By Mary Alice Casey
There was a bit of looking back and a lot of looking ahead. Pomp and circumstance, to be sure, but a healthy dose of levity. And there were friends, new and old, all with high hopes and encouraging spirits.
It was on this day, Sept. 10, 2004, that Roderick J. McDavis was inaugurated as the 20th president of Ohio University, his alma mater. A crowd of about 1,100 people watched as McDavis took the oath of office on the stage of Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium.
The inauguration processional emerged from Baker University Center at 1:43 p.m. and began the walk across East Union Street and up the brick paths to Mem Aud. Led by student flag bearers, the entourage included university trustees; former Presidents Vernon Alden and Charles Ping; Eugene Trani, president of Virginia Commonwealth University (where McDavis just completed five years as provost); deans; faculty; staff; administrators; and delegates from more than 55 colleges and universities. At the end walked McDavis, who entered the auditorium at 2:05 p.m. as the music of the OhioBrass filled the house.
Rabbi Danielle Leshaw of Athens' Hillel Foundation set the tone with the invocation. She told a story -- handed down by generations of rabbis -- of a traveler lost in the forest. He encounters another lost traveler, and the two decide to seek a new route together. The story, she said, illustrates the importance of accepting guidance, the beauty of human relationships and the willingness of others to help -- all valuable resources for a new president.
Former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, a close personal friend of McDavis' who now is on the VCU faculty, also addressed the audience, saying he was proud to see his friend assume the leadership of Ohio University. That the naming of McDavis as the university's first African-American president comes in 2004, when the nation marks the 50th anniversary of the landmark school desegregation case Brown v. Board of Education, makes it all the more significant.
"He has shown that discipline, hard work and steadfastness have been the order of the day," Wilder said of McDavis.
The investiture was led by Board of Trustees Chair Robert Walter. When Walter asked that McDavis repeat the entire first sentence of the oath -- "I, Roderick J. McDavis, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute and discharge the duties of the office of the president of Ohio University." -- with no break for prompts, both the new president and the audience broke into laughter. "Too long?" Walter asked. "OK, we'll try it again."
Despite the humorous interlude, the ceremony was replete with tradition: While taking the oath, McDavis had his left hand on a 13th century bible that was Alden Library's one millionth volume. The ceremonial mace, designed by the late David Klahn, professor of art, is modeled after one of the balustrades of an original stairway of Cutler Hall. Measuring 46 inches in length and weighing 16 pounds, the mace is a representation of authority for royalty, legislatures and universities around the world. The seal of office, a silver and bronze medallion bearing a silhouette of Cutler Hall, was first worn by McDavis' predecessor, Robert Glidden, and is to be passed on to all future Ohio University presidents.
In his 20-minute inaugural address, which was frequently interrupted by audience applause, McDavis lingered on the university's history just long enough to establish the inspiration it offers for the future. His vision for that future centers on four goals:
- "Ohio University will become a nationally prominent research university," he said. "Our quest for enhanced national prominence begins here, today, in this building, with this message." Achieving such prominence, the new president said, will require raising the university's national rankings, enhancing the quality and availability of regional campus academic programs, elevating the reputation of the College of Osteopathic Medicine and gaining more positive recognition for athletic programs.
- "Our second goal will be to increase the diversity within our institution as a whole -- students, faculty, staff and administrators," McDavis said. New initiatives will be launched to attract more multicultural, out-of-state and international students, and increased diversity within the university's workforce will be a priority.
- "Our third goal," he said, "will be to secure the resources necessary for Ohio University to rise to national prominence as a research university." In addition to a continued focus on raising private funds, McDavis stressed the need for establishing partnerships that will bring in additional state support, raising research funding from $57 million annually to $100 million and pursuing entrepreneurial initiatives that attract additional funds.
- "We will increase partnerships in the region, throughout Ohio and throughout the nation as our fourth goal," McDavis said. He noted the need for establishing more economic development partnerships in the region, supporting improvements in the area's public schools, developing research partnerships with other universities, continuing to improve the university airport and nurturing the university's relationship with the city of Athens.
The speech was well-received by students in attendance.
"I loved the four topics," said Alisha Brown, a senior majoring in health communication. "I thought the speech was empowering and moving."
Added Tia Jameson, a senior sport industry major: "I'm pumped and enthused. He has really created a positive atmosphere for everyone. He'll do a lot for the university. I'm excited for the future."
Mary Alice Casey is editor of Ohio Today, the University's alumni magazine. Student writer Chuck Bowen contributed to this story.