The Collegian
Thursday, December 08, 2022

Ayers examines university history, looks to future in inaugural speech

President Edward L. Ayers reflected on the University of Richmond's past and introduced the five principles of his strategic plan in his inaugural address on Friday.

To a crowd of alumni, students, parents, staff and faculty, representatives of colleges, universities, seminaries, learned societies and professional organizations, Ayers said "history holds the seeds of what we can be."

Ayers retold the history of Richmond and Westhampton colleges and the University of Richmond, emphasizing the importance he feels the university's history has. He told stories about Richmond's first presidents, its Baptist roots, first female students, and first African-American students. He talked about the university's race-relations, and even produced nails from an original building.

"We are a university with a rich history and a bright future, and we are so lucky to have a strong leader to guide us as we progress to our full potential," said Michelle Hamm, chairwoman of the University Faculty Council and associate professor of chemistry in her introduction on behalf of the faculty.

Ayers spent much of last fall determining through meetings with the community what the University of Richmond wanted to be known for. He received responses to this question from hundreds of people, using them to develop the strategic plan.

Ayers called for the school to address diversity by encouraging the recruitment of students with "different backgrounds, experiences, and ideas" and emphasized a "commitment to opportunity and a spirit of welcome."

He said the university community would be strengthened intellectually and socially by the wealth of perspectives offered by a diverse student body.

Hamm noted in her remarks that Ayers had met with more than 30 academic departments and 62 staffing units. "We welcome this inclusionary leadership style, for we are a faculty committed to a diverse and accepting community.

Hamm also touched on diversity, a theme that was addressed several times throughout the afternoon.

Ayers also vowed to increase the school's affordability for all students, while commending the university's need-blind admissions process.

Senior Brent Dean, who attended the inaugural address, said that this was one of the most important principles because schools around the country had been reevaluating their financial aid systems. Ayers said he wanted to integrate and connect the School of Arts and Sciences to the Robins School of Business, and encourage Richmond Law School professors to teach undergraduate classes.

He spoke of his dedication to student organizations, opportunities for mentoring and fellowship, laboratory and research opportunities, and athletic teams that "embody what is best about intercollegiate sports."

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In his introduction on behalf of students, sophomore Michael Murray Jr. said, "When you see Dr. Ayers sitting in the back of your student organization function it certainly adds significance to the program and the reassurance that you have the president behind you."

Ayers said he wanted students to be compellingly engaged in the Richmond community.

"Much of what we have is because Richmonders have given us it," he said.

He praised the university's tradition of service, but said that it must sustain and build on that tradition to become the University for Richmond, not just of Richmond.

In her introduction on behalf of the student body, senior Andrea Willis said, "This university must become firmly planted in the city from which it takes its name ... to truly become the University of Richmond. I'm glad Dr. Ayers feels this, too."

Mayor L. Douglas Wilder also expressed excitement for the possibility of strengthening the partnership between the university and community.

"Richmond is a great city, the citizens of Richmond are great people, the University of Richmond is a great institution that has existed for years as a bastion or a beacon of light for those to further their education and intellectual pursuits," Wilder said.

The inauguration coincided with the university's annual Alumni Reunion Weekend, President of the University of Richmond Alumni Association, Patricia Dann Loyde said, "[Ayers] values the very special character of this place and we look forward to working closely with President Ayers for many years to come to make the university and even greater force in the lives of its students, in the city of Richmond, the Commonwealth, the nation and the world"

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