her long-standing commitment to higher education, make her a natural choice to lead this institution in this rather remarkable and exciting time in its history,” said Gengras.

“We sought someone with the vision and enthusiasm to build upon the great momentum we are experiencing as a highly-regarded institution of learning and a celebrated community partner,” said Martha S. Gervasi ’83, vice chair of the Board of Trustees and chair of the Presidential Search Committee. “Dr. Free’s strong background as a teacher and administrator, coupled with her commitment to the Mercy values and faith-based education, make her the perfect fit for the University of Saint Joseph.

“I am energized and honored to lead the University of Saint Joseph at such a dynamic time in its history,” said Dr. Free. “President Pamela Trotman Reid has positioned the University to move to new levels of excellence, having established outstanding academic programs and developed a vital presence in downtown Hartford. I look forward to building upon these successes as the institution develops new opportunities for students while upholding its commitment to the Catholic intellectual tradition and Mercy values — emphasizing service, ethical development, and social responsibility.”

Dr. Rhona Free comes to the University of Saint Joseph following an extensive career at Eastern Connecticut State University, where she started as a professor of Economics and took on various leadership roles, culminating in her service as Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. As such, she solidified Eastern Connecticut State University’s reputation as Connecticut’s public liberal arts college and contributed significantly to its financial stability through her leadership of admissions, retention, and financial aid strategies, resulting in record enrollment. Dr. Free led faculty in the development of eight new majors and dramatically increased students’ outcomes of success.

Dr. Free’s scholarship focuses on: gender and racial/ethnic earnings differences; collective bargaining; occupational health and safety; and innovative teaching methods. She has numerous publications and awards to her name, including National Professor of the Year (2004) from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education/Carnegie Foundation. She earned a bachelor of arts degree from Sarah Lawrence College in 1978, and a master’s and Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Notre Dame in 1980 and 1983, respectively. Dr. Free has been married to Peter Boardman since 1979; they have two children and two grandchildren.

“The University of Saint Joseph has selected an intelligent and strong president in Dr. Rhona Free, who will serve as a wonderful role model for the women in our undergraduate college, as well as for the men and women in our graduate and adult learner programs,” said outgoing USJ President Pamela Trotman Reid, Ph.D. “She will garner the respect of the entire USJ family — students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends — at both our West Hartford and Hartford campuses.”

On October 3, 2014, USJ President Reid announced her plans to retire at the end of the current academic year. During Reid’s tenure, the University successfully launched its first professional doctoral program by creating a School of Pharmacy in downtown Hartford. Reid also oversaw the institution’s successful transition from a college to a university and many other endeavors, including the development of the Center for Applied Research and Education, opening in May 2015, which will allow the Gengras Center School to serve more students, especially those with autism. In addition, during Reid’s tenure overall institutional enrollment grew by nearly 40% from slightly less than 1,800 students in 2007 to 2,500 students today.

“We thank Pamela Trotman Reid for her years of service, for leading this institution to unprecedented success, and for laying the foundation for an exciting new era in the history of the University of Saint Joseph,” said Board Chair Gengras.

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