Capuano Takes The Helm
Long-Time Professor and Administrator Christopher A. Capuano Begins the University’s Eighth Presidency
By Angelo Carfagna
Sometimes, when a top ballplayer retires, his replacement is found via free agency. Sometimes, the answer is much closer to home. Sometimes, he’s in the bullpen, ready to take the ball.
Such is the solution for FDU. In June 2015, when then-President Sheldon Drucker announced his decision to retire, the Board of Trustees quickly moved to appoint Christopher A. Capuano president-elect.
The baseball analogy is appropriate for Capuano, who calls America’s pastime his favorite sport. He’s also coached each of his four children on the diamond or the pitch (soccer) over the years. “Athletics provide lifelong lessons,” the University’s eighth president says, as players handle overcoming a loss or deal with challenges like injuries.
Capuano takes the mound knowing firsthand what it’s like to play many positions for FDU. He joined the University in 1986 and has served as a professor, department chair, school director, campus provost, vice provost and, most recently, as University provost and senior vice president for academic affairs — the University’s second highest-ranking position.
“I come to the presidency knowing well the perspectives and challenges of different faculty and administrative roles,” Capuano says. “I am especially determined to bridge the gaps that sometimes exist between such roles at a very complex university. We have accomplished many wonderful things together over the years, but we have much still to do. Our overarching goal now is to transform New Jersey’s largest private university into one of the best private universities in the region.”
“If we build high-quality programs with the best faculty we can find, and if we link our programs to industry demands and lead our graduates to great jobs, we will significantly enhance our institution’s value and reputation.”
— President Christopher Capuano
FDU Today and Tomorrow
Capuano says he’s very excited to lead a university with so many great traditions and strengths. While there have been many changes over the years, he notes, FDU’s fundamental values have remained true since the institution’s founding nearly 75 years ago. He specifically refers to providing underserved populations access to higher education, creating unique opportunities through diverse programs and offering an affordable education that “transforms lives and prepares students to live in an increasingly interconnected world.”
Adding to the list of strengths, Capuano also refers to the diversity of FDU’s students and of its four campuses, along with the University’s strong mission to prepare world citizens through global education. “With our faculty, our programs, our campuses and our partnerships around the globe, we are uniquely positioned to deliver on our promise to provide a global education to all of our students.”
Capuano notes that significant strides have been made in recent years, particularly in increasing FDU’s international presence, with the establishment and success of the University’s Vancouver Campus in British Columbia, Canada, as well as other international partnerships and initiatives.
While FDU’s diversity provides numerous benefits, Capuano says the key to greater progress is to unite together as one University. “We need to work together and support one another like never before. We need to continue to develop innovative programs that will further distinguish FDU in the marketplace, enhance its value and elevate its reputation.”
He adds, “We need to focus on building excellence in a few areas at a time. We’re going to start by focusing on health sciences, hospitality, business and STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] fields; and then the arts and public and global affairs.”
Capuano says that the major challenges facing higher education today are affordability and value. While he says private universities like FDU cannot compete with public universities on price, they can compete on value. “We need to show that our programs well prepare our students to meet the demands of the 21st-century workforce.”
The Road Traveled
Capuano grew up in Orange, Conn. His parents, he recalls, were the most important influences in his life. “My mother taught me to be a good person, and my dad taught me to work hard and be the best I could be.” His father was an international student who journeyed to the United States from Italy in 1951 with just some loose change in his pocket. “He worked very hard to earn a degree and went on to enjoy a successful career as an analytical chemist.”
After gaining his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University, Capuano earned graduate (master’s and doctoral) degrees at the City University of New York. Soon after, he began teaching at FDU. Capuano says his primary ambition coming out of graduate school was to work in the pharmaceutical industry, but he accepted a job at FDU because his wife, Sue, who hailed from New Jersey, wanted to live close to home. “Everything worked out well,” he says.
As a faculty member and biopsychologist by training, Capuano introduced and taught key compulsory courses in both doctoral programs in FDU’s School of Psychology. His research included the design, implementation and supervision of experiments in neuropsychopharmacology and health psychology, from planning and evaluating new research to working on the development of compounds and behavioral interventions for clinical use.
Early in his time at FDU, Capuano says, “I was interested both in drugs as a tool to understand behavior and in behavior as a tool to understand the structure and function of the central nervous system.” Later, his research shifted to the use of behavioral strategies for managing obesity.
Capuano has published numerous abstracts and research articles with colleagues and former students in scholarly journals such as Developmental Brain Research, Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior, Annals of Behavioral Medicine and Obesity Research. He also is a research fellow with The Obesity Society (formerly the North American Association for the Study of Obesity).
