A Chat with Board of Governors’ Chair Lorne Adrain

Lorne Adrain ‘76, appointed by Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, became chair of the state’s Board of Governors for Higher Education this past spring. The higher education system includes the Community College of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College, and the University of Rhode Island. The board is steward to assets that include 43,224 students, 4,100 employees, a $987 million budget, 366 buildings and facilities on nine campuses with just over 7 million square feet of space that accounts for approximately 49 percent of all state property.

Q: This new role requires much of your time, energy, and talent, but comes without a paycheck. Why were you interested in becoming chair?

Lorne Adrain ’76, CLU, has just been named managing director of Ballentine Partners, LLC. He earned an M.B.A. from Harvard in 1983. His prior experience includes 18 years leading an insurance practice focused on estate planning and corporate applications of life insurance; five years as an executive at AT&T; and 10 years assisting firms with startup plans, turnaround strategies and equity financing. He lives in Providence with his wife, novelist Ann Hood ’78, and their children.

Other BOG appointees with URI connections include Dr. Antonio Barajas ’91, Eva-Marie Mancuso ’82, and John A. Walsh, Ph.D ’08. URI Vice Provost Emeritus Thomas Rockett will remain on the board until 2012.

A: I am proud to have the opportunity to contribute to Rhode Island as chairman of the Board of Governors for Higher Education and to contribute to this community that I love. As the second of eight children and a first generation college graduate, URI was the very special place that, for me, was the beginning of seeing possibility, of having opportunities to lead and to serve, of exploring and experimenting with my interests and skills, and of imagining and practicing my roles as citizen, parent, and friend. I will do all I can to be sure that others have the same opportunity to learn and grow.

Q: Since you haven’t served on a higher education board before, what have you done to prepare yourself for this important task?

A: I launched a process of learning and discovery for myself. I met with RIC president Nancy Carriuolo, toured the RIC campus, and learned more about the strength of its nursing, teaching, and arts programs. This is a place where lives are transformed, a place that educates and inspires thousands of students every year who tend to live and work in Rhode Island.  CCRI President Ray DiPasquale helped me begin to understand the challenges faced by first generation, older and recent immigrant students looking for opportunities to develop skills that can make them more competitive in the workforce and help them discover the passion and self-confidence that will enhance their contributions as citizens and community members. CCRI is and must remain an affordable link to the future for more than 16,000 students. With President David Dooley’s help, I hope to understand better and be part of the transformation that is taking place at our flagship university, where strengthening the research agenda, extending URI’s global reach, building a diverse community, and creating a 24/7 learning environment are key objectives.

Q: During the past five years, the state appropriation to higher education has dropped by $38.3 million. Since the board is charged with managing the system’s finances, how will you manage competing interests in this climate?

A: One of our central roles is to advocate for the system. We must understand the social and economic benefits of higher education and be able to translate conceptual benefits into stories that every political leader and every person in Rhode Island can understand. We must help everyone understand the collective benefit of more people having access to higher education. Governor Chafee has demonstrated his belief, reversing the trend of decline by increasing the budget allocation by $10 million. My predecessor, Judge Caprio, noted that the completion of a higher education degree on average enables a person to earn $700,000 more in a lifetime. Increasing the number of students we serve by just two percent might add several billion dollars to our economy while helping people live more satisfying lives.

Q: You and the majority of the board members are new. Do you see this as an obstacle or an opportunity?

A: It is all about opportunity from my perspective. We have an outstanding new team of thoughtful people with fresh ideas and perspectives. We are also lucky that Dr. Tom Rockett remains a board member. Many previous board members have freely shared their wise counsel. We have an extraordinary group of presidents, faculty, and staff. And we have a challenging economic environment that forces people to consider new ideas and perspectives. What could be better?

Q: Rhode Islanders have consistently approved bond issues for higher education, and because they do, many wonder why CCRI, RIC, and URI seem to always want more money. Haven’t taxpayers given enough already?

A: The cost of providing an education that prepares people to be competitive in a changing global economy will always be increasing. We simply have to decide how important it is for our people and our state to be competitive in that environment. I believe most Rhode Islanders want us to continue to improve. To do so, we have to invest more and differently and get creative about sources of investment and collaboration beyond the usual suspects.

Q: What is your vision for higher education in this state?

A: I envision increasing the levels of access, satisfaction, skill development, career success, and community contribution for students attending our schools. I would also like to see continuous improvements in effectiveness of all parts of the system, as well as improvements in relative performance/attractiveness of our system. Finally, I would like our higher education system to be seen by the people of Rhode Island, the nation, and the world as a system of excellence and leadership that equips people to lead satisfying, productive lives.

Q: When you’re not being the chair of the Board of Higher Education or managing director of Ballentine Partners, LLC, what do you do to relax?

A: I love to be outdoors—be it climbing my next mountain on a far continent, biking around my neighborhood in Providence, or paddling in a nearby stream. I also love working with family, friends, and neighbors on ideas that make our community an increasingly fun and interesting place to be.