Ron Thomas assumed his responsibilities as Puget Sound's thirteenth president on July 16, 2003. Since that time, he has led the university in three critical planning initiatives: a 20-year master plan aimed at making the most of Puget Sound's intimate, inviting, and inspiring campus; a strategic plan of action for the next decade that will position the university as a national leader in liberal arts education; and preparations for an ambitious comprehensive capital campaign to realize these objectives.
Defining Moments is the university's strategic plan, designed to position Puget Sound as the nation's premier liberal arts institution embodying the Pacific Northwest experience, combining a commitment to academic excellence with civic engagement, environmental responsibility, and a global focus. "A Tapestry of Learning" (as the master plan is called) has already enhanced and unified Puget Sound's beautiful campus, weaving together a distinctive physical plant with the university's academic programs while connecting more fully with the immediate neighborhood and larger region. During President Thomas's tenure, the campus, recognized by The Princeton Review as among the nation's most beautiful, has seen more than $200 million in capital improvements, including the completion of a new science complex (Harned Hall and the complete renovation of Thompson Hall), a new residential living and learning center (Commencement Hall), a distinctive new center for health sciences (Weyerhaeuser Hall), a unifying landscape element that unites the campus from north to south (Commencement Walk), and a new Athletics and Aquatics Center, currently under construction.
In October of 2011, Puget Sound announced a $125 million ONE [of a Kind] comprehensive capital campaign to advance the university’s strategic objectives. As of March 31, 2015, the campaign has already exceeded the $125 million mark, surpassing all previous campaigns and securing the largest capital gift the university had ever received, the largest gifts to endowment, and the largest gifts for financial aid. The campaign is scheduled to conclude on June 30, 2015.
In addition to building a strong foundation for the future, President Thomas came to Puget Sound firmly committed to the idea that good scholarship and good citizenship go hand in hand and that Puget Sound's distinctive learning environment, vibrant community, outstanding students, and dedicated faculty offer the opportunity to provide national leadership in this area. Manifestations of this commitment include the university's widely acclaimed Civic Scholarship Project (along with its pioneering work in environmental sustainability through the Sound Policy Institute and in the role of race in American education and culture through the Race and Pedagogy Initiative) and the Tacoma Public Schools Commitment, in which graduates of Tacoma's public high schools who are admitted to Puget Sound have their full financial need met.
Under Thomas's leadership, the University of Puget Sound was named in 2007 the nation's number one producer of Peace Corps volunteers for universities its size and, in 2006, a top-ten producer of Fulbright Scholars for baccalaureate colleges. In 2007, Puget Sound equaled the highest number of Watson Fellowships awarded to any college for that year. Also in 2007, Puget Sound was honored with its fourth Washington State Professor of the Year award from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (for Nancy Bristow, history), more than any other college or university—followed by its fifth in 2009 (for James Evans, physics), a sixth in 2010 (for Michael Veseth, international political economy) and a seventh in 2012 (for Karl Fields, politics and government). For each year of Thomas's presidency, the university has also achieved new high-water marks in admission, academic achievement, retention, and fundraising. These efforts were recognized in 2012 when Puget Sound was named one of forty “Colleges that Change Lives” in the nation, and included in the new edition of the book with that title. The university was honored for the positive, transformational effects its dedicated faculty, innovative curriculum and engaging community have on the lives of students and the accomplishments of graduates. Other recent initiatives include Puget Sound's recently announced partnership with the Posse Foundation, a national nonprofit organization committed to expanding the pool from which colleges and universities can recruit outstanding young leaders from diverse backgrounds.
Thomas brings to these efforts a long record of leadership in higher education. Prior to coming to Puget Sound, he was a faculty member at the University of Chicago, Harvard University and Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. At Trinity, he also served as college vice president and as acting president, leading the implementation of Trinity's master plan and its nationally recognized engagement with the community. He has been widely honored for his achievements, including being named a Mellon Faculty Fellow in the Humanities at Harvard, receiving Trinity's Dean Arthur A. Hughes Award for distinguished teaching achievement, and being granted an honorary doctorate from Trinity in recognition of his contributions to higher education as "an insightful scholar, masterful teacher [and] skillful administrator."
With an academic background in Victorian literature and culture, Dr. Thomas is the author of numerous scholarly publications, including chapters for more than fourteen books, and three books in a wide range of subjects, including Detective Fiction and the Rise of Forensic Science and Dreams of Authority: Freud and the Fictions of the Unconscious. His most recent work explores the relationship between the Victorian novel and the invention of the cinema. A past member of the board of directors for the American Council on Education and the Chronicle of Higher Education and New York Times Higher Education Cabinet, he is the former chair of the board of the Independent Colleges of Washington and served on the President's Council for NCAA Division III. Dr. Thomas is a current member of board of directors for the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) and chair of its Committee on Student Aid. He also serves on the executive committee of the Annapolis Group, a consortium comprised of approximately 130 leading national independent liberal arts colleges.
A native of New Jersey, Ron Thomas is an avid athlete, sports fan and traveler. His wife, Mary, a Seattle native, was an admired administrator and faculty member at Trinity College and Stanford University, serving most recently as dean of students and lecturer in classics at Trinity. Mary currently serves on the board of directors for the Northwest Sinfonietta and the YWCA of Pierce County. Mary and Ron live on campus in the president's house with their unusually intelligent cat, Coco.