William Flanagan got his start in education first as a high school English teacher, then as vice principal of Lockwood Jr. High School, and finally as principal at Nelson W. Aldrich Jr. High School in Warwick. After serving as a naval officer in World War II, he returned to the field of education to establish the state’s first community adult education program. In 1956, he joined the Rhode Island College faculty as a professor of education and later became the first director of the college’s graduate program.
A graduate of Providence College, Flanagan received a master’s degree from Rhode Island College and a Ph.D. from the University of Connecticut. He also received honorary doctoral degrees from Rhode Island College, Providence College and the University of Rhode Island. Flanagan served as the first president of Rhode Island Junior College (now Community College of Rhode Island), the state’s only public, two-year institution. He was appointed by the Board of Trustees of State Colleges in March 1964. When he assumed office in September of that year at the University of Rhode Island Extension Building in Providence (now the site of Providence Place Mall), he worked on a borrowed desk, employed a part-time secretary, and earned a modest $30,000 state appropriation.
Flanagan encouraged public higher education for all high school graduates and oversaw RIJC’s growth in enrollment from 300 students to 9,000 by the time he retired in 1978. During his fourteen (14) years as president, he established the Blackstone Valley Campus to serve more students from the northern part of the state. As a tribute to his dedication, the campus was later renamed the Dr. William F. Flanagan Campus.
In 1982, Flanagan was inducted into the Rhode Island Hall of Fame for his educational contributions to the state. He also was named to the CCRI Athletic Hall of Fame in 1984 and was the driving force behind the construction of the Knight Campus Field House in Warwick, which was one of the first junior college fieldhouses in the northeast. The college honored him for his founding role in college history by inducting him into its Hall of Fame in 1994.
Dr. Flanagan passed away in 1984.