The Colgate Scene
November 2002

"You have chosen well"
Colgate inaugurates its 15th president

President Rebecca Chopp receives a standing ovation during the inaugural reception and dinner in the Hall of Presidents on September 28. (The webcasts of the inaugural ceremony and concert are archived online.) [Enlarge] [Photos by Timothy D. Sofranko]

The September 29 inauguration of Rebecca S. Chopp as Colgate University's 15th president was celebrated with pomp, pageantry, the renewal of traditions and lofty oratory that invoked the essential role of liberal arts education in promoting and sustaining democratic ideals. It was an occasion to be reminded that while education is an investment in the future, teaching is, in large part, about love -- the love of learning.


Always straight onward and upward
Excerpts from President Rebecca S. Chopp's inaugural address.

Meet President Chopp
Colgate alumni are invited to meet President Rebecca Chopp as she visits alumni clubs around the country and in the United Kingdom during the 2002-03 academic year.

"It's been my experience that the very best students . . . want to know what we know, but they also want to know what we love," said James T. Laney, president emeritus of Emory University and a mentor of Colgate's new president, who closed his remarks by offering the highest benediction a teacher can bestow upon a pupil. "Rebecca, God bless you in such a noble enterprise. I envy you, and I love you for it, and I know you will succeed."

Of course, any time an institution nearly two centuries old installs a new chief executive is a moment of historic import, and Chopp's inauguration was no different save for one significant exception.

"Today we inaugurate not only the 15th president of Colgate, we inaugurate the first woman president of the university. Rebecca Chopp has already taken us places where we have never been before," said Provost and Dean of the Faculty Jack Dovidio, prompting a sustained ovation from the assembly in Memorial Chapel.

Hamilton residents Caspar Green and Rebecca Mosby bust a move with President Chopp during the inaugural dance party at the Palace Theater. Frederick H. Thibodeau, President Chopp's husband, retrieves her inaugural gown shortly before the ceremony.


Renewal and momentum
The theme of community is ever constant with Colgate's 15th president, so it was appropriate that the four days marking the inauguration began with a Thursday night dance party co-hosted by Chopp and Hamilton's mayor, Charlie Getchonis, at the newly renovated Palace Theater. From the dance, to Friday's night Homecoming bonfire (which took place despite torrential rains), to meetings of the Board of Trustees and the Alumni Corporation, to Saturday's 38-6 victory over Columbia on the gridiron, or in conversations among old friends and colleagues, the sense of institutional renewal and momentum engendered by Chopp's presidency was impossible to miss.

"She has a tremendous amount of energy and enthusiasm," said Todd C. Brown '71, a newly elected member of the Board of Trustees. "She has great insights into what needs to be done here. My feeling is she's been able to capture the imagination of her staff and has really gotten them to feel they can achieve some great things."

Trustee Russell C. Wilkinson '70 said he was impressed that Chopp's vision for Colgate "embraces community and service on the part of students."

"Inaugurations are an opportunity for people who love Colgate to return, recommit and come back to the hilltop to pay our respects, not only to our new president but also to the university that we all love," Wilkinson said.

"President Chopp has everything to do with the momentum [at Colgate]," said Trustee Gwen Smith Iloani '77, a member of the presidential search committee. "She is in tune with the issues faced by Colgate and the Hamilton community, and she brings a fresh and vital perspective to addressing these issues and identifying opportunities."

During an inaugural brunch on Sunday morning, Jerome Balmuth, Harry Emerson Fosdick Professor of philosophy and religion, took special note of Chopp's scholarly interest in philosophy and religion. College education and the study of philosophy and religion, he said, "go together like substance and attributes, body and spirit, life and breath.

"The central concern of its teachings . . . is not in mere cumulative learning -- easy familiarity with a range of information and its sources -- but, more exactly, with a critical and reflective understanding: all to be directed and employed for a better, as well as happier, intellectual and moral life -- immediately and long after Colgate," Balmuth said.

Balmuth described the Colgate faculty as "institutionally committed, ambitious and hard working; with scholarly distinctions in the various disciplines and an overwhelming commitment to teaching; to engaging directly the intellectual and moral lives of our students.

"Though we reflect a variety of perspectives and employ a diversity of methods, we are determined to advance our common educational purpose, as an expression of respect for the great potentiality of our students as well as for the fine institution which nurtures us all -- faculty and students," Balmuth said. "President Chopp, we wish you well in your presence here; and I know that we, as a faculty, will do all we are able to help you make this an even more exciting and wondrous, cutting-edge educational institution than the one you have inherited from the fourteen distinguished presidents . . . who have preceded you. Godspeed and good fortune; this will be a happy and inspiring period for all of us."

Victor Matos '04 and Amanda Erekson '03 chat with President Chopp at a reception on the Quad immediately following the inauguration ceremony.

The open door
An inaugural concert celebration Saturday night by the Colgate University Chorus and Orchestra had closed with a stirring performance of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. But on a sun-drenched Sunday afternoon it was the closing of the German composer's Ninth Symphony, the incandescent "Ode to Joy," that summoned the inaugural assembly to Memorial Chapel. In his welcoming remarks, Dovidio said that "Colgate is a place full of seeming contradictions" that he prefers "to think of as balance."

