On March 5, a dedicated EAB Enrollment Services team member, Dr. Richard “Dick” Whiteside, passed away after sustaining injuries in a car accident. We are grateful to Dick not only for his many years of service but also for the lasting impact he made on higher education.
While many individuals had the privilege of working directly with Dick and experiencing his devotion to higher education, Rob Alexander, vice president of enrollment at Millsaps College, truly knew Dick as a colleague, mentor, and friend. Rob graciously accepted our invitation to write the following tribute to Dick.
You know someone is a legend when he’s known by a single moniker. Dr. Richard Whiteside, otherwise known as “The Dean,” was a legend by any measure. Though he passed away last week after an automobile accident, his impact on people he met and the institutions he served will persist long into the future.
The innovative ideas Dick Whiteside developed and the knowledge he spread through books, articles, and illustrative PowerPoint slides were surpassed only by the “colorful” stories he shared with everyone he met. Affectionately known as “Tales from the White-side,” Dick delivered the stories in his characteristic New England accent. However, Dick wasn’t just a storyteller par excellence; he was also genuinely interested in your story and how he could help you solve a problem or craft a new strategy, or how he could just make a new friend—something he often did when sitting on airplanes, as was the case when he flew a cross-country flight sitting next to Cindy Crawford (whom he claimed not to recognize in a ball cap and casual clothes).
Dick was one of the seminal thinkers in the field of higher education enrollment, and he was one of the longest continual attendees and presenters at the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) Strategic Enrollment Management annual conference, not missing a single meeting for more than 25 years since they began.
At the 2005 conference, his plenary talk brought the crowd to its feet and tears to our eyes as he recounted leading Tulane University’s enrollment recovery and institutional renaissance after Hurricane Katrina. His speech shared “stories of damage done by the storm and stories of those who used the most unlikely of tools—hope, compassion, faith, and courage—to alter the outcome of peoples’ lives.” His appreciation for the ideals and individuals in our field was expressed when he profoundly described the ways other colleges responded to students displaced by the storm: “Higher education is about our students and their learning. Understanding this, institutions waived a host of administrative requirements, opened their filled classes to still more learners, waived or deferred mandatory fees, and provided all of the support services needed by thousands of displaced students. We thank you for these not so random acts of kindness. These last few months have proven to be a victory of compassion over bureaucracy—of courageous action over complacency. We are deeply in your debt.”
As my colleague Ned Jones wrote to his team at Siena College: “Dick’s groundbreaking work influenced hundreds of colleges and millions of students over the course of his nearly 50-year career in higher education. Those who have or will study higher education administration will find any course or topic dealing with enrollment management has been influenced by Dick’s work.”
Dick loved to work, and he loved to connect with people and places, including Providence, Rhode Island, where he was raised; New York, where he attended college and worked for Pace and CUNY; Baltimore, where he worked at Johns Hopkins; the city and University of Hartford; of course, Tulane and New Orleans, Louisiana; and later at EAB (formerly Royall & Co.) in Richmond, Virginia. Some of his recent stories related relaxation time with his family, where they spent time boating on Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire.
Dick was a passionate advocate for underrepresented students, carving out pathways for applicants who had more potential than they’d yet realized. His strategic innovations always put students first: removing complexity, ignoring feints of prestige, and eliminating artificial impediments to educational access. Dick’s innovations made applying to college easier for students by simplifying and personalizing the process and encouraging students to learn more about a school whenever they were ready to raise their hands. Earlier than most, he recognized how online and mobile technologies could enable students without laptops or home internet to discover colleges they never would have found on their own.
Dick was a transformational leader, treating junior staff the same as long-standing veterans and making time to mentor all who were willing to learn. He demonstrated strategic and servant-like leadership: setting a clear vision and then empowering his team to find the best ways to achieve the goal. He was uncompromising in his expectations of excellence but understanding of mistakes, leveraging each one (and I made plenty) into a learning opportunity. I’m grateful that I had the chance to learn so much from such an amazing friend and mentor.
Dick is survived by his wife, daughters, and granddaughters, and also by his admission family. As long as we continue to honor him through the work we do, his legacy (and his “Tales from the White-side”) will live on. Dick’s work on enrollment management now continues onto an even higher plane—when Saint Peter needs help determining admission through the Pearly Gates, he now can turn to “The Dean.”
-Rob Alexander, March 2019
A Mass of Christian Burial and Celebration of Life luncheon will be held in Richmond, Virginia, on Saturday, March 23. More information on funeral arrangements, sharing condolences, or donating to the Richard Whiteside Scholarship Fund at Manhattan College can be found in his obituary.