DHG: MHC Inaugurates President Pasquerella

Saturday, September 25, 2010 - 11:39

The following article appeared in the September 25 edition of the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

By Steve Pfarrer

On the day she was officially sworn in as the new president of Mount Holyoke College, Lynn Pasquerella was celebrated as a scholar, a humanitarian, a creative thinker, an engaged leader — and a hard-core baseball fan.

With summerlike temperatures causing many audience members to fan themselves with the blue programs they'd received, Pasquerella, a 1980 graduate of Mount Holyoke, was inaugurated as the school's 18th president in a ceremony that brought about 1,000 people to Gettell Amphitheater, including delegates from dozens of other colleges and universities, state Rep. John W. Scibak of South Hadley, and the presidents of local schools.

There was a palpable sense of pride in the crowd that "one of Mount Holyoke's own," as one speaker put it, was assuming the helm of the nation's oldest college for women. And Pasquerella, who got a huge round of applause when she entered the amphitheater at the end of a long processional, said it was a great source of pride to her to lead Mount Holyoke in a quest not only to educate new generations of students, but also to make the world a more equitable place for women in general.

Indeed, Pasquerella, who was the first member of her family to go to college, said she was troubled by the contrast between the advancement American women have made in the past 30 years through higher education, and the continued poverty many women face elsewhere around the globe, particularly in Asia and Africa.

"We have to ponder the paradox between women's achievement in America and the status of women around the world," said Pasquerella, a philosopher who has written extensively on issues such as medical ethics and social justice.

She praised Mount Holyoke and the concept of women's colleges in general, citing statistics that show graduates of women's schools in the United States have made greater progress in politics, business, higher education and other fields than their counterparts from co-ed institutions. Citing the resistance that first cropped up in the 19th century to women seeking more education, she noted that today, women make up 57 percent of U.S. college students, and that they graduate at considerably higher rates than do men.

But Pasquerella, who spent time in Kenya the past three summers helping villagers improve their day-to-day lives, also noted some grim statistics about women from other parts of the world - high rates of illiteracy and HIV infection, for instance - that she said were part of "the feminization of poverty."

Part of her goal at Mount Holyoke, she said, was to make students and the college in general a greater force for combating those kinds of problems. "We will make sure we don't educate our students at the expense of ignoring the problems of women around the world."

Though Pasquerella struck a serious note, there was plenty of laughter and good feeling at the inauguration, where students held up some handwritten signs, such as one from the college volleyball team: "V-Ball (Heart) Lynn."

Walter Harrison, the president of the University of Hartford, where Pasquerella served as provost and chief academic officer before coming to Mount Holyoke, said she would surely be a force for the college's intellectual life and for engaging students, staff and faculty - on their interests and hers.

"She's the only college president who truly believes rooting for the Boston Red Sox is an expression of the common good," Harrison said, as the crowd roared.

Harrison, a huge baseball fan himself who has often written about the game, related that he'd been a bit flummoxed when he interviewed Pasquerella for her former position because she had insisted she'd make a better baseball commissioner than he would. And, he said, she even took the handle "commish" for her campus email address.

"Mount Holyoke," Harrison said, "get ready for a great ride."

David Perrault, a painter for Mount Holyoke's facilities department, spoke on behalf of college staff and joked that when he first met Pasquerella last fall after she'd become the president-elect, "I had an epiphany. I said 'You are the messiah, you are the one we've been waiting for.' "

Pasquerella, Perrault said, had laughed and said that seemed like awfully high expectations for her to meet. But, Perrault told the audience at Gettel, "She's since reinforced that image I had of her. I'm running short of superlatives."

And Marlene Gerber Fried, the acting president of Hampshire College, welcomed Pasquerella to the five-college fold and added that though she was just getting to know her, she already felt a bond with Pasquerella because of their shared background in studying and teaching philosophy and a dedication to women's rights.

"Thank you, Lynn, for promoting the freedom that lies at the heart of women's education." she said.

See the photos from this event on our Flickr gallery.