A Welcoming Address
Chancellor-designate Kent D. Syverud embraced his soon-to-be new community at Syracuse University with two words: “I’m in.”
Syverud, who was unanimously selected by the Board of Trustees Wednesday as SU’s 12th Chancellor and President, addressed hundreds of students, faculty, staff and community members for the first time Thursday afternoon at Hendricks Chapel. The current dean of Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, Syverud was unanimously recommended by members of the Chancellor’s Search Committee and the board’s Executive Committee.
Syverud, who has nearly two decades of experience in academic leadership at premier national universities, was inspired to speak that simple phrase after hearing a recurring statement from members of the SU community he met during the search process: “Syracuse took a chance on me, and I made the most of it.”
That statement represents the University and the country at its best, and how students who come here understand they have a lot to learn—but are ready for the challenge, Syverud said.
“You did not feel entitled but you did feel responsible for seizing the amazing range of opportunities and activities and courses and ideas across this University,” he said. “You made the most of it here in Syracuse, around the world, and over your whole lifetime.”
Syverud met that attitude with solidarity among all those who love Syracuse University and “bleed orange.”
“I’m in with all of you who have these loyalties and these hopes and these dreams,” he said. “Like you I’m committing everything I am and everything I have to this place, to our team, to achieving greatness here through patience and hard work and loyalty and a cheerful can-do attitude.”
An award-winning teacher, Syverud, who grew up outside of Rochester, has been a key member of university leadership at Washington University and Vanderbilt University law schools and was credited with bringing both greater national prominence. His scholarship is also derived from extensive professional experience, from having been a clerk to Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to having worked in one of the nation’s most prestigious law firms.
He will succeed Chancellor Nancy Cantor, who will become Chancellor of Rutgers University-Newark in January, and will begin his tenure as Chancellor on Jan. 13, 2014.
After listening to Syverud’s address, Student Association President Alexandra Curtis ’14 said his words energized the crowd. “I got the chills hearing him speak,” said Curtis, a dual major in political science and public relations. “So many students I’m sure were feeling the same exact thing as they sat there in the audience when he said ‘Syracuse University took a chance on me and I made the most of it.’ I couldn’t have related to that more.”
During this critical time in SU’s history, with its move to the ACC and the changing of leadership, Curtis said she is looking forward to seeing what the future will hold. “I’m excited to get to know him and work with him hand in hand,” Curtis said.
First-year student Phil Kramer, a dual major in advertising and marketing management, was also looking forward to meeting the new Chancellor after hearing his speech. “I thought there was a certain amount of connectivity between him and students and faculty on the same ideas,” Kramer said. “He seemed very enthusiastic and gracious. He left me with a really good impression.”
Richard L. Thompson G’67, Chairman of the SU Board of Trustees, introduced Syverud as a keenly astute thinker in higher education, knowledgeable in the crucial role it plays in the world. “He’s admired as an intellectual and a professional. He’s a public servant and a public scholar,” Thompson said. “He’s an academic innovator and he’s a proud son of upstate New York.”
Both Thompson and Ryan Williams, associate vice president for enrollment management and director of scholarships and student aid, and a member of the search committee, thanked members of the SU community for sharing their insights with members of the committee. The committee was led by Trustee Vice Chair Hon. Judge Joanne Alper ’72 and composed of trustees, faculty, students, staff, alumni, a dean’s representative and a representative from the Chancellor’s cabinet.
Thompson also thanked Chancellor Cantor for leading the University over the past decade and making it “greater, better and more beautiful,” paraphrasing an inscription at Maxwell Hall.
Syverud also acknowledged Cantor as a leader in higher education. “I don’t think there’s a university leader anywhere in the world who has done more to organically connect a university to its community than Nancy Cantor has done,” he said.
Syverud recognized his wife, Dr. Ruth Chen, and his sons, Steven, Brian and David, and he thanked the members of the SU community in the search process and those who had helped him along the way in his career.
Having grown up in upstate New York, Syverud said the University community feels like home. He also noted how SU was the first university that he ever saw—one that made a lasting impression that continues to grow from the work that takes place here.
“I so admire what the faculty has achieved here in each school and each program. I learned long ago the true value of intense interaction with faculty colleagues. It is that vibrant exchange of ideas among great faculty which invigorates me and most importantly what makes a university so much better,” Syverud said.
Syverud also noted how he has reviewed hundreds of pages of SU history, but he recognizes how much he will have to learn. “I need to learn from each of you, each student, faculty member, staff member and alumnus,” he said. “I will do so because I want to, with all my heart, steward this great place into an even greater future.”
“Today I am truly honored that you have taken that chance on me,” Syverud said. “I mean to make the most of it and with your help, with your advice and with your support, I will do that. I’m in, and I sure hope you are.”
Watch the video here.