Don Tuski Ph.D.
Maine College of Art
Don received his BA in biology from Olivet College in 1985 and his MA (1988) and PhD (1998) in Anthropology from Michigan State University. Don Tuski has been involved in higher education since his undergraduate days. He has been a soccer coach, residence hall director, professor, dean and president.
Don grew up in Hazel Park, Michigan on the north side of Detroit. Both his parents stressed hard work and education. There was no debate that Don or his sister or brothers were going to college. It was a given.
While in high school Mr. Boughton, his high school teacher and coach, was very influential in helping Don develop a strong sense of persistence and achievement. After high school Don went on to Olivet College to study biology and play basketball. When visiting Olivet, Don met Dr. Edward Speare who guided his academic studies and even introduced Don to Maine. While at Olivet, Don also became interested in anthropology. Understanding different perspectives is a hallmark of anthropology and something that still serves him very well as a college president.
While in graduate school Don focused on education and politics for his MA degree and deindustrialization in the midwest for his Ph.D.
As a faculty member at Olivet College Don was heavily involved in creating the Olivet College Vision: Education for Individual and Social Responsibility, along with his wife Louise and others, the Olivet Plan and the Olivet College Compact (a guide to responsible behavior on the campus).
Over the course of Don’s tenure at Olivet he presented at various higher education organizations such as the Association of American Colleges and Universities on topics such as the use of the Olivet College Compact to forge a new alcohol policy for the campus. In the development of many of Olivet’s new initiatives in the 1990’s Don was charged by the then President Michael Bassis to engage students in the process.
The engagement of students as active and equal participants in college policy development carried over into his teaching. It always made more sense to Don to see and treat students with a respect and trust. Collaboration with students and allowing them to help shape class requirements always proved to be a better way for students to learn. In addition, by showing a strong commitment to each and every student all students have a great opportunity to learn. Don has won teaching awards with this approach and has been selected as a Commencement speaker at Olivet.
Don’s dedication to teaching and learning has never left. As Dean and President at Olivet he continued to teach anthropology. This is still true at Maine College of Art. Don has always said: “students will tell you things nobody else will, even though they might not always be right, but they are honest.”
Thus, while teaching stayed a focus of Don’s, administrative work became more and more important. As he finished his doctorate Don carefully stepped into this line of work, first as Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs, then Dean and Vice President of Academic Affairs, Acting President and President; all at Olivet College.
While President at Olivet, Don led the development of the new Employee Handbook which was guided by the Olivet College Compact. This allowed for all employees, both faculty and staff to be viewed and view themselves as educators. This led to the notion that while in college, everything is the curriculum. The more formal curriculum was certainly the classes taught by faculty. But students learn from their full range of experience and thus all employees had to contribute to that process from student life to students paying their bills. There are many teachable and learnable moments that were utilized to help students achieve their potential.
At the same time, whether teaching or doing administrative work, Don has made sure to learn from students. This was one of the main reasons he has chosen to stay in higher education. The energy and forward thinking of students makes for a tremendous work and learning environment.
The practical side of running a small liberal arts college needed attention as well at Olivet. Colleges like Olivet needed to make sure admissions and retention were strong. While President, the enrollment went from 759 in 2001 to 1,147 in 2009 with an increase in selectivity. A new MBA in Insurance and Risk Management was also created.
At the same time, fundraising had to improve to provide better scholarships and facilities.
While president at Olivet College, Don was directly involved in raising over $22M. This was support for a new events center, auditorium, chemistry and physics lab, smart classrooms, football field and track, housing, and an art building. The art building is a LEED certified building.
After almost 30 years at Olivet College as a student, staff member, coach, dean and president, Don and Louise decided to take on another challenge at a very different school in a very different place.
After seeing the ad for a new president at Maine College of Art, Don and Louise decided to apply even though Don was not an artist. Although he did have a full year of painting class in college. In addition, his two children, Ian and Kenna are doing BFA degrees in classical guitar and dance respectively. Louise has a background academically and professionally in theatre, both acting and directing.
The interview process at Maine College of Art (MECA) was one that kept getting better and better as the process went on. MECA was looking for an experienced president and Don was looking for a different experience. Don has always felt that artists are public intellectuals who are often on the cutting edge of society.
Don and Louise accepted the job and opportunity at MECA and moved to Maine in the summer of 2010. Being a big collector of old wood, tools and ladders as well as a few old sailboats made the transition to Maine quite easy and enjoyable. People in Maine appreciate using resources wisely and preserving them. Thus, he fit right in. At the same time there is also a forward looking spirit about the environment and the arts that makes Maine very special.
Over the last three years MECA’s enrollment has grown to almost 400 students in the BFA, MFA and Art Education programs. In addition, MECA has a strong continuing studies enrollment of over 1,200 students of all ages. Some important improvements have been made at MECA since Don’s arrival. A new graphic design studio as well as a woodworking and furniture design studio. Also, with a large gift MECA will be adding a new major in textile and furniture design.
Currently Don along with MECA faculty, staff, students and trustees are working on a new strategic plan for Maine College of Art and planning the next major campaign to raise the endowment to provide more scholarships for students and renovate the first floor and sign at MECA. Maine College of Art has been called the “anchor of the arts district” by Mayor Michael Brennan.
Don is involved in a number of organizations related to higher education such as Maine Campus Compact (currently chair in Maine), Association of Governing Boards and the Maine Higher Education Commission. Don is also a member of the Portland Rotary.
While not at MECA Don likes to work on this 1842 Gothic cottage, do a little sailing in Casco Bay and organize his old wood.
Don lives in South Portland with his wife Louise and two old dogs.