Bill and Lynn Fox with students at ADK site

In Partnership

Deborah Dudley

In the summer of 2020, St. Lawrence University President William L. Fox ’75 announced his plan to retire the following summer, after 12 years at the helm of his undergraduate alma mater. The community will also be saying goodbye to one of its strongest supporters in Lynn Fox, when the couple take their leave at the end of June 2021.

Bill and Lynn’s partnerships across campus and community constituents have served as the foundation for a multifaceted, interdisciplinary approach to advancing St. Lawrence’s mission. Their respect for and support of the deep-rooted traditions of St. Lawrence, its regional neighbors, and worldwide alumni networks have created the space to forge new relationships, foster new programs, and expand Laurentian connections.

“It’s been their ability to create a sense of community that they both have embraced,” says Board of Trustees Chair Michael W. Ranger ’80, P’17 on why he believes Bill and Lynn have had an impact. “They have both been leaders of, and actively involved, at all levels. And, I don’t think that anyone feels anything other than warmth when they’re in Bill and Lynn’s company.”

A tenure bookended between the financial recession of 2008 and the economic and public health crisis of the 2020-2021 coronavirus pandemic, Bill Fox has relied on the power of partnerships to successfully navigate the changing landscape of higher education. Both he and Lynn recognized that every initiative designed to position St. Lawrence’s liberal arts education competitively would be dependent on the community members at the center of the work, ensuring that programs, facilities, and support systems would exceed the needs of students, faculty, staff, and alumni now and for years to come.

A Global Perspective

“The drive to explore and understand the world beyond our rural, upstate New York campus has been part of  St. Lawrence University’s institutional DNA for over 90 years,” Fox noted when, in 2018, St. Lawrence University was named by NAFSA: Association of International Educators as a recipient of the prestigious Senator Paul Simon Award for Campus Internationalization.

Fox noted that beginning with the International Relations Club in the 1920s, St. Lawrence has continuously focused on building international components into curricular and cocurricular programming, from the nation’s first Model UN being held at St. Lawrence in 1949 and study abroad programs in France, Austria, and Spain in the 1960s to the now nationally recognized Kenya Semester Program, which celebrated 40 years in 2014.

Under Fox’s leadership, off-campus study expanded further to include 30 programs in more than 20 countries and the percentage of international students increased by 70 percent—including having among the highest number of United World College scholars of any New York liberal arts college. Faculty and staff have continuously examined and refined ways to infuse multicultural understanding into an evolving curriculum and campus life calendar, all underscored with Fox’s gratitude for their dedication and commitment.

Campus Culture and Community

“The last 12 months have been more challenging than the first 11 years,” Ranger notes, describing Fox’s determination over the past year in seeing major initiatives through. “Even though we had discussed his retirement long before the pandemic hit, Bill had concluded that there were too many external national challenges to the higher education business model, and that we could not wait. We would be wasting an opportunity to conduct an intensive strategic planning process.”

The results of Fox’s perseverance includes the momentum of The Experience St. Lawrence Task Force, which began before the pandemic struck, and has only accelerated during this exceptional year. This partnership of faculty, staff, alumni, and trustees to reinvigorate the intellectual and administrative frameworks that allow St. Lawrence students to thrive while tackling the adverse effects of the public health crisis, economic fallout, and the political and cultural intensity that will inform the coming decades exceeded all expectations, according to Ranger.

While the past year’s conditions are unique, they are not unfamiliar to Fox. He began his presidency in 2009 as St. Lawrence and other colleges and universities were facing the effects of a serious recession. At that time, Fox commissioned two all-campus working groups to respond to the financial challenges and shape the next decade of tremendous growth through a shared Strategic Map. The University implemented a distinctive new curriculum that included the development of the now 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. Other programs included St. Lawrence’s innovative Liberal Arts in New York City semester and the Sustainability Program in Canton—examples of courses of study that have grown over the past decade and laid the groundwork for more depth and breadth in new programming.

Parallel and paramount to enhancing the St. Lawrence experience, Fox has also prioritized the work of creating a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable St. Lawrence. Acting on the recommendations of the 2015 Presidential Diversity Commission report and hiring the University’s first associate dean for diversity and inclusion has culminated in a strategic plan that enlists involvement from the entire campus in dismantling the cultural obstacles to individuals capitalizing on their full potential as a Laurentian. Since his arrival in 2009, St. Lawrence’s total enrollment accounted for the broadest geographical representation ever in the University’s 164-year history, and Fox has insisted on a renewed commitment to recognizing the strengths in all of our differences.

Closer to Home

One of the most meaningful partnerships that Fox has fostered over the past decade has been in developing the St. Lawrence University Public Interest Corps, or SLU PIC. Coordinated by Career Connections and Student Activities & Leadership Offices, the paid 10-week summer internship links talented and passionate St. Lawrence University students and recent graduates to help advance the mission of North Country public interest and nonprofit organizations. It is a mash-up of service learning opportunities and leadership development to benefit North Country constituents and includes partner organizations such as the St. Lawrence County Land Trust, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Frederic Remington Art Museum, GardenShare, and Renewal House, to name a few.