"Colgate is an institution that balances tradition -- the intimate connection to the past -- with aspiration -- grand ambitions for the future, being far better than we have been in the past," Dovidio said. "These are the tensions, these are the contradictions. This is the Colgate I know. These are also fundamental challenges that Colgate faces as we move into the future."

There was "no better person" than Chopp to lead Colgate, Dovidio said, to help the university community to "face these challenges and to lead us successfully into the future.

"Rebecca Chopp understands the importance of hearing and supporting multiple voices on campus -- conservative and liberal, minority and majority, popular and unpopular ones, but she is decisive and clear in her commitments and direction. As a scholar and as president, she values the core of traditional education, but she knows that students have changed and that pedagogy and the curriculum need to change as well. Our physical spaces need to adapt to the needs of the students of the 21st century," Dovidio said. "Rebecca Chopp is our president. She will lead Colgate in this 21st century. And she will lead successfully. She will respect where we have been, but will take us places we have had difficulty even imagining."

John A. Golden '66, chair of the Board of Trustees, presented the university key and charter to Chopp. The key's symbolism, Golden reminded the gathering, was described by James B. Colgate, who said, when presenting the key to Colgate's sixth president, George Edmands Merrill, "A key may be used to lock oneself in or to open the door to a wider life. Colgate has always stood for the open door."

Those who know Colgate well, said Golden, know it is an institution where faculty scholarship, student achievement, staff dedication, and alumni devotion combine into an energy that " comes to bear on a campus that is one of the most beautiful anywhere, on the edge of a village to which Colgate owes its founding and much of its character. The sum of those parts is something that we call the Colgate Spirit."

"Less than 100 days into her time in the Chenango Valley," Golden said, the new president has "come to understand and appreciate that spirit."

"We are pleased but not surprised, because we knew that Rebecca is a quick and thoughtful study," said Golden. "Students, faculty, staff, alumni, townspeople and parents eagerly volunteer their impressions of our new president. `Smart,' they say. `Hard working.' `Interested.' `Easy to be with.' `Quick.' `Focused on the community.' `Demanding.' `Proactive.' `Goal oriented.' `Likeable.' `Enthusiastic.'"

As he invited Chopp to step forward to receive the university key and charter, Golden acknowledged the presence of Colgate's 10th president, Vincent M. Barnett Jr. in the audience. (Former presidents Thomas A. Bartlett, Neil R. Grabois and Charles Karelis were also present on stage.)

"President Barnett was inaugurated during my time as a student. Clarence Myers of the Colgate Class of 1920 installed President Barnett with these words: `We feel confident that under your able and vigorous leadership a bright new chapter will be written,'" Golden said to Chopp. "Like Clarence Myers, your colleagues are confident that another bright new chapter of the Colgate story has begun, and we are delighted to have you overseeing the writing of that text."

Speaking on behalf of the student community, Sarmad Khojasteh '03, president of the Student Government Association, said the sense of community Colgate offers "stands head and shoulders above anything else you can say about our school."

"In a sense, the SATs, ACTs and rankings all give us a reason for first coming here, but the community we have has kept every single one of us coming back after all these years and feeling as if we never left," said Khojasteh.

"Godspeed and good fortune this will be a happy and inspiring period for all of us." Alluding to the tragedies that have buffeted the Colgate community in recent years, Khojasteh said, "We have made it through our coldest and darkest winter, and the first day of spring for our community has arrived. As a community, let us never forget those that we have lost. Instead, let our community's actions and livelihood embody their spirits and memories."

Turning his attention to Chopp, Khojasteh said, "I am proud to welcome the newest member of our family. She is a woman who will preserve the success and prestige of our institution and undoubtedly add leadership and vision that we will all be more than proud of."

Ellen Kraly, director of the Division of Social Sciences and professor of geography, presented the president with the faculty gavel, symbol of the governance system of Colgate's faculty.

"President Chopp . . . we are inspired by your vision and perspective, your support and voice, and your leadership," Kraly said. "We welcome you with enthusiasm, good cheer and warmth. We anticipate close friendship."

Kraly explained the symbolism of three ribbons attached to the gavel.

"Please consider the first string as a request to you for your experience," said Kraly. "Our curriculum can be described as elegant. Our governance system can not! It is useful and appropriate for us to consider how university governance might best serve our shared goals for academic and scholarly excellence. We ask for your experience and perspective as faculty takes a close and careful study of how we implement processes to support the life of the academy."

The second string represented a request from the faculty for President Chopp's voice in strengthening the university's academic programs.

"Since coming to Colgate, you have immersed yourself in learning about the array of academic resources and opportunities which faculty present to our students," Kraly said. "We look to your voice and your expression in describing these academic opportunities to external audiences, thereby helping us to increase Colgate's resources for academic excellence."

Last, the third string represented a renewed commitment to diversity.

