On Sunday, October 3, Colgate University celebrated the inauguration of its sixteenth president, Jeffrey Herbst. At 1:00 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, a seemingly endless procession of professors and faculty dressed in academic robes followed Herbst into the chapel. An additional 250 spectators filed into the Colgate Memorial Chapel to support the new president, including friends, family and colleagues. Alumnus Robert Ho ‘56 was also in attendance. Less than half of these 250 spectators were students.
The ceremony began with a welcome by Provost and Dean of the Faculty Lyle Roelofs and an invocation by Associate University Chaplain and Director of Jewish Life Steven Nathan. When a ringing cell phone interrupted the presentation of the University Key to President Herbst, speaker and Chair of the Board of Trustees Chris Clifford ‘67 joked that it was President Barack Obama calling to offer his congratulations to Herbst. After the laughter subsided, the Faculty Gavel was also presented to Herbst by Professor of History Jill Harsin. Presenters were warm, welcoming and genuine in their support for President Herbst.
“We know that you will take great care of the institution and all of the people who call this our home,” Associate Vice President of University Relations Mari Assaid said.
The emphasis on community and Colgate as an institution were important themes of President Herbst’s inauguration. Greg Mills, a long-time friend and colleague of Herbst, made the inaugural address and shared with the Colgate community the adventures that he and Herbst shared together in Africa. He also commented on the international connections that Herbst would undoubtedly incorporate into the Colgate curriculum to benefit the university.
During his remarks, President Herbst emphasized the importance of Colgate as an institution.
“It is the nature of Colgate as a place that I want to explore today. Our community is what we make of it, and we have always viewed this place as central to our identity.”
However, President Herbst also expressed his desire to broaden Colgate’s horizons. He plans to extend study abroad programs to areas other than Europe, including Africa. Having a wider range of study abroad options would extend the Colgate community even further overseas.
“All students should study abroad for at least a semester. Not that they should leave Colgate, but that they should return, be welcomed back and share their knowledge,” Herbst said.
Herbst expressed his desire to engage the world, while also caring deeply about what happens on the village green.
In his remarks, President Herbst seemed enthusiastic about Greek Life.
“At their best, fraternities and sororities enable extraordinarily rich and robust sets of social relationships that should be celebrated for the community they provide. At the same time, we must provide equally rewarding and rich residential opportunities for those who choose not to enter Greek life organizations.”
When asked about his stance on the extension of Greek Life at Colgate, President Herbst was vague.
“It’s something we will have to talk about,” said Herbst.
In response, seniors and members of Gamma Phi Beta sorority Sophie Greene and Melissa Seipp hope for a positive relationship between President Herbst and Greek life.
“I hope that President Herbst will reach out to Greek Life at Colgate and seriously look at the option of extension. Colgate’s Greek Life is in serious need of administrative support and recognition of sororities and fraternities as not only legitimate, but respected organizations on campus,” Greene said.
“It is clear that students are interested in having Greek Life on this campus and we hope that the administration will finally get behind the students. It would be nice to see the president being a leader on this and really talking with the students since it is clearly something people want,” Seipp said.
President Herbst is also focused on increasing financial aid, developing a new posture for technology and involving alumni around the world.
“I’m about to embark on a fifteen-city tour to meet alumni,” Herbst said.
At the end of his remarks, President Herbst received a standing ovation and an explosive round of applause. A reception was held afterwards for professors, students and faculty to mingle with the president. Alumnus Lynn Plant ’77 is optimistic about the new president’s term.
“Colgate is so lucky to have someone with so much clarity. His sense of Colgate is amazing,” Plant said.
Even before the unceremonious resignation of Rebecca Chopp in 2009, the rate of turnover of Colgate presidents has been very high. Many spectators at the inauguration expressed their concerns about the ambitious agenda of the new president and his ability to see his agenda through. In the past, presidents have developed concrete goals, but have left before these goals were reached. Now, professors and students alike are looking for a period of presidential stability. For many, President Herbst offers new hope.
“We applaud his commitment to the internationalization of the community in hopes that he can make it a reality,” Associate Professor of History Raymond Douglas said. Douglas has attended four inauguration ceremonies in the past 12 years.
Thomas A. Bartlett Chair and Professor of English Jane Pinchin was also impressed with Herbst’s expansion of study abroad groups at Colgate.
“It is wonderful to have a president who is so internationally focused and it was great that Greg Mills emphasized the extent of this focus,” Pinchin said.
Over the past year, President Herbst has spent time getting to know the Colgate student body by attending meetings and campus events. However, during a private interview with President Herbst, he stated that he has only begun to get to know Colgate students.
“There are so many students in different things, so it’s a process, but I will certainly be doing this all year, but I’m happy with the start that I’ve made,” Herbst said. “I still recognize that I have a lot to learn.”
One difference that President Herbst noticed immediately about Colgate students is their dedication and involvement.
“Lots of other schools have drop-in hours and they complain that no one comes, but the interesting thing about Colgate students is that they are coming in to talk about all sorts of things, and I’m delighted.”
President Herbst will continue to hold office hours on Tuesdays from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. in hopes that he will become better acquainted with Colgate students.
“I look forward to being your president, colleague and neighbor,” Herbst said.
President Herbst’s inauguration was streaming online around the world. To watch his remarks, log on to the president’s page at colgate.edu.