Outgoing Bryant president reflects on 24 years at the helm


SMITHFIELD, R.I. (WPRI) ─ When Ron Machtley was named the president of Bryant University in 1996, the institution was still considered a college.

Throughout his 24-year tenure, Machtley built up what was previously known as a regional business school into a nationally ranked university.

Under Machtley’s leadership, Bryant also added a college of business and a college of arts and sciences — drastically increasing the number of students enrolled — added 500,000 square feet of facilities to the campus, and moved athletics to NCAA Division I.

“I realized that even when it’s tough, and it looks tough, there’s a bright side if you weather through,” Machtley said. “We tried to do that here.”

Machtley announced his plans to retire back in May 2019. He said he and his wife Kati plan to pursue their creative interests, travel and spend more time with their children and grandchildren.

Prior to his time at Bryant, Machtley served as a Rhode Island congressman in the House of Representatives from 1989 to 1995. His desire to improve and adapt made him the perfect candidate to propel Bryant forward.

“I may have been a little naive, but we had five empty dorms and a deficit of $1.75 million,” Machtley recalled. “So in my first year, it was really, ‘How are we going to survive?'”

With Machtley at the helm, Bryant’s number of applicants quadrupled and the endowment nearly doubled.

“Our last capital campaign our goal was $75 million. We raised $111 million,” he said.

The secret, according to Machtley, was developing a pride in the school that made alumni eager to give back, ultimately making education more affordable for future students.

Machtley said his legacy will live on in the Academic Innovation Center, which he believes encompasses his vision for the university’s future.

“It’s not the fact that [students] have just knowledge, but they have this innovative design thinking, characteristic teamwork approach and they’re great people with great character,” Machtley said.

Machtley said he’s pleased to see in-person learning return in the fall. The university, like many other institutions in Rhode Island, opted to finish the spring semester virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic.

As his successor, Dr. Ross Gittell, prepares to take his place, Machtley said he refuses to tell him what to do. Instead, he will be embracing his transition into retirement, which he said will include plenty of painting.

“When you look at Monet, he was almost blind when he painted those water lilies,” Machtley said. “He was in his 80s and they’re some of his best paintings. There’s still hope for us older painters as we pick up that brush and make that fateful stroke on a blank canvas.”

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