On April 11, 2021, Conrad Festa, one of the College of Charleston’s stalwart leaders and parent of alumnus Daniel Festa ‘93, passed away. Festa joined the College as provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs from 1987 to 2002. Beloved by the College’s faculty for his optimism and good will, to date Festa, who was the College’s second provost, has had the longest run as chief academic officer.
Festa also served as professor of English from 1987 to 2001, executive assistant to the president from 2001 to 2003 and as interim president from 2006 to 2007 after Leo Higdon Jr.’s departure. Festa stepped down from his position as executive director of the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education, which he held from 2003 to 2006, to assume the interim president role.
During his year as interim president, Festa supported many initiatives that remain key campus priorities today, namely recruiting and retaining minority students. Under Festa’s leadership, the College launched the Call Me Mister program, which supports minority male students going into the education field, and introduced the Avery Scholarship Program to attract more African American students to campus.
“Conrad Festa was a beautiful man and a gem in my life, both professionally and as a friend,” says long-time friend and colleague Bob Mignone, professor of mathematics. “An encounter with Conrad was uplifting. Whether professional or personal, his welcoming smile and greeting, his sincere interest and supportive nature, and his patience and willingness to listen always left me feeling better than when I arrived.”
Mignone continues, “During Conrad’s tenure as chief academic officer his keen academic instincts and vision, with the support of two outstanding presidents Harry Lightsey and Alex Sanders, the College experienced a major ascent academically. Recognition followed as did applications.
“Conrad was a prudent manager and when it came to allocating resources he needed to be convinced–never to be taken for granted. I remember a hat that he had on his door that read: ‘Money is my middle name. No is my first,'” recalls Mignone. “It was gratifying for me when my mentor and friend became interim president. Although he led the College for a relatively short time, he did so with his considerable skill, grace and humanity.”
After leaving the College, Festa continued his support of the College, serving on the School of Languages, Cultures, and World Affairs Advisory Board and the President’s Campus Diversity Review Committee. He was also remembered through the Conrad D. Festa Community in Sciences and Mathematics Lecture Series, which was created in his honor and ran from 2001 to 2011.
Festa also assumed the position of president of Educonsultants, a firm that specializes in university faculty professional development and curriculum development, and served as a consultant for the American Governing Boards organization.
Festa, who was born and raised in Wheaton, Illinois, received his A.B. in economics from Wheaton College, his M.A. in literature from Cornell University and his doctorate in literature from the University of South Carolina.
Prior to joining the College, Festa taught and held administrative positions at Old Dominion University in Virginia, including those of associate dean of the College of Arts and Letters (1985-1987); chair of the Department of English (1980-1985); and professor of English (1961-1987). Festa founded The Institute for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education at the College of William and Mary in 1978 and served as the institute’s director.
Festa was a member of the founding team of the Consortium for Public Liberal Arts Colleges and of the accreditation team for the Southern Association for Colleges and Schools and for the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. Festa served as a member of the Board of the Xavier de Salas Foundation in Madrid, Spain, a foundation dedicated to historic preservation and education.
Prior to his academic career, Festa served his nation as an officer of the United States Navy.
Festa was honored with several distinguished awards, including Order of the Palmetto (2006); Honorary Doctorate from the College of Charleston (2001); Danforth Fellow (1980); Delta Phi Omega Distinguished Faculty Award (1974); and Modern Language Association Award for Teaching Excellence (1972).
Festa had a long and colorful career. He was loved by the College of Charleston community.
“It is a comfort to know that Conrad is with his beloved wife Jean,” says Mignone. “The two were inseparable during their long marriage and his heart was broken when she passed away. He loved his family more than anything else. I know I speak for all his friends when I say, we will miss you Conrad.”