John Nazarian is an accomplished musician and long-time professor and President Emeritus of Rhode Island College. At the time of his retirement in 2008, he was associated with Rhode Island College for 58 continuous years as student, teacher, and administrator.
Born in Pawtucket on September 6, 1932, a son of immigrants and one of eleven children, he was educated in the public school system, graduating from Pawtucket’s East High School (now William E. Tolman High School) in 1950. Later that year he entered the Rhode Island College of Education (now Rhode Island College) receiving his Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.) degree in 1954. Nazarian went on to earn an A.M. in Mathematics and Education from Brown University in 1956, followed in 1961 by an M.A. in Mathematics from the University of Illinois and later earned his Ph.D. in Mathematics from New York University in 1967.
Following his undergraduate education, Nazarian was appointed by Rhode Island College President William C. Gaige as an Instructor of Mathematics and Physics. He was promoted to Assistant Professor in 1958, Associate Professor in 1967, and full Professor in 1971. In 1969 he was appointed acting Chair of the Mathematics Department. The following year Nazarian was chosen as the College’s first Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences. He held several positions in the College, including Special Assistant to the President for Planning, Vice President for Administrative Services (later changed toVice President for Administration and Finance). Nazarian also served as acting President following the premature death of President Sweet from September 1984 until the end of 1985 and again in 1990, when the position became vacant once again. In May 1990, Nazarian was selected as the College’s eighth President.
Nazarian’s presidency was marked by strong fiscal stewardship; significant expansion and improvement of the College’s campus; advocacy for programs to support opportunity and access to higher education; the strengthening of the College’s School of Education; the establishment of two new Schools within the College, the addition new majors; the creation of the College’s first Ph.D. program; improvements in academic and administrative technology; and the successful completion of the College’s first-ever capital campaign.
Nazarian has been recognized in numerous ways throughout his career. He was honored for his contributions to the College and to the State by Leadership Rhode Island, winning an Honorary David E. Sweet Leadership Award, the only such award ever given by that organization. The Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education named him President Emeritus of Rhode Island College. In May 2008, he was presented with a Special Recognition Award for Lifetime Commitment to Public Higher Education by the Rhode Island Institute for Labor Studies and Research and that June he was given the Helen King Lifelong Learning Award from Volunteers in Providence Schools. He has been honored by the American Association of University Administrators, the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, the New England Educational Opportunity Association and was awarded the Lawrence P. Gallogly Humanitarian Award by the Providence Gridiron Club. On September 15, 2000, Rhode Island College dedicated the new Performing Arts center in his honor. The John Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts “symbolizes the College’s enduring commitment to its students and to the community.”
Outside of his work with the University, Dr. Nazarian has held membership on a number of educational, civic, and corporate boards. He has also served as the state’s representative to the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, Chair of the Rhode Island Higher Education Association, among other boards. Additionally, he serves on the Board of Directors of the Pawtucket County Club and is a member of the University Club in Providence. He has also been active with the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ), Rhode Island and Southeastern New England Division, with service on the Board of Advisors and on the Executive Committee. He is also committed to public service and has received awards from the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council and the Rhode Island Chapter of the American Society of Public Administration. Nazarian has been recognized for his outstanding career by institutions outside the state and was named Rhode Island College as Alumnus of the Year in 1971. He is also active in church affairs at St. Basil the Great Church in Central Falls and is a Knight of Jerusalem and a member of the Order of St. Nicholas of the Melkite Greek-Catholic Eparchy of Newton. In addition to the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame, he is also a member of the Pawtucket Hall of Fame.