Adelphi University president Robert Scott intended to eat lunch on a recent afternoon in the campus food court. But students offering high-fives and a conversation with an employee cleaning the floor meant his tossed salad had to wait.
Scott, 76, who Tuesday ends his tenure as the university's ninth president, can hardly go anywhere on the Garden City campus without exchanging a few words with a student advocating for a cause, an athlete hyped for a game or a new graduate seeking a recommendation for a job application.
"People often ask me how much time I spend fundraising. I say '100 percent of my time,' " Scott said. "Seeing students being successful and trying hard gives me stories to tell alumni. Every activity helps me tell donors the story of Adelphi."DataSearch college endowments See alsoCompare NY's college transfer rates
To many current students and staff, Scott is approachable and involved -- known as "P-Scott," a nickname they gave him some years ago. But to faculty, staff, alumni, donors and longtime local residents, he is the president who turned around a college in turmoil and created a new campus identity that values community service and social justice.
He leaves behind a 7,300-student institution measurably more successful than he found it. He plans to work on two books about higher education and show his photography at several local galleries, including at the Huntington Arts Council in September.
He will stay on as a professor emeritus at the university. A $2.1 million endowment that bears his name will provide need-based student scholarships.
Christine Riordan, former provost of the University of Kentucky, will succeed him, taking office Wednesday. She is the first woman president of the 119-year-old school.
During 15 years with Scott at the helm, Adelphi's endowment more than tripled to $175 million and undergraduate enrollment rose by 63 percent. He is credited with the success of the university's most recent capital campaign, which closed in August 2012, raising $58.6 million and beating its projected goal by more than $2 million. The university was 10 times named a "Best Buy" by the Fiske Guide to Colleges.
Opening this fall is a $70 million building that will house the College of Nursing and Public Health, the Center for Health Innovation, classrooms and nursing labs, as well as student support services, a career center and the admissions office.
Student government president Julianna Claase, 21, of Farmingdale, said there's a sense of community on campus for both residential and commuter students, with lots of opportunities to get involved in social issues. Scott has supported all of those initiatives, she said, and also created student internships at local not-for-profit groups.
"When you are putting on a program and you look out and see the president of your university in attendance, it really means something," Claase said. "Ask any student: Even if they've only had one interaction with Dr. Scott, it's been a positive one."
In 2000, Scott came to Adelphi from Ramapo College in Mahwah, New Jersey. He was the sixth president at Adelphi in 31/2 years.
The school was arguably at the lowest point in its history. Its problems included faculty unrest, its lack of endowment, underfunded academic programs and plummeting enrollment. The school's reputation had been severely tarnished by a scandal involving the late Peter Diamandopoulos, president from 1985 to 1997, whose compensation and financial deals with trustees brought on lawsuits, a financial downturn and much bitterness on campus. His presidency ended with the state Board of Regents stepping in, taking 18 of 19 board members out of power.
Education professor Devin Thornburg, a leading member of the Committee to Save Adelphi, a coalition of faculty, staff, students and parents concerned about the fate of the university in the 1990s, said he thought Scott was going to be "another drive-by president."
"I didn't think he was going to stay, because I didn't think a person could be truly committed to a place that was in such a bad period," said Thornburg, who is current chairman of the Faculty Senate. "I didn't understand how his vision of community service was going to work -- and I was completely wrong."
Scott stabilized the college's finances and is credited with bringing the university's endowment to its highest point in history. During his tenure, the school received its largest single-donor gifts ever -- $9.5 million from alumna and pharmaceutical company owner Carol Ammon, to name the school of education after her late mother, Ruth S. Ammon; and $9.5 million from former student and financial executive Robert B. Willumstad, a Long Island native who was president of Citigroup when he first met Scott in 2006.
"It was a result of his leadership that I made these contributions," said Willumstad, co-founder and senior adviser of the private equity firm Brysam Global Partners, who currently is chairman of the Adelphi board. "Bob did a lot to turn the university around in his first five years and there's a lot of positive momentum. . . . He is leaving the university significantly better than he found it."