Ronald Crutcher, University of Richmond president, said at his Sharp Viewpoint Speakers Series lecture that he had gained four crucial lessons through his endeavors as a musician: to develop a personal means of remaining focused, to find a mentor, to take responsibility for your own career, and to not forget to take time for yourself and for your family.

Crutcher addressed Richmond students, professors, and faculty in a lecture at Camp Concert Hall titled Spiral Up: Lessons in Music, Leadership and Liberal education. Crutcher, a distinguished cellist, was eager to share his thoughts on the benefits of a liberal arts education, and to give students advice regarding college careers at a liberal arts university.

“Today’s students will have 15-20 jobs in their lifetimes," Crutcher said. "College graduates will need to be flexible learners with the ability to think critically and synthesize and connect content from one discipline to another. Clearly, this cannot necessarily be achieved through narrow training for a particular job.”

Crutcher's lecture was the second out of four talks in a series presented by the Richmond Scholars Program in honor of Richard Sharp. 

Crutcher said his interest in the liberal arts had formed when the idea of becoming a professional cellist captured his attention. After performing alongside the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in high school, he was hooked.

He began his music studies at the University of Miami in Ohio as the first person in his immediate family to attend college. Although the University of Miami in Ohio is not an established liberal arts institution, Crutcher found multiple ways to engage in classes that were essential to his path.

“The liberal education foundation I received at Miami made possible and enriched so many of the experiences I have had in my life as an educator, musician, leader, husband, father and friend,” he said.

A central theme of the lecture was the metaphor that Crutcher created his senior year at Miami to describe his personal and professional development, called spiraling.

“When climbing a spiral staircase, you inevitably return to the same point on a vertical line but at a higher level,” he said. “Every now and then you return to a situation that appears familiar to you but, through your own progression, you now have the resources, the memory, and the confidence to propel yourself upward.”

Crutcher used this metaphor to overcome his challenges at Miami and beyond. Even though he left Miami as a highly accomplished graduate, Crutcher said he had a difficult time at first.

“As a freshman at Miami, I didn’t get off to the start I wanted or expected. I was one of two black students in a residence hall of 250 and despite spending nearly every Saturday on campus since the age of 14, I didn’t feel comfortable in my new environment.”

Crutcher said that he drew upon the strength within himself and the experiences of those around him to persevere through his rough beginning. He later enrolled at Yale University, and he became the first cellist to receive a doctoral degree in musical arts, breaking the ice for future cellists.

Crutcher’s passionate endeavor in the liberal arts did not stop after college -- in fact it only grew. 

He returned to the University of Miami as provost, leaving his mark when he aided in revising the Common Core curriculum so it became The Miami Plan for Liberal Education. He is also the founding co-chair of the Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) initiative, which helps students develop the skills needed to apply learning to complex, real-world issues.

“My lifelong passion," he said, "has been to ensure that colleges provide an engaging educational culture with a liberal education core in which all students can thrive.”

Contact reporter Stephanie Hagan at