Robert Morris University

RMU President Chris Howard to Join Executive Leadership Team at Arizona State University

Robert Morris University President Chris Howard, a national expert in higher education policy, will join Arizona State University as executive vice president and chief operating officer of the ASU Enterprise in early February.

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Howard will join ASU President Michael Crow and other ASU executive vice presidents as part of the ASU Enterprise leadership team to design, build and oversee a new model for a national university dedicated to access, excellence and impact. 

Howard will work closely with President Crow and the other executive vice presidents to coordinate enterprise-wide initiatives and advancement, oversee ASU Enterprise affiliates, advance new enterprise relationships and opportunities and integrate ASU Enterprise planning and strategy. 

In addition, his wife, Barbara Howard, a leader in civic life, philanthropy and the arts, will join Arizona State University next month as a University Fellow for nonprofit leadership. Barbara Howard also will start her new role in February, working with leaders and faculty members from across the institution in areas such as cultural affairs, nonprofit leadership, philanthropic advancement and museum programming. 

Chris Howard became RMU’s eighth president on February 1, 2016. Under his leadership, the university completed the largest fundraising campaign in its 100-year history, Ready to Rise, which reached its $100 million goal one year ahead of schedule and which closed December 31 with a grand total of $113.25 million raised. That campaign funded the UPMC Events Center; the expansion of the John Jay Center for the School of Engineering, Mathematics and Science; numerous scholarships and endowed professorships and new research and teaching centers on campus. 

“To say that it has been both an honor and a privilege to serve as the eighth president of Robert Morris University these past six years would be a gross understatement. Barbara and I have thoroughly enjoyed our time working with the amazing faculty, staff, administration, Board of Trustees, and especially the students and their families,” said Howard. “Our lives as well those of our sons, Cohen and Joshua, have been enriched by the kindness the entire RMU and greater Pittsburgh community have extended to us during our over half a decade tenure.”

The fundraising campaign dovetailed with the university’s RMU 100 strategic plan, which has positioned RMU to be one of the most agile professional and career-focused universities in the nation. RMU completed many of the goals it set under the strategic plan, including the creation of the Office of Corporate Relations and Strategic Initiatives, which partners with employers throughout the Pittsburgh region and beyond to provide leadership education and professional development to their workforce. 

During Howard’s presidency, RMU was ranked among the U.S. News and World Report list of “Best National Universities” for the first time, and in September was ranked by U.S. News as a Top 50 “Best Value School” in America for academic quality and affordability. Howard steered the university through the Covid-19 pandemic, during which the university grew first-time freshman enrollment by 23 percent. 

“Chris Howard’s vision and leadership has guided RMU through a turbulent time in higher education and during a global pandemic that has disrupted nearly every aspect of our lives,” said Morgan K. O’Brien, chair of the RMU Board of Trustees. “In spite of those challenges, RMU achieved many of its strategic goals and is positioned for success in an increasingly competitive market.”

The Board of Trustees has appointed as interim president Mary Ann Rafoth, currently provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. To support the overall transition efforts, the Board has appointed as chief transition officer Renee Cavalovitch, RMU general counsel and vice president for legal affairs and risk management.

The search for Howard’s permanent successor is already underway with a national search firm, and chairing the Presidential Search Committee will be Carrie Coghill, vice chair of the Board of Trustees and president and CEO of Coghill Investment Strategies. Coghill is a 2008 RMU graduate. Vice chair of the committee will be Trustee Clarence Dozier, managing director of litigation for FedEx Ground Package System Inc.

“Robert Morris University remains in the hands of a talented, seasoned leadership team with a capable and committed board. They are willing and able to innovate, a much-needed trait in today’s ever-changing higher education landscape,” said Howard. “RMU will continue to thrive during the next 100 years just as it has during the previous 100.”  

Click here to read more from President Howard about his time at RMU, and his achievements.