The inauguration of a new chancellor or president for a major university is a big event. College presidents and chancellors are not replaced that often, and when they are, the new officeholder usually is given a rousing welcome with music, colorful academic robes and speeches by several dignitaries about the attributes of the incoming person. Then the new chancellor or president gives an address outlining his or her dreams and challenges for the future.
The inauguration of Kansas University’s 17th chancellor, Bernadette Gray-Little, pretty much followed this script.
The ceremony was held in the Lied Center before a crowd of about 1,000, which included a large number of KU faculty members.
There were several highlights, including a magnificent performance by Genaro Mendez Jr., associate professor of music, who sang the national anthem to start the program and “Amazing Grace” before Gray-Little was officially vested with the title of chancellor. Mendez’s performance thrilled the audience. For his last number, he was accompanied on the piano by Paul Tucker, assistant professor of music and conductor of the KU Chamber Choir. The choir was another star of the program with Callie Schlegel as soloist.
Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson did a first-class job in his tribute to Gray-Little, speaking without notes and delivering his message with a light touch.
There were many “stars” throughout the program, but Clair Zeigler, a KU medical school student, was outstanding in her tribute to Gray-Little. She represented KU students, and, if she reflects the excellence, presence and enthusiasm of the student body, the university and the state have much of which to be proud.
Kansas Board of Regents Chairwoman Jill Docking did her usual good job, and she will be missed when she completes her work as a regent.
At such events, the incoming chancellor or president is expected to stimulate the audience with their dreams and visions of the future, while acknowledging current challenges.
Others offering tributes, particularly James Moeser, former dean of the KU School of Fine Arts and chancellor emeritus of the University of North Carolina, noted Gray-Little may at times seem reserved or quiet but that it would be a serious mistake for anyone not to realize she is extremely able, excellent at reading other people, a good listener and, when necessary, a rock.
There is nothing that could be seen as new or startling in Gray-Little’s remarks, but she was more animated in her delivery than she has been in other recent public appearances. She talked about the importance of doing a better job of recruiting students, helping students finish degrees and developing methods to document the excellence and results of research carried on by KU faculty members.
It was interesting, as well as puzzling, that she singled out the KU athletics department as an example for its ability to tutor and hold onto its student athletes. This is a time when the athletics department is under fire for the money it raises and spends and possible illegal actions by some officials.
The inauguration “show” probably was graded as a successful, enjoyable event by the majority of those in the Lied Center. They left the beautiful facility renewed in their loyalty to the university, appreciative of the efforts of both faculty and students and hopeful Gray-Little will indeed be able to elevate the institution to greater levels of academic excellence.