By Ted Nesi
PBN Web Editor
KINGSTON – In one of the largest gifts in the history of the University of Rhode Island, Richard J. Harrington, former president and CEO of The Thomson Corp., and his wife, Jean, have announced plans to give $5 million to expand the university’s new School of Communication and Media.
The school, which was established last year, would be renamed The Harrington School of Communication and Media if the R.I. Board of Governors for Higher Education approves the new name at its May 11 meeting.
The gift from Harrington, who graduated from URI’s College of Business Administration in 1973, was announced on Friday evening at a farewell gala in Newport for URI President Robert L. Carothers, who is retiring next month after 18 years in the school’s top job.
“This is an extraordinary gift from Dick and Jean, and one that will have a far-reaching and resounding impact on the University of Rhode Island,” Carothers said in a statement. “The ability to invest in the [communication and media] school at its earliest stage will help us achieve a distinct niche for the program, one based on the latest thinking on communication and technology.”
Harrington served as president and CEO of Thomson until his retirement in April 2008 following his company’s purchase of Reuters Group Ltd., which created Thomson Reuters. He is now chairman and general partner at Cue Ball, a venture capital firm in Boston, and also serves on the boards of Xerox, Aetna, and Milliken & Co.
As part of the gift, the Toronto-based Woodbridge Company Ltd., a holding company owned by the Thomson family that is the majority shareholder in Thomson Reuters, and other private donors will contribute $500,000 in recognition of Harrington’s tenure with the company.
In addition, URI said Thomson Reuters plans to share its media tools, staff and other resources with URI and the new communication school going forward.
Carothers said he expects the school “will create unique opportunities for our students to lead, in a time of exploding change in communications.”
URI and the Board of Governors created the School of Communication and Media early last year by combining five academic units within the College of Arts & Sciences – the Department of Communication Studies, the Department of Journalism, the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies, Writing and Rhetoric, and the Program in Film Media.
However, the five units were not physically centralized due to a lack of space. URI said it expects to use Harringtons’ gift in part to renovate or build a dedicated home for the school in the near future.
“How appropriate that a graduate who’s been a giant in the information industry chooses to make an impact for aspiring students in such dramatic fashion,” said Glen R. Kerkian, president of the URI Foundation. “A gift of this caliber places the Harringtons among the elite few who have made private gifts that are truly transformational to the Kingston campus.”
The gift is part of URI’s Making a Difference capital campaign, which aims to raise at least $100 million by the end of 2010. Kerkian said it has raised nearly $92 million thus far.
Harrington, who was awarded an honorary doctorate by URI in 2002 and has been active in campus affairs and fundraising, said he and his wife felt it was important to support public higher education. He said URI was “instrumental in forming the foundation of my career success.” The couple have already given roughly $500,000 to URI in earlier donations.
“This gift reflects our heartfelt commitment to supporting public universities, which unlock doors of opportunity for students who might not otherwise be able to go to college,” Harrington said. “As the son of Irish immigrants who could not afford college education, I am grateful for the doors that URI unlocked for me.”
“As someone who has seen the world of information evolve from print to digital, and now to blogs and Twittering, I believe it is critical for URI to prepare its communication students for leadership roles in the next generation of media and communications that is increasingly changing at breakneck speed around the globe,” he continued.
“With the Harrington School of Communication and Media, we have the opportunity to create a leading-edge environment in education and research that will help to fuel innovation in the knowledge economy,” he added. “I commend and thank President Carothers and his talented faculty for having the foresight and commitment to undertake this important and exciting initiative.”
Additional information is available at URI.edu.