The inauguration ceremony for Susan Herbst, UConn's 15th president and the first woman to ever hold the position, was held at the Friday afternoon, attracting a host of state luminaries, including Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and former U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd.
Herbst is beginning her presidency at a pivotal time during UConn's history. More than a decade after UConn 2000 transformed the school's main campus and , Malloy has made the school the capstone of his plan to create more jobs in Connecticut – dedicating $846 million to revitalize the school's lagging health center, $18 million to build flexible-use research space at the Storrs campus and another $2 million to hire new faculty. And more money may be forthcoming.
Keynote speaker William Hitchcock, a history professor at the University of Virginia and a close personal friend of Herbst, focused his address on the role of higher education in helping prepare future world leaders in shaping the emerging global economy.
“Universities remain the world's engine room,” Hitchcock said. “Students from our [American] universities will continue to populate the world's governments, corporations and civic organizations.”
America's status as the world's dominant superpower is diminishing, Hitchcock said, as the country adjusts to the new global economy, it is still the standard bearer of higher education, attracting hundreds of thousands of international students every year – including the children of world leaders.
“It is here that new ideas about global governance will be hatched,” Hitchcock said.
Part of the university's duty to its students, according to Hitchcock, is to stimulate intellectual growth through conversation and respectful debate, a theme reflected in Herbst's most recent book, “Rude Democracy: Civility and Incivility in American Politics.”
Dodd emphasized UConn's importance to Connecticut's economy and told an amusing anecdote about his original plan to create the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center that illustrated the school's rapid progress.
According to Dodd, after hearing the plans for the Dodd Center, one former UConn administrator said 'these plans sound great senator, but who would ever want to come to Storrs?'
Malloy and UConn Board of Trustees chairman Larry McHugh both spoke about how Herbst stood out during the selection process, which began a year and two months ago on July 14, the day McHugh announced the formation of the presidential search committee.
“She is one of those extraordinary individuals who, upon entering the room, has the ability to dominate,” Malloy said.
During their first conversation, Herbst's ambition helped set her apart from the others competing for the job, Malloy said.
“She wanted to play a roll in the economic development of the state,” Malloy said.
“I am particularly blessed to be governor of the State of Connecticut at a time when Susan Herbst is being inaugurated,” Malloy said at the end of his welcome address.
McHugh also spoke about Herbst's ambition, describing her as a perfect fit for UConn.
“Last summer, when we first set out to find the person who would become the 15th president of the University of Connecticut, we had Susan Herbst in mind,” McHugh said. “We didn't know it then of course.”
Provost Peter Nicholls introduced Student Body President Sam Tracy, who praised Herbst for her initiative in trying to improve student life on campus with new programs like the campus beautification committee, UConn Reads and her decision to hold open office hours.
Herbst was sworn into office by McHugh at the close of the ceremony, prompting a standing ovation from the audience. The room swelled with the sound of clapping as Herbst shook hands with Dodd and Malloy.
After being sworn in, Herbst gave her address, which focused on the ability of higher education to transform lives – especially the lives of the impoverished and recent immigrants.
“My father fled the Nazis, went back to Europe to fight them and then attended college on the G.I. Bill,” Herbst said. “My mother was the daughter of a struggling single mom who was able to go to Brooklyn College because it only cost a few dollars a semester.”
“At its core, public education is for enabling students.”
The ceremony ended with a short performance by the Conn-Men, a UConn a cappella group.