If you have been to an FDU home basketball game, you’ve probably seen Interim President Michael Avaltroni cheering the teams, taking pictures, tapping into his mobile phone for social media sharing, speaking with alumni, fans and staff. He posts on Twitter (@fdu_president) and frequently updates his LinkedIn.
Avaltroni has served FDU for almost 20 years. He was named provost in 2022 and, a year later, named interim president, replacing Christopher Capuano, who resigned after six years as FDU’s eighth president.
In February, Avaltroni spoke with Equinox special correspondent Giselle Mendez, a sophomore in accounting, about his role and the future of the university.
*The Equinox will share the edited and condensed interview in three parts, starting today*
As he begins his role, Avaltroni leads this multicampus, multinational institution in navigating the economic and demographic challenges of our time, focusing on student wellness while, here on the Metropolitan campus, the Division I teams are coming off a fall full of championships amid the swirl of returning to operations hampered by the events of the last three years.
Avaltroni was cautiously happy about men’s basketball unexpected yet celebrated rise to the NCAA tournament — he attended the final match in Columbus, Ohio — and though the Knights did not win, his pre- and post-tourney enthusiasm is steadfast for all the teams in the program. He receives daily updates on how all the teams are playing.
“All these things that are going on, I think it brings dynamics to the college campus. It gives it energy, gives a lot of purpose of a unity around where we focus and a lot of our support. I think it’s exciting largely because in Division 1 athletics, you really see this opportunity to compete, in some cases, on a national stage, and we’ve had a number of televised games on ESPN,” he said.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself.
A: I am an alum of Fairleigh Dickinson University. I was a graduate of the class of 1999 at the Florham campus. I actually completed my degree from here [at Metro] in chemistry and went on and did graduate work at Princeton. I got my master’s and Ph.D. also in chemistry there and had been active in research around orthopedic devices.
I thought that it might be a direction I wanted to go, in terms of doing research in the biomedical industry, but I got a call from my undergraduate advisor at Florham who said to me, I’m retiring soon, are you interested in coming and potentially interviewing for a job here? I interviewed only for one job, and it was this one they offered it to me, and I’ve been here now 19 1/2 years.
As a chemistry faculty member, I was then department chair then moved over to the School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, when we started our pharmacy program and actually began that kind of in the silent phase, in 2008, and then welcomed the first class in 2012 and graduated the first class in 2016. And then, a year and change later, moved over to become university provost and then finally moved into this role in January.
Last thing I’ll say is that’s my part-time job, the other part-time is I am married and have three kids — one in college, one high school and one in middle school — and that’s the other part of the busy life that sort of fills things out.
Q: How has it been stepping into your roll as interim president of the university, and do you see yourself in a permanent presidency?
A: As far as a permanent role, I am very much interested in working with the board to see what the transition looks like, the length of time in terms of how long I’ll be doing this in an interim role. Certainly, I would be interested in helping out in whatever capacity I could, whether that’s full time into this role or in supporting the university as we transition in a path forward. It’s of interest for me to continue to do what I’m doing, which is to try and support all of the programs here.
Q: Is Fairleigh Dickinson University president something you envisioned when you were in graduate school?
A: Good question. The answer, I would say, in short, was no, that was probably not a path I would have seen. I really love teaching, that was always kind of the thing I loved the most when I started in graduate school. I loved being a teaching assistant, that was my favorite part of my first year there. I always enjoy being in the classroom, and I always thought that that would probably be the path that I would seek, to be a faculty member and to be engaged in teaching chemistry coursework and doing undergraduate research with students, and so I didn’t have an administrative path, to then President [Michael] Adams saying that he was interested in exploring the possibility of starting a pharmacy school, and because of the program that I had running in chemistry — that was pharmaceutical science — they approached me and said would you want to explore this, and that’s when I jumped over and began an administrative path for myself. That’s sort of what took me in this direction.
Q: Angelo Carfagna, Vice President of University Communications, mentioned that you keep a very busy schedule. Please share a day in your life as provost compared to life today as interim president.
A: Although there are a lot of similarities focused around academics, as a university provost, you’re really focused solely on academics, solely on the programming in the classroom, co-curriculars and support programs. The focus really stands around building and sustaining and improving academic programs and offerings, so it’s a lot of focus with our deans and our directors, our faculty, the faculty senate and other sorts of bodies that are the ones that we work with to try and continue to improve our curriculum and our offerings.
Now, in this role, I have a wider view, because the focus involves a lot of the other pieces of college life that includes things like athletics, student life, residence life, operations. A lot of the focus is still academic, because obviously that’s the paramount piece of who we are institutionally, but a lot of it now has been fun to see how all of these other pieces synergize and align and easily integrate to make this into a comprehensive college environment.
Check back tomorrow for Part 2 interview with Interim President Michael Avaltroni.