Former President Passed Away on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2016; Served as the College's Seventh President (2003-15)

“It is with great sadness that the SUNY Orange community learned today of the passing of Dr. William Richards, the College’s seventh president (2003-2015). Dr. Richards was a respected educator and a visionary leader who devoted his professional life to the advancement of higher education. He advocated for students, encouraged faculty and staff to innovate, and built great trust with many groups and organizations within our community. He ushered the College through great growth during his 12-year tenure, particularly the development of the Newburgh campus and facilities improvements at the Middletown campus. His impact upon SUNY Orange will be felt for many years to come.  His professional legacy is an ongoing gift to Orange County.

“Personally, I will always appreciate his warmth, generosity and professionalism. Prior to my start date at the College, he gave freely of his time, experience and candor in an effort to smooth my transition. His profound love of SUNY Orange and its people was evident in his every word to me.”

Profile of Dr. William Richards

When he retired from SUNY Orange as its seventh president in June 2015, Dr. William Richards had completed the second-longest presidential tenure in the College’s 65-year history, trailing only the 17-year stint of Dr. Robert Novak (1965-82).

In total, Richards’ 36-year academic career featured 18 years in executive leadership roles on college campuses, including three years as chief executive officer of the Westminster campus of Front Range Community College in Denver, Colo. (2000-2003), and three years as president of Otero Junior College in La Junta Colo. (1996-99). He was also president of the Higher Education and Advanced Technologies (HEAT) Center, a long-range strategic planning group headquartered in Denver, during the 1999-2000 academic year.

Significant highlights from Richards’ SUNY Orange presidency include: completion of the Defining Moments capital campaign that generated $25.1 million in private gifts to the College; approval, development and expansion of the Newburgh campus, which had previously been an extension center; and construction and expansion of facilities on the Middletown campus, including the campus’ crown jewel, the Rowley Center.

Completion of the Rowley Center will capped an aggressive series of capital improvement projects in which the College poured approximately $140 million into buildings and grounds within a six-year span (2008-2014). In all, the College fully constructed or renovated six structures during that span, resulting in more than 285,000 square feet of new or renewed educational space.

Throughout his tenure, Richards employed a style of leadership that focused on three major goals: to enrich lives through learning, enhance economic opportunities in the area the College serves, and to participate in and lead community development. To that end, the College engaged in countless community partnerships over the years that enhanced the SUNY Orange academic experience for students while at the same time positively benefitting residents throughout the Hudson Valley.

He’s also brought a focus upon strategic planning to the College; helped strengthen relations between the Board of Trustees and the SUNY Orange Foundation Board of Directors; approved the establishment of the Colt Athletic Hall of Fame to recognize former athletes and teams; supported industry forums that brought growth and efficiencies to the areas of healthcare, banking and advanced manufacturing; and greatly enhanced the availability of professional development opportunities for faculty and staff through significant expansion of the College’s Center for Teaching and Learning.

In order to address budgetary challenges in the final years of his tenure, created in part by dwindling support from New York State, SUNY Orange placed a greater emphasis on the acquisition of grants from government organizations as well as public and private foundations. In his tenure, the College secured more than $17 million in grants, with two-thirds of that tally--almost $11.5 million--coming in his final seven years.

The College built vibrant collaborative relationships with local high schools, its sister community colleges in the Hudson Valley, and many businesses and organizations. Additionally,  SUNY Orange maintained a thriving partnership with Orange County government leadership.

In nearly all instances in which he has facilitated collaborations, Richards sought to meet one or more of the following goals: improve the educational program, provide critical experiential learning opportunities to enhance classroom education, facilitate more effective institutional operations to allow the College to “provide more with less,” or contribute to the expansion of educational access and opportunity for local residents.

Richards helped SUNY Orange become a founding member of a four-community college consortium (the Hudson Valley Educational Consortium) designed to expand access to first responder and innovative technology programs (credit and non-credit) for residents of Orange, Rockland, Sullivan and Ulster counties. It is the first such consortium in the State University of New York to bring programming offered at one of the schools to students at the other schools through a combination of video teleconferencing technology, online study and classroom coursework at the student’s “home” campus.

Soon after his arrival, Richards guided the College through an exhaustive and thorough self-assessment that resulted in development of SUNY Orange’s first-ever five-year Strategic Plan. The initial plan, completed in 2004, and its subsequent revisions in 2009 and 2015 have served as guiding documents for College planning and operations since.

Richards earned a bachelor’s degree, graduating magna cum laude, from Regis College (currently Regis University) in 1966 and a master’s degree, with honors, from St. Louis University in 1968. He acquired his Ph.D. in medieval literature from the University of Denver in 1987.

He and his wife Helen were active on many boards and organizations throughout the Hudson Valley, including Hospice of Orange & Sullivan Counties, Inc., Hudson Valley Pattern For Progress, Newburgh Armory Unity Center, Orange County Chamber of Commerce, Orange County Citizens Foundation, Orange County Partnership, Inspire and United Way of the Dutchess-Orange Region.

