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Robert Morris announces new university president

Debra Erdley
| Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, 4:28 p.m.

In a move that marked the end of a national search, Robert Morris University trustees Thursday named Christopher B. Howard, president of Hampden-Sydney College, the eighth president of the school.

Howard, 46, a United States Air Force Academy graduate and Rhodes Scholar, is scheduled to take the helm at Robert Morris on Feb. 1.

“Dr. Howard is a high-energy, charismatic and visionary leader who believes in the power of mentorship — a perfect fit for RMU,” said Gary Claus, chairman of the school's board of trustees.

His appointment marks the conclusion of a search that began shortly after former RMU President Gregory Dell'Omo announced his plans to leave Robert Morris last December. Dell'Omo left Robert Morris in June after 10 years to become the president of Rider University in his home state of New Jersey.

Howard has been president of Hampden-Sydney, a Virginia private liberal arts college for men with an enrollment of 1,100, since 2009. At Robert Morris, he'll oversee a university with an enrollment of 5,350.

While the schools are differ in size and mission, Howard, who previously was vice president for leadership and strategic initiatives at the University of Oklahoma and serves on the board of regents at Baylor University, said all four schools share one important characteristic.

“All of them are committed to excellence and helping people understand this world and the world around them,” Howard said.

Richard Harshman, vice chair of the board of trustees and chair of the board's presidential search committee, said Howard rose to the top of a list of finalists for the post at the Moon university because of his vision and energy, as well as his record of success at Hampden-Sydney.

During Howard's tenure at the Virginia school, enrollment and retention grew, alumni giving reached 33 percent, and the grade-point average of the incoming freshman class rose.

Howard said Robert Morris, like universities everywhere, faces tough battles as families increasingly question the rising cost of a college education.

“As institutional leaders in higher education, all of us have to be cognitive of that and ensure we're offering the best price we can,” Howard said. “The real question is, ‘Is it worth the investment?' ”

“It is a challenge, but I would put RMU up against any other school in that regard. This is an investment and besides buying your house, it is probably the most important investment you'll make.”

A native of Plano, Texas, Howard earned an MBA with distinction from the Harvard Business School and a doctorate in politics from Oxford University while on a Rhodes Scholarship.

He was a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserve and earned a Bronze Star for military service in Afghanistan. He also served as U.S. Reserve Air Attaché to Liberia and as intelligence operations and officer with the Joint Special Operations Command. In 2011, President Obama appointed Howard to the National Security Education Program Board. “Dr. Howard has experience both within and outside of higher education, having worked in the corporate world and having a distinguished career in the Air Force and Air Force Reserve,” Claus said. “He has experience with and insights into different models of education, from Ivy Leagues to large publics, from small, liberal arts institutions to military academies. And, on the more personal side, his own background reflects the character and values we see in RMU's students and alumni.”

Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com

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