Walter Harrison

Thursday, September 23, 2010 - 15:47

Inaugural Remarks
September 24, 2010

See the video.

I can’t tell you how flattered I am to have been asked by Lynn Pasquerella to say a few words at her inauguration. I am a big fan of inaugurations, since they represent for me an important juncture of tradition and renewal in the life of a college or university, but this invitation is especially important to me because of my fondness for Lynn and how much of a spectacular opportunity this is, both for her and for Mount Holyoke. 

Lynn first mentioned to me that she was being recruited to enter the Mount Holyoke search in June of 2009, and for the next five months or so we spoke about the search and about her interest many times. I know how much this meant to her, and I know how thoroughly she prepared herself for the interview process, so I am sure she was more diplomatic than she was when she interviewed for the Hartford provost position with me two and half years ago. After an electric hour or so of discussion, during which I couldn’t believe how perfectly we were connecting, she looked at me and said: “But there is one thing we will not agree on. I know I would make a better Major League Baseball commissioner than you would.” 

I was speechless. I am pretty well known around Hartford for wanting to be commissioner myself, and—after all—my doctoral dissertation was one of the earliest treatments of baseball and American culture, and I have written many times subsequently about the sport—both scholarly and popular articles—spoken about it, been quoted on it, and even been a color commentator for minor league games. Who was this woman to say something so challenging? 

To rub it in, of course, she took the email address of commish@hartford.edu

Now this is all part of Hartford folklore, but my point in mentioning it is to give you a glimpse into her character. She may strike you at first as charming, caring, even loving, but in her heart she is really, really competitive. Don’t mess with her. 

That is clue one about what sort of president you have chosen. Here are just a few more things you can expect. 

First, she is a president who will be accessible to everyone—students, staff, faculty, alumni, donors. She simply doesn’t know how to say no to requests, and even more remarkably, she does everything she says she will do. She’ll drive some of her staff crazy with her accessibility, but that’s OK. They’ll learn how to deal with it! She was extremely popular at Hartford because she connected so completely and totally with everyone. Look around you—there are so many Hartford people here today that I imagine our campus is deserted! 

Second, she is a person of boundless energy. I have no idea how she did everything she did at the university and still was a loving wife and mother and commuted an hour each way every day. I am sure she will maintain or exceed that level of energy, now having a shorter drive to work. 

Third, she is a president who will maintain an active intellectual life and make that an integral part of her presidency. Critics today frequently complain that college presidents spend too much time thinking about fundraising or administration, and not enough time being intellectual leaders. That certainly does not apply to Lynn. Being an intellectual is who she is—and she will be an effective fundraiser and administrator because her intellect will put its stamp on everything she does. 

Fourth, she is a president who is committed to all four constituents of a college community: alumni, staff, faculty, and students. That is because she truly values the role that each constituency plays in the life of a college. I especially want to speak to the students for a minute: get ready for her to take an active interest in what you do, from classroom to residence hall to student activities to college sports. Forty-three years ago, when I was a college student myself, I acted in a play at Mount Holyoke. I am pretty sure the president did not come to see us perform. But if you are working on a play this year, you had better expect her there. She will throw herself into the life of the college. 

Fifth, and finally, as you can see from the theme of this inauguration, she is a person most especially characterized by her strong sense of social justice. At the very center of this sense of social justice is her commitment to women’s education. But even though she has very definite ideas about these issues, she welcomes—indeed, invites—disagreement and discussion. (Lord knows, she and I have had enough of these discussions ourselves.)

And she will do this with a flare. After all, she is the only college president who really, truly believes that rooting for the Red Sox is an expression of the Common Good! 

Good luck, Lynn! Mount Holyoke—get ready for a great ride!

(Note: This printed text may vary from the speech delivered.)