Biography

HeadShoulderPresHelldoblerRichard J. Helldobler, PhD, is the eighth president of William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey, one of the state’s largest public universities with more than 10,000 students. He assumed the presidency on July 1, 2018. President Helldobler brings 30 years of higher education experience through a variety of academic and administrative roles along with prestigious fellowships to the University. As a first-generation student of immigrant heritage, this lens grounds his work in serving students for whom education is a means of social mobility and economic progress. 

President Helldobler previously served as interim president of Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago from July 2016 to March 2018. During his tenure there, he led the institution through an historic two-year budget impasse, as well as a number of significant initiatives. Most notably, Northeastern received a 10-year reaffirmation from the Higher Learning Commission. The institution publicly launched its first comprehensive campaign and exceeded its goal of $10 million within the first year of the public phase; opened its first residence hall; and built successful partnerships with the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems Foundations for Student Success project and Presidents for Latino Student Success. Northeastern was named number one in graduating students with the least debt in Illinois and 29th in the nation; was ranked the country’s third-safest campus in a report by College Stats; and was named most diverse university in the Midwest as well as number one for graduating students with the least amount of student debt among Midwest regional universities by U.S. News & World Report 2018. In addition, Washington Monthly magazine named Northeastern one of the nation’s Best Colleges for Adult Learners and the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education College Rankings named it the most diverse university in the Midwest. LendEDU’s College Risk-Reward Indicator, which factors average student loan debt per graduate and average early career pay for graduates, placed NEIU seventh in the nation and first among Illinois universities.

Prior to his appointment as interim president at Northeastern, he served as provost and vice president for academic affairs, overseeing all matters related to academics, including the oversight of four colleges, the library, admissions, recruitment, and other areas. He spearheaded the creation of academic programming for its El Centro location, which opened in 2014, worked to increase retention and recruitment efforts, and established the Center for College Access and Success which significantly increased research grants brought to the University. He worked collaboratively to launch a $1 million marketing campaign, which resulted in the largest freshmen class brought to Northeastern in four years. He was instrumental in achieving Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) accreditation for the College of Business and Management. New program development included a master’s in public health, master’s in social work, and a master of arts in community and teacher leaders. He significantly strengthened shared governance through his work with Northeastern’s faculty senate and student government.

Prior to joining Northeastern, he served as vice president for academic affairs at Shepherd University in West Virginia from 2009 to 2012. His leadership at Shepherd focused on academic alignment to the Association of American Colleges & Universities Liberal Arts and America’s Promise (LEAP) standards, a redesign of all academic programs to meet a 120-credit degree requirement, restructuring of the academic catalogue in an electronic format, and increased retention and licensure pass rates. A new general education program was designed and approved and Shepherd received a 10-year reaffirmation accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.

President Helldobler joined Shepherd after nearly two decades at California University of Pennsylvania, where he served as chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, and associate provost/associate vice president for academic affairs. During his tenure there, he led successful accreditations from the Higher Learning Commission, National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education, Council on Social Work Education, and Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. Among his administrative accomplishments were the establishment of a university-wide faculty mentoring program and a faculty handbook. He chaired numerous committees, including the Administrative Council, General Education, Institutional Self Evaluation, and the Department Chairs Forum.

He was the founding artistic director for CalRep Pennsylvania, a pre-professional summer theatre program, and The Mon Valley Ballet Theatre, the resident ballet company at California University of Pennsylvania. The Mon Valley Ballet Theatre was the first university company invited by Ukraine’s Minister of Culture to perform at the famed National Opera House in Kiev. His numerous credits include choreography for The Nutcracker, Cinderella, and Symphonic Led Zeppelin, and direction of Candide, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Fiddler on the Roof. His research has resulted in articles in the Journal of Dance Medicine and Science, among others, and Quick Tips for Civic Engagement with Indiana University Press. 

President Helldobler has served as a mentor for the Leadership Institute for the Association for Theatre in Higher Education and chaired the association’s task force that retooled the national standards for promotion and tenure for theatre faculty. A 2005-06 American Council on Education (ACE) Fellow, he has remained closely connected to the Fellows Program having served as co-chair of  the Professional Development Committee, secretary of the Executive Board, and as a nominator, and was presented with the Fellows Service Award in 2015 for exemplary continued service. He recently  completed Harvard’s Institutional Executive Management Program, and was invited to be part of a think tank at the University of Pennsylvania on the changing nature of public higher education. He has served on the board of directors for the Auditorium Theatre, the Contemporary American Theatre Festival, the Renaissance City Choirs, the Persad Center, and the Pennsylvania Arts Collaborative.

President Helldobler earned his PhD in theatre and master of arts in speech and theatre from Bowling Green State University, and a bachelor of business administration degree in marketing from the University of Toledo.