Major SUNY Orange Accomplishments During Dr. William Richards’ tenure

Defining Moments Capital Campaign: 25.1 Million

In addition to construction in Newburgh and Middletown (noted below), the Defining Moments campaign that concluded in the Fall of 2013 helped increase the College’s scholarship endowment by 207 percent, to more than $2.4 million. Campaign donations supported a host of additional projects or improvements, including: scholarships for daycare, faculty and staff professional development, creation of new academic programming, technological upgrades to classrooms, the Global Initiative: Africa program, expanded wireless internet access on the Middletown campus, attendance by Honors Program students at regional conferences, a SUNY Orange student research competition, the archival process for materials in the Ben Gilman Collection, and creation of a one-stop services hub in the Shepard Student Center.

Creation of the Newburgh Branch Campus

SUNY Orange’s expanded campus in Newburgh includes Kaplan Hall, an 85,000-square-foot classroom and laboratory building that opened in January 2011, along with the renovated Tower Building that was reopened in January 2012. The College offers seven full degree programs in Newburgh and services more than 1,500 full- and part-time students. The campus has elevated educational access for students from throughout the eastern portion of Orange County, and beyond, and has become a key component in the revitalization of the City of Newburgh. Additionally, in December 2013, the Orange County Legislature approved the purchase of three buildings--American Legion Hall, Masonic Lodge and former YMCA--adjacent to Kaplan Hall along Grand Street for future College expansion. The County-owned Maple Building stands next to the Tower Building and could serve the College’s needs in the future.

Middletown Campus Capital Improvements

From 2011-14, the College enhanced its Middletown campus via construction of the Morrison Lab School, a magnificent new childcare facility that also serves as an on-campus learning laboratory for the College’s education and early childhood development students; a parking garage along Wawayanda Avenue; and the Rowley Center, a 107,000-square-foot facility that houses the science, biology, engineering and architecture programs.

Additional SUNY Orange Accomplishments from 2003-2015


  • Founding member of the Hudson Valley Educational Consortium
  • Joined Franklin University’s Community College Alliance
  • Acquired Benjamin A. Gilman Collection and established Gilman Center for International Education at the Middletown campus Library
  • Introduced new academic programs in human services, emergency management, new media and public health
  • Established Interdisciplinary Studies Department
  • Greatly expanded College’s Honors Program for motivated, high-achieving students
  • Saw tenfold growth in membership in Phi Theta Kappa (national honor society for two-year students)
  • Expanded transfer articulations with four-year colleges and universities and introduced joint academic programs (i.e.: criminal justice articulation with St. John’s University and new RN to BSN program with SUNY Binghamton)
  • Developed the Global Initiative program, a series of yearlong, college-wide investigations into regions of the world (Latin America, Asia, Africa) or issues of global importance (sustainability, global health)
  • Successfully completed two Middle States Commission on Higher Education Self-Study accreditation visits

Community Collaborations

  • Completed industry forums in the areas of healthcare, banking and advanced manufacturing
  • Developed Frontier TechLab
  • Created the Center for Assistive and Rehabilitative Technology (CART)

College Operations

  • Implemented two College-wide Strategic Plans (2005 and 2009)
  • Instituted and expanded Center for Teaching and Learning (professional development for faculty and staff)
  • Created Institutional Effectiveness Plan to improve College operations and track College performance
  • Implemented plans for Emergency Management and Sustainability to guide and improve College operations
  • Original signatory of Climate Commitment and infused sustainability into College operations and policies

Student Services

  • Expanded student services to include One-Stop Centers on both campuses
  • Established the College’s Wellness Center
  • Refined College orientation process to include NEW Start workshops attended by all incoming students so that they may become better acclimated to SUNY Orange

Institutional Advancement

  • Strengthened collaboration/relations between the SUNY Orange Foundation Board and Board of Trustees
  • Moved Alumni Association from College Association to Institutional Advancement
  • Initiated President’s Scholarship for Outstanding Academic Achievement
  • Promoted pursuit and acceptance of grants from government organizations as well as public and private foundations, resulting in the acceptance of approximately $16.9 million in grant awards in the past 11 years


  • Oversaw growth in availability of online classes
  • Introduced and expanded use of simulation manikins in nursing laboratories
  • Implemented SMART Classrooms
  • Expanded wireless internet access throughout both campuses
  • Revamped MySUNYOrange online services (launched in June 2014) to promote increased student retention and completion


  • Established Colt Athletic Hall of Fame (first induction class was in 2012)
  • Helped return Orange County Home Show to the College in 2012
  • Broadened naming of College spaces in honor of those friends and former employees who contributed greatly to the advancement of the College (Shepard Student Center, Gilman Center for International Education, Edward A. Diana Physical Education Center, M. William Lahey Library, Rowley Center for Science and Engineering, Mary A. Diana Softball Field, Mindy Ross Gallery)

» Back to Headlines

Mike Albright
Communications Officer
115 South Street
Middletown, NY 10940