University News

RISD president resigns

Though his contract lasts to 2015, John Maeda will leave in January to work at a venture capital firm

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, December 5, 2013

John Maeda, the 16th president of  the Rhode Island School of Design, will resign at the end of the semester, according to a RISD press release.

Maeda will leave RISD to become a design partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byer, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm, in January. He will also chair the recently formed eBay Design Advisory Board, according to the release.

Maeda’s contract was renewed March 2012 to last through June 2015, The Herald previously reported.

Maeda announced his decision via a video compilation of clips of students and faculty members, during which he reflected on RISD’s evolution over his six years as president.

In the video, Maeda said technology use helped RISD become a preeminent design school, crediting the “artists, designers and scholars of RISD” as the force for change at the school.

Maeda came to RISD in the fall of 2008, following the resignation of then-President Roger Mandle. Maeda previously served as a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and associate director of research at the MIT Media Lab.

Esquire Magazine included Maeda among its “75 most influential people of the 21st century,” according to the press release.

Under Maeda, RISD was ranked the top design school in the world by Business Insider, according to the release. Applications to RISD increased during Maeda’s presidency, growing nearly 4 percent between 2012 and 2013 alone.

Maeda also prioritized scholarships for students — which his family helped fund with a six-figure gift — and increasing financial aid, according to the press release.

His presidency was not without controversy. RISD faculty voted no confidence in both the president and former provost Jessie Shefrin in the spring of 2011, following resistance to Maeda’s proposal to restructure academic departments. The plan was eventually not implemented.

Though there was no indication at the time that Maeda would resign, his predecessor’s tenure was marked by a similar sequence of events: Mandle resigned two years after receiving a no confidence vote from the faculty in 2006. Mandle said the vote did not influence his decision to leave, The Herald reported at the time.

The news of Maeda’s departure surprised many, said RISD student Kevin Cochran, because the announcement came so close to the end of the semester.

But the no confidence vote and Maeda’s history of tension with the faculty led many students to anticipate Maeda would eventually resign, Cochran added.

RISD has not yet announced plans for Maeda’s replacement. Representatives from RISD could not be reached for comment at press time.

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  • HIAA concentrator alumnus

    The dreadful Maeda presidency has mostly escaped the attention of the BDH, but there’s still a post-mortem article to be written, utilizing interviews with RISD faculty, most of whom detested the man. A measure of his ruinous effect is that, for the first time in the 30-year history of the US News ranking of art colleges, RISD lost its number one position to Yale. That’s right: Yale, not RISD, is now America’s top art school thanks to Maeda. (RISD’s 30-year run at the top had been unique among USN’s category rankings.) The loss of key RISD personnel, alienated by Maeda’s infantile privileging of digital design, his lack of intuition, his bad manners, and his narcissism, demoralized the faculty and angered key alumni. I hope to see further BDH reporting on this. RISD is, after all, more eminent in the context of peer institutions than is Brown.