The End of an Era


BillThough we at NESADSU knew it was coming, the official news of Bill Davis’ impending retirement, after 42 years at the school, came in an email from the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Kenneth Greenberg, on Monday, April 29th. Always a fan of Bill’s and a vocal supporter of the art department, Dean Greenberg noted that Bill would be with us through June 30th, at which time the position of Chairman would be passed to Steve Novick, Professor of Art and Design in the Foundation program.

Because I thought Dean Greenberg’s assessment of Bill’s time at NESADSU was so thoughtful and appropriate, I wanted to share his observations with you:


“Rarely does one person become so closely identified with a single institution. Bill was there to give direction to NESAD before the merger with Suffolk and he has remained at the helm until the present moment. He was the person who guided the school and the department to national and international recognition. Over and over again he skillfully handled both the grand and the minor problems of a great group of students, faculty and staff — always winning the admiration of those he worked with by demonstrating over and over again a kind, caring, and extremely careful approach to all people and problems. Bill will be leaving a great legacy behind and he will be taking with him our deep gratitude.

“It should also come as no surprise that I will be appointing Steve Novick as Bill’s successor as department chair. Before I made this appointment I spoke with every faculty member of the department and I can tell you honestly I have never seen such an outpouring of support for the choice of any leader. Uniformly, the faculty noted his tireless energy, conscientious attitude toward any responsibility, his talent as an artist, his ability to solve complex problems, his love of NESAD and his extraordinary sense of humor. I have no doubt that the NESAD community will give full support to their new leader. He already has mine.”


bill pic (1)It’s sometimes difficult to remember how far NESADSU has come under Bill’s guiding hand. When he started in 1971, the school was called New England School of Art (NESA) and was housed over a McDonald’s on Huntington Avenue, a block from Symphony Hall and a few doors from a porn shop. Nearly all the faculty were part-time and, though they were experienced, dedicated and hard-working, they were also grossly underpaid. Then, in 1975, the school moved to what I’m sure seemed, by comparison, stunning new quarters at 28 Newbury Street, at the “right” end of the poshest street in Boston. As the economy waxed and waned, and students and faculty came and went, graduated and found work, the school’s fortunes yoyo’ed as well.

In 1991 NESAD (“& Design” had been added in 1975) established an articulation agreement with Suffolk University, largely orchestrated by Bill, to allow our students to take courses at Suffolk, which was followed, in 1991 by the establishment of a jointly-taught Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree program. In retrospect, the joint BFA program served as the “engagement” before the two institutions were formally joined in 1996. That too was Bill’s doing.

As the saying goes, we’ve “come a long way, baby” in the years since. One new undergraduate program (Illustration), three new graduate programs (Master of Arts programs in Interior Design and Graphic Design and a Master of Fine Arts program in Interior Architecture), two Certificate programs (now one, in Graphic Design), a pre-college program for high school students, and a third physical home, at 75 Arlington Street, all thanks to Bill.

Now, bursting at the seams, with an international cohort of over 300 students, 21 full-time and over 74 adjunct faculty members, national rankings in Interior Design, and more student and faculty awards to our credit than we can list – that’s Bill’s leadership too.

As alumna and long-time faculty member Marg Dion (Interior Design 1973) once said about Bill, in accepting an award on her own behalf, that he is “the most compassionate, understanding and dedicated person on the planet. After nearly 40 years, he is, among other things, a one-stop shop of retention services. Bill is committed to saving not only floundering students, but those who froth at the mouth and speak in tongues. When most people would have opened a window and either jumped or pushed, Bill has remained calm and rational through it all – a rock, unchanged.” That pretty much says it all.

I’m certain Bill would like to hear from any and all alums, so please email him at If you truly want to tell him how much you apreciate all he did for you and all he’s done for NESADSU, the most meaningful gesture you could make would be to contribute, in his name, to either the Cox Scholarship Fund or the new Chadwick Speaker Series, both of which benefit NESADSU directly. You can do so by going to, click on “donate now”. When you enter your name, etc. and click on “continue”, you’ll be presented with a list of Areas of Giving. Under “other”, type in “NESADSU”. It’s a little awkward but give it a try. If all else fails, write a check! (Sorry…)

Sara Chadwick

Courtesy Ken Martin,
Courtesy Ken Martin,


2 thoughts on “The End of an Era”

  1. What a wonderful and sweet article on Bill. I really like the photos, too. Bill, you are a wonderfully patient and considerate administrator. Thank for everything. Lydia

  2. I started at NESA in 1974 (yes above the McDonalds) and although I was initially disapointed in the digs, it became part of the charm. Bill always had a kind word despite how busy he was. As soon as we met new friends (faculty, staff and students of all levels), the location really didnt matter.
    I was thoroughly impressed by the faculty, staff and quality of work by students. Bill and his staff always made me feel welcome and provided encouragement to keep working hard. Studying at NESA/D got my career off to a great start. THANKS BILL!

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