Even closer to home, in 2010, Fox established the Campus Innovation Grants program, which is open to anyone on campus and funds ideas designed to improve the quality of life at St. Lawrence. Through curricular, cocurricular, or campus life projects, the grants have funded everything from the startup of the Intergroup Dialogue programming and community gardens to sustainability efforts and cultural events. The grants continue to provide a foundation for innovative projects that have an immediate impact on the community.

Community partnerships have also defined Lynn’s 12 years as a North Country resident. Her involvement with local arts organizations such as the North Country Children’s Museum helped launch a community resource that provides a critical educational space for hundreds of area school children. She is also a founding board member of the North Country Women’s Leadership Initiative, a partnership among four universities in Northern New York working to identify and support the next generation of women in leadership across every sector of the North Country.

Prioritizing Every Laurentian

Bill and Lynn Fox recognize that none of the accomplishments over their tenure could have been realized without the generosity and commitment of every Laurentian. More philanthropy has been generated over the past 12 years at the University than in any other period of its 165-year history. Increased involvement of young alumni in starting their St. Lawrence giving to reaching a new level of record-breaking multi-million dollar gifts from alumni and parents, have been a few of the highlights during Bill Fox’s tenure.

“Being an alumnus clearly allowed Bill to connect more deeply with other alumni and students,” says Ranger, who believes engagement was the key to getting alumni on board in supporting programs over the years, and most recently, with the priorities of The Campaign for Every Laurentian, the most ambitious fundraising goal in the institution’s history. “I think his familiarity with having been here as a student gave him an innate sense of St. Lawrence’s principles, and more importantly, the philosophy of this place.”

Under Fox’s leadership, St. Lawrence’s endowment has grown nearly 95 percent to $365 million, and has produced $140 million in endowment income. In addition, Fox has led the University to record fundraising results as The Campaign for Every Laurentian has raised more than 96 percent of its $225 million goal as of April 1.

Laurentian Connections

Lynn’s community outreach over the past decade has also helped to seed many of St. Lawrence’s fastest growing professional networking programs. As a presidential spouse, she brought decades of communications experience working at the highest levels in Washington, D.C. Before retiring from the Federal Reserve System in 2012, Lynn’s career included serving as deputy congressional liaison at the Board of Governors followed by years as director of the Office of Board Members and assistant secretary to the Federal Open Market Committee, where she acted as chief spokesperson for Chairman Alan Greenspan.

“Part of the strategic mapping that Bill put together at the beginning of his tenure was increasing alumni engagement—at every level,” Lynn explains. She wasted no time in finding ways to leverage her professional expertise into collaborations with alumni, parents, faculty, staff, and students at St. Lawrence, including her work with trustees Sarah E. Johnson ’82, P’15, award-winning film producer, and Jennifer Curley Reichert ’90, founder and president of Washington-based communications consulting firm Curley Company, Inc., to help pilot two innovative networking programming in Washington, D.C.: the Women’s Leadership Initiative and the SLU Connect networking series.

Lynn also found time to co-teach a course about the Federal Reserve with Cynthia Bansak, Charles A. Dana Professor of Economics. Enlisting even more expertise through an alumni advisory group, the most recent 2020 Fed Challenge team took second place out of 85 schools, finishing ahead of Princeton University, Miami University, Michigan State University, and Virginia Commonwealth University.

Bill and Lynn both recognize the power of Laurentian connections, and with strategic investments of resources and bridging alumni volunteers and donors from around the world and campus constituents stewarding the student experience, the potential is limitless. Supporting the partnerships and work of campus life, career services, and alumni relations offices are why St. Lawrence’s alumni network has been ranked among the best in the nation by The Princeton Review for the past five years.

There Is Something About This Place

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, Abbott-Young Memorial Beta Temple, and the Class of 1975 Promenade, among others.

When the Gunnison Memorial Chapel spire was heavily damaged due to a fire in October 2013, Fox resolved to have it rebuilt, repaired, and added back to the North Country skyline. With every project, he ensured those most important to the use of each space were involved in the discussions, process, and design. He knew how critical it was for the bell chimes to ring again.

Numerous historic and new venues have been enhanced to ensure that students have the best facilities to achieve the greatest results. From academic laboratories and libraries to athletic training rooms and hockey arenas, and everything in between, throughout his tenure, it has been Fox’s commitment to students that will be his most lasting legacy.
It seems only fitting that the St. Lawrence University community will honor President Fox and his commitment to student success by naming the current Center for Student Achievement the Fox Center for Academic Opportunity.

“President Fox has given everything to St. Lawrence and our students,” Ranger concludes. “Now, his name will be forever linked to a space in the heart of campus where students uncover their limitless potential thanks to mentors who put each student’s needs at the center of everything they do.”

William L. Fox ’75 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 from 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 School of Theology, 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.