From 1995 to 2009, Capuano served as director of the School of Psychology. His leadership enabled the school to dramatically raise enrollment, to develop the PsyD program in school psychology and to become one of the largest and more prestigious schools at the University. His many accomplishments in this position include the establishment of the postdoctoral certificate program in clinical psychopharmacology and its transition to a postdoctoral master of science degree. He was instrumental in developing the initial curriculum for the program, which has earned national recognition and is currently one of just a few programs recognized by the American Psychological Association for postdoctoral training in clinical psychopharmacology.
Capuano was then named vice provost for international affairs, providing oversight of the University’s Office of Global Partnerships and working closely with the University’s Office of Global Learning to facilitate study abroad and other international initiatives. He was the driving force in developing the University’s Vancouver Campus, providing oversight of academic and nonacademic responsibilities, including the accreditation of the campus and all its programs, hiring faculty and staff, developing and monitoring the campus’s budget and ensuring that the campus met the objectives outlined in its strategic plan. In addition, he served as Vancouver Campus provost for a year during a critical transition period.
In 2011, Capuano was named University provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. Among many accomplishments, he provided important decision making in identifying and appointing a strong leadership team in the School of Pharmacy, which has resulted in consistent enrollment growth and successful accreditation with the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education. He helped secure a large gift to support the University’s Daniel and Martina Lewis Center for Healthcare Innovation and Technology. And he led the development of the University’s 2014–2019 strategic plan, working with then-President Sheldon Drucker, the Board of Trustees and faculty and staff across the University.
Further, working closely with the community, Capuano has provided the leadership for critical changes to the University’s nationally recognized University Core program, the adoption of the Individual Development and Educational Assessment (IDEA) system for both instructor and course assessment and development, and important changes to the requirements for bachelor of arts and bachelor of science degrees, including the establishment of uniform general-education requirements across similar programs at the University.
Capuano points with pride to his collaborations with faculty, administrators, students and alumni. “I enjoyed all of my positions at the University and realized that with more responsibility and authority I could have a positive impact on a broader range of initiatives and help the University in more important ways.”
Over his long tenure at FDU, Capuano has learned many things he says that will help him become an effective president. The main lesson? “There is no such thing as a free lunch. You have to work very hard to be successful. Those who are the most passionate and who never give up are the ones who most often succeed.”
Professionally, Capuano is most proud of his efforts to establish the Vancouver Campus. He also is proud of his role leading the development of the University’s five-year strategic plan, which he now is charged with carrying out. “I’m very excited about the University’s direction, and I’m really looking forward to helping to fully enact our plan and to moving the University to the next level.”
“I like to work with people to reach consensus and then move things forward. Strength is always in numbers, and I am a team player.” — President Christopher Capuano
A Team Player
Capuano knows there are challenges ahead, and he knows there are no shortcuts to success. “It would be great to have more money for student scholarships and more money to support new and improved facilities, but when resources are scarce, it is necessary to be more creative and more resourceful,” he says.
The strategic plan, he adds, enables FDU to better prioritize the allocation of resources. “Some hard decisions may need to be made,” he says, “but I’m not an authoritarian leader. I like to work with people to reach consensus and then move things forward. Strength is always in numbers, and I am a team player. At the same time, I am action-oriented and don’t want to take too long to reach a decision.”
Despite his many professional accomplishments, Capuano doesn’t hesitate when asked what he is most proud of in life: “Being a father to four incredible children and watching them grow up and become remarkable human beings.”
Capuano and his wife, Sue, have been married for 32 years. Their eldest daughter, Marissa, was married this spring, fittingly, on the grounds outside Hennessy Hall on the Florham Campus. She is doing well professionally, as is their second daughter, Briana, who is a senior event manager with a leading experiential event marketing agency. Their third daughter, Alexandra, is entering her senior year at the Florham Campus, and their youngest child and only son, Christian, is starting his freshman year at Gettysburg College.
“I really enjoyed my years coaching my children,” he recalls. Today, when he does find time to unwind, he enjoys boating and sport fishing as well as taking long walks with his wife.
But recreational pursuits often take a back seat for the driven leader. “My advice for FDU students today is the same thing I’ve told my own children and the same philosophy I’ve tried to live by: ‘Always work hard and be the best you can be. Never settle for less. Good things happen from there.’”
That philosophy will drive Capuano’s presidency.
Ed. note: A version of this article first appeared in the Summer/Fall 2016 edition of FDU Magazine.