Vice President, University Secretary
and Special Assistant to the President of Duke University; Knox Trustee
When Richard Riddell was in second grade, he loved to go to school early to
help his teacher distribute pencils and paper on each student's desk.
Currently vice president, university secretary, and special assistant to the
president of Duke University, Riddell may not help distribute pencils and paper any longer, but he's still helping "others get the most of their education," he says.
After graduating from Knox with a degree in theatre in 1972, Riddell received his doctorate from Stanford University in 1978, and proceeded to have successful careers at the University of California-San Diego, Harvard University, and Duke, respectively. During this time, Riddell also worked as a professional theatre designer, winning a Tony Award for his lighting design in the 1985 Broadway production of Big River.
"The shift from professor to administrator was a bit more gradual than it might appear," says Riddell. "During my career, I was still designing and teaching. Then about five years ago, it seemed like a good time to hand the baton to someone else." Riddell's first university level administrative position at Duke was in the provost's office, where he worked for roughly a year until Duke's new president was hired. The president wanted someone to work as a chief of staff for him, and Riddell took the position, where, among other duties, he serves as a liaison between the university and its board of trustees.
Shortly after he joined the president's office at Duke, Riddell joined the Knox College Board of Trustees in 2005. He is the only Knox trustee who works on both sides of trustee governance, providing him with a truly unique perspective. "It helps me understand better the role of the administration and the role of the board," he says. "You see that the administration, under the leadership of the president, is the group in charge of making sure that the decisions that get made every day support the college's mission. The Board is charged to oversee that activity."
Over the past year, the differences between Duke and Knox -- a large, research university with an endowment more than $4 billion versus a small, liberal arts college with an endowment just over $70 million -- have been especially evident to Riddell. "One of the things I noticed when I first joined the Board was that the nature of the financial challenges that Knox faces were very different from Duke," he says. "I often thought that it was too bad that Knox couldn't do many things because of a lack of money. Well then you fast forward a year, and Knox gave their faculty two percent raises; Duke and many top research universities with large endowments froze salaries."
Sound management and a strong commitment to its educational program are what Riddell believes has served Knox well, but he still sees needs for improvement. "One of Knox's biggest challenges over the next decade is identifying the resources that the College needs to strengthen the physical infrastructure, such as renovating Alumni Hall and the Science-Mathematics Center. If 10 years from now, the College has a strong sense of direction, faculty salaries and support have increased relative to our peers, and major capital projects like Alumni Hall have been completed, that would be a great thing," he says.