"I believe you are learning that the faculty is diverse, but not enough so, in terms of race and ethnicity," Kraly said. "The faculty is certainly diverse in terms of scholarly interests, disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives, approaches to teaching, ways of engaging in discourse, and ways of contributing to the life the college. So the third string asks your leadership in both enhancing our cultural diversity as well as building strength from the diversity within this community of faculty."

John Golden '66, chair of the Board of Trustees, presented Chopp with the university key and charter. "Less than 100 days into her time in the Chenango Valley," Golden said, the new president has "come to understand and appreciate" the Colgate spirit. In his address to the inaugural assembly, Emory University President Emeritus James T. Laney said, "one of the major purposes of education is to train a citizenry that it is able to take part in a public debate and not retire into private pursuits, and to do so with a sense of wisdom and thoughtfulness." The former U.S. ambassador to South Korea is Chopp's longtime friend and mentor.

Steven D. Kepnes, Murray W. and Mildred K. Finard Professor in Jewish studies in the philosophy and religion department and director of Jewish studies, observes the inaugural ceremonies with fellow delegates.

Strong and robust
At the start of Laney's keynote address, the former U.S. ambassador to South Korea cheerfully took note of the tsunami of good wishes for Colgate's new president.

"I must say that I have never been on a more breathtakingly beautiful campus on a more perfect day with a more fulsome set of greetings and welcomes and professions of love and loyalty forever. It's the most marvelous thing I've ever seen," he said. "I want to say to this distinguished audience on the stage and before me, you have chosen well. Rebecca Chopp is a rare find."

In a wide-ranging speech addressing several issues challenging American democracy, Laney said that the purpose of education was not simply to promote individual self-interest but "to better serve society and the larger good."

"Of course, this doesn't annul self-interest. Self-interest is there," Laney said. "This is not a naïve idea, [but] rather, it's an appropriate expansion of self-interest to include a just and peaceful world, something worth living for and dying for."

The implications for higher education in this paradigm are "enormous," said Laney, but first Americans "have to understand what engaging the world means as a nation. How our power is to be employed and how we as citizens are to understand our role."

"Our life is made up of virtue as well as knowledge, and an education that does not touch the heart is, finally, not a complete education," Laney said. "This means that higher education has the opportunity to talk about a new kind of leadership, not just success, not just a bank account, but what really matters. God, we need that kind of leadership in the years ahead. This is a good place; this is a crucible for that kind of leadership to come out." (The complete text of Laney's address may be found at

"How delighted I am to become the fifteenth president of Colgate," Chopp said when her turn came to speak. "Many have observed that the original thirteen men and most of my predecessors would need to stretch their imaginations a bit to see a woman inaugurated in this office! But all of them would understand my words of appreciation for those I see here today, my abounding sense of excitement about this institution, my delight in your love for this place, and my feeling of absolute privilege in serving this institution."

As she has on other occasions since taking office, Chopp devoted much of her remarks to the abiding sense of community at Colgate, and how she hopes to build upon it.

"Contemporary theorists tell us that Americans are desperate to belong to community. As Adam Weinberg, our interim dean of the college, says, `We should invite them all to Colgate,'" said Chopp. "What better symbol of community than that of the Hamilton Initiative, which brings together the partnership of Colgate and Hamilton with the support of parents, staff, alumni, board and friends? The Colgate community provides us bonds of loyalty, connection, love that support us in difficult times, as witnessed so powerfully this year and last on September 11. Colgate resonates when we have times of success and joy. Learning to build and live in this special community with integrity and hope is one of our greatest responses to, and resources for, the immense needs in our world today."

"I invite you to join with me in a partnership for promoting Colgate in the twenty-first century," she continued. "Alumni, faculty, staff, students, parents, citizens of Hamilton: Let us work together to continue our traditions revised, renewed, reclaimed for the twenty-first century. As those who followed before, let us build Colgate with imagination, investment, creativity, ambition and hard work. Our school is strong and robust: let us use our resources to provide an education for engagement and fulfillment, for service and success, for responsibility and for freedom." (Excerpts from Chopp's remarks are available.)

Vincent M. Barnett Jr., Colgate's 10th president, offers a few words of advice to Colgate's 15th president.

An inspiring salute
Even before the formal ceremonies on Sunday, the inauguration weekend had sparked a renewed sense of urgency and excitement about Colgate for Morgan Dunbar '93. The ceremonies, particularly Chopp's remarks, were "amazing" and "inspiring," said Dunbar, who decided to offer more of his time and energy to his alma mater.

"I've been out of touch with Colgate for a while," he said. "But I already have a list of things to do when I get back to New York."

"I think the inauguration was simply superb, and I think we're in for a terrific time through Rebecca Chopp's leadership," said Trustee Ron Burton '69. "In a relatively short time she has gotten a good sense of what we're all about. She has already begun to capture that thing we call the Colgate spirit."

Alonzo McCollum '72, M'73 said the ceremonies were "an excellent salute to Colgate."

"It affirmed for me what liberal arts in America has to be, and what Colgate has been and will continue to be," said McCollum, "a first-rate institution of higher learning."

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