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Austin inaugurated as UConn's 13th president
by Thomas Becher
April 18, 1997
UConn is poised to become a world-class university by providing excellent academic programs, attracting the best and most diverse students, and playing a key role in Connecticut's economic future, President Philip E. Austin said during his inaugural address.
Austin, the University's 13th president, was inaugurated Thursday during a formal academic ceremony in Jorgensen Auditorium attended by scores of well-wishers from academia and state government.
In his first major address since coming to Storrs in October, Austin told the Jorgensen Auditorium crowd that UConn 2000, the 10-year, $1 billion program to rebuild, renew and enhance the University's campuses, is the catalyst that will forever change the state's flagship public university.
"I came to Connecticut last October firmly convinced that no public university in this country is better positioned to improve, and improve dramatically, the level of excellence, access and service it offers. I retain that conviction today," Austin said. "The University of Connecticut has been an important university for many decades. Now it has the potential to become a great university - one of a handful of public institutions that define what a state can do when it makes a commitment of resources and a commitment of will."
Austin, 55, chancellor of the University of Alabama system from 1989 until his arrival at UConn, was honored throughout the day, first at a luncheon with contributors to the University and later at a packed public reception in the Student Union lobby. He appeared jovial and relaxed as he greeted faculty, staff and students and mingled with representatives from 52 colleges and universities, including Richard C. Levin, president of Yale University, and William Cibes, president of the Connecticut State University system.
The ceremony featured a procession of faculty in academic regalia. A beaming Austin tailed at the end, followed only by Peter Halvorson, the University Marshal. When he reached his chair on the stage, he stood in rapt attention as the crowd listened to the processional, "Qui Transtulit Sustinet," commissioned by the University Wind Ensemble for the inauguration. The piece, named after Connecticut's motto, which means "He, who transplanted, sustains" in Latin, was composed and conducted by Thomas Duffy '76, '79, a Yale professor.
Lt. Gov. Jodi Rell - filling in for an ailing Gov. John G. Rowland - presided over the investiture, or installation, of the president. He received the President's Collar, a symbol of his induction, from Lewis B. Rome, chair of the Board of Trustees.
"I offer today a statement of purpose and partnership," he said. "I look to the day when excellence in all programs of this institution will be widely acclaimed, the day when outstanding students and distinguished professors from throughout the country will compete to become members of this university community. Achieving this goal will require careful investment, intellectual rigor, focused leadership and, above all, a partnership dedicated to the principle of excellence in everything we do."
Speakers representing the governor, legislators, students, alumni, faculty and staff, welcomed Austin to UConn.
Rell said that with of UConn 2000 construction projects under way, "Let there be no doubt in anyone's mind: The days of dreaming about building a world-class University are over. That world-class University is here and we are beginning to build it now.
"Gov. Rowland and I pledge to stand with you," she said. "We pledge to be your partner as we take UConn the final way from an agricultural land-grant college to the world-class University it really is. UConn is an integral part of the state's landscape and an integral part of our future."
House Speaker Thomas Ritter, D-Hartford, said Austin's leadership is vital as the University and state work together.
"We need the University's help to turn out a work force that can compete in a highly competitive world," Ritter said. "We must provide a strong financial investment in the future of the University. We in Hartford must support UConn - indeed it is that premise that brought President Austin here today."
"We want to celebrate your new leadership with a new state budget that, for the first time in years, actually will increase our investment in the University and in student financial aid," added Kevin Sullivan, president pro tem of the state Senate. "We'd like 13 to be UConn's lucky number because we are indeed lucky to have you here with us at this University and in Connecticut."
Others saw the inauguration as a renewal of the University.
"This inaugural event symbolizes a new beginning and encumbers upon the president the challenges and achievements of the future," said Kenneth Parzych, president of the UConn Alumni Association's board of directors. "It represents heightened expectations for this great University."
Harry Johnson, chairman of the University Senate's executive committee and a professor of finance, said Austin is a leader who can take UConn into the next millennium.
"The next five years will be the most crucial years in this University's future," he said. "Dr. Austin has already exhibited the leadership and experience the University requires. A better choice could not have been made."
Referring to Moby Dick, Johnson wished the president "time, strength, cash and patience."
Brian Collins, president of the Undergraduate Student Senate, said he was glad to have Austin on campus.
"I've watched him envelop this whole University and take everything in," he said. "Thank God he didn't wait to be inaugurated to start his job."
When trustees were looking for the next president, they knew they needed someone with a sense for the need to change, Rome said.
"The qualities that we needed were the qualities that we found: a wonderful listener, a person willing to make decisions, a person to carry out responsibility who not only meets challenges but makes challenges," he said.
Austin said that's all part of his plan.
"My goal is to make us even stronger by moving one or two or three steps ahead of the curve - preparing students not only for tomorrow's needs, but the requirements of the next generation," he said.
"I think it was a terrific speech that pointed out in very concrete ways the role of the University in society broadly and in Connecticut in particular," said Mark Emmert, chancellor and provost for University affairs. "It was a clear charge to the University community to begin to build on the strengths of the University and to focus our attention on excellence and service to Connecticut."
"I thought the president's speech was outstanding," said Wilbur Jones, vice president for finance and administration. "It clearly presented a vision. I think we all have reason to be optimistic."
Kevin Fahey, president of the University of Connecticut Professional Employees Association, enjoyed the ceremony and the message.
"His pledge to make inclusion - for minorities or for economic reasons - a hallmark of his presidency resounded," Fahey said. "And I hope the state's legislators, both those in attendance and those back in Hartford, understand and agree with him that UConn's students, faculty and staff have a right to expect support from the state for a state institution."
Austin, meanwhile, said he was happy the way everything worked out: "It's a very happy day in the life of a university when a leader has the ability to chart the course and outline aspirations."