Two eras in Rhode Island higher education and intercollegiate athletics ended Tuesday, the final day on the job at Bryant University for President Ronald K. Machtley and at Providence College for its president, the Rev. Brian J. Shanley.

Machtley, the former three-term moderate Republican Congressman from Rhode Island’s 1st District, the seat now held by Democrat David Cicilline, stepped down after 24 years as Bryant’s president. He and his team of talented academicians and administrators transformed a ho-hum business college with roots on the East Side of Providence into a widely respected regional university on a stunning 428-acre campus just 13 miles from the State House. His vision and influence are evident at every turn – new student residences, classroom space, student center, library, conference hall, academic and professional programs – but especially in athletics. 

When Machtley took over in 1996, Bryant had five empty dorms, a slumping enrollment and huge budget challenges. To this three-sport athlete from Johnstown, Pa., quarterback on the lightweight football team at the U.S. Naval Academy, lawyer, and ever-optimistic golfer, the way out was clear. Sports. What better, and quicker, way to fill those dorms than with athletes, starting with 100 football players? He explained his strategy when we met during the Bryant Bulldogs first football practice in 1999. Football, he said, would put bodies in beds, students in stands and draw alums back for Homecoming. He was right on all three counts.

Bryant also added field hockey and women’s lacrosse that year. Growing pains followed, and a few race-related incidents around football generated discussions on the desirability of a diverse campus and the need for mutual respect among students and athletes.

Bryant became a force in the Division II Northeast-10 Conference, won championships and competed in NCAA tournaments. New sports facilities gave the Bulldogs the tools they needed to compete and win. A football stadium, recently renovated with artificial turf and lights. An artificial turf field for lacrosse. A renovated baseball-softball complex. A sparkling new strength and conditioning center. A 120-yard indoor field for lacrosse, football, soccer, golf, field hockey and pre-season baseball and softball. New tennis courts.  Enlarged space for athletic trainers. 

Always seeking to improve Bryant, Machtley made bold decisions. Based on his experience forging relationships with educators in China, he convinced his board of trustees to change the school’s name to Bryant University because in many countries college means secondary school, not higher education. (Full disclosure: My wife received an honorary degree from Bryant and currently serves on the board of trustees. She also received an honorary degree from Providence College.)

 In 2006 he hired Mike Pressler to coach men’s lacrosse. Pressler had led nationally-ranked Duke for 16 seasons but resigned under pressure in the wake of sexual assault charges against four Duke players, charges that later proved untrue. The fallout crippled the careers of Duke administrators and the district attorney who prosecuted the case. 

Machtley told me that under ordinary circumstances Bryant could never afford a coach of Pressler’s stature. But, Pressler could not get a job interview anywhere at that time and answered when Machtley called. Pressler has often credited Machtley for saving his career. He completed his 14th season with the Bulldogs last spring.

In 2007, Machtley saw Bryant’s athletics future in Division I, accepted an invitation to join the Northeast Conference, and began the five-year transition. The Bulldogs have competed in Division I tournaments.

Along this journey of two dozen years, Machtley became involved in NCAA governance and served on various committees, including the NCAA Board of Governors. Along the way, he and his wife Kati, director of the wildly popular annual Bryant Women’s Summit, became fixtures at all sorts of Bryant events. Lectures, concerts, games. Hundreds of games. From the day freshmen set foot on campus to the day seniors received their degrees, Bryant students would always see the President and First Lady on campus. The Machtleys loved Bryant students, and those students loved them back. 

Ross Gittell, an economist who led the community college system in New Hampshire, takes over Wednesday.

Brian Shanley took Providence College to new heights during his 15 years as president. He transformed the campus with new buildings, residence halls and playing fields tucked in the college’s tight Elmhurst neighborhood. The Ruane Center for the Humanities and the Ryan Center for Business Studies have enhanced PC’s academic standing. 

Multiple projects under his watch and that of athletics director Bob Driscoll have enabled PC athletics, most important men’s basketball, to keep pace in the Big East Conference. They included in 2007 the Concannon Fitness Center, which houses the 3,600 square foot Jimmy Walker Strength and Conditioning Center for athletes from PC’s 19 varsity teams; in 2008 the 4,000 square foot Canavan Sports Medicine Center; in 2012 the renovation of Alumni Hall, home of the women’s basketball and volleyball programs and at the time practice court for the men’s basketball team; in 2013 the renovation of hockey’s Schneider Arena and swimming’s Taylor Natatorium; in 2016 the opening of Chapey Field at Anderson Stadium, home of PC soccer and lacrosse, and the resurfacing of Glay Field for softball; in 2017 the renovation of the Lennon Family Field, for field hockey and intramurals; in 2018-19 the renovation of six tennis courts, and in 2018 the opening of the Ruane Center, a multipurpose structure that includes two practice courts for men’s basketball, an Innovation Lab centered on rest and recovery for all 350 PC athletes, enlarged sports medicine and athletic training centers, the Friar Athletics Hall of Fame, and statues of iconic basketball coaches Joe Mullaney and Dave Gavitt.

A large patio offers a view of the Ray Treacy Track and Hendricken Field, home of PC’s vaunted runners and its rugby players. The site was the home of Friars baseball, the oldest team on campus until it was dropped in 1999.

Despite Shanley’s strong leadership and fundraising skills, his desire to remain on the job and the support of the board of trustees, his Dominican superiors decided to replace him. 

Shanley, who grew up in Warwick, leaves behind a college dramatically changed from the one he attended from 1976 to 1980. He also leaves behind the image of a smiling leader in flowing white clerical garb who is a student of history and philosophy, a teacher of ethics, an aficionado of opera and a lover of sports. On June 18 Linda Borg of the Providence Journal asked Shanley his most exciting moment. His reply? When PC won the 2015 NCAA hockey championship. “When the buzzer sounded in the final game,” he told her, “I jumped in the air and screamed and ran down to the ice.”

The Rev. Kenneth R. Sicard is PC's new president.