In a true economist fashion, University of Richmond President Kevin Hallock said UR's comparative advantages were what would make it the best small university at his inaugural ceremony on April 8. Hallock, a labor market economist, delivered his speech in the E. Claiborne Robins Stadium to hundreds of community members who came to celebrate UR’s 11th president.
Hallock saw UR’s people, resources, unique offerings and location as comparative advantages — the great things going for us, he said.
“My view is that it can become unquestionably the best small university in the world,” Hallock said. “Where access and affordability, belonging and well-being, academic excellence and community engagement are synonymous with the Richmond name.”
Hallock said as president he planned to focus around those five areas of opportunity: access and affordability, belonging, well-being, academic excellence and community engagement.
Among the speakers was city of Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, who expressed his support for Hallock and UR.
“This is not only a great day for the University of Richmond,” Stoney said. “This is also a great day for the city of Richmond.”
Stoney looked forward to continuing and strengthening a strong and successful partnership in the months and years ahead, he said.
“I pledge to you our full support,” he said. “Our shared future is bright.”
Prior to his address, several more speakers issued greetings, including Hallock’s mentors, trustees, a student, and faculty and staff member. Then, Chancellor Richard Morrill, former UR presidents Edward Ayers and Ronald Crutcher presented Hallock with the mace, university seal and chain of office.
Hallock began his speech by thanking everyone in the UR community, beginning with the students. He then talked about his background and personal reflections to help the audience understand why coming to Richmond meant so much, he said.
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Whatever professional success he enjoyed, he often attributed simply to the result of a series of lucky accidents, Hallock said.
“But I recognize that I've had significant privilege — being born a white male in the U.S. in 1969,” he added.
Hallock said that the truth was he had been fortunate enough to have been around a cast of characters who had supported him in the past 53 years, and it was because of this support network that he was where he was today.
The UR community that he has come to know has confronted, like the rest of the world, many issues over the past year, including the pandemic, racism and conflict, he said.
“And while Richmond isn’t perfect, and no place is…something really is different and special about Richmond,” Hallock said.
He turned to UR’s first comparative advantage: its people.
“Everyone I've met — students, staff, faculty, alumni, parents — seems universally committed to strength and integrity,” he said. “They share that commitment and I look forward to our continued work together.”
Hallock also talked about how he had tried to teach a first-year seminar in the fall and was delighted that, just last month, his course was approved. Hallock will teach the class, “Pay,” which is designed to help students to understand why people earn what they earn, according to the course listing.
“I'm looking forward to getting back in the classroom,” he said. “There's nothing like it — there’s nothing like a Richmond education.”
UR’s endowment allows for incredible resources, the second comparative advantage, but deploying these assets wisely is an important obligation, he said.
Hallock announced that he and his wife had committed to endowing a new scholarship to increase UR’s access and affordability.
“Tina and I have decided to put our money where my mouth is,” he said.
They also hoped to expand financial opportunities for families in the middle-income category, Hallock said.
While Hallock said he loved UR’s commitment to opening the door of opportunity for talented students of all backgrounds, he acknowledged that not everyone felt like they belonged at UR.
Imagine how much progress could be made if every single spider made a special effort to help people around them feel a stronger sense of belonging, he said. And imagine if we took a closer look at ourselves as an institution and identified ways to advance belonging, and then put time, effort and resources into making it happen, Hallock said.
“Not all of this will be easy,” he said. “If it were easy, we'd have already done it.”
But what was important was that even when we disagree, we listen to each other and give the benefit of the doubt, seek to understand and assume positive intent, he said.
Another way to be more inclusive was through striving to understand UR’s history, he said.
“I spent a significant amount of time this year listening and learning from our resilient community,” Hallock said.
Less than two weeks ago, the Board of Trustees voted to change the names of six campus buildings named after enslavers and eugenicists.
Hallock said he recognized that the path to this vision had been rocky and that not all members of the community agreed with this decision. UR would not exist today without the efforts of some of the people whose names were removed, he said.
However, as an institution that cares about learning, UR intends to preserve and make accessible a full historical record related to those six buildings and their previous names, Hallock said.
UR has come a long way to build a more diverse and inclusive community, but it must continue the ongoing deep commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, Hallock said. He is focusing on new ways to support international students, first-generation college students and other groups by raising resources and pledged to remain steadfast in this work, he said.
“I look forward to collaborating with members of our community on our continuing efforts to create a more inclusive UR — where all Spiders feel themselves as part of the web,” Hallock said.
One of Hallock’s passions was also promoting well-being, he said.
Today, our society is experiencing heightened division, racism and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — all of which have exacerbated a serious mental health crisis in higher education worldwide, not just for students but also for staff, he said.
“It's a big challenge, but we must continue to invest and support both mental and physical health,” Hallock said.
He then talked about his commitment to investing in a few strategic academic priorities for UR to promote academic excellence. In addition to this, Hallock emphasized community engagement, which he intended to actualize by providing an opportunity for students to spend a semester in the city as they would abroad, he said.
“I believe that putting the University of Richmond firmly on the national and international map will very well start right here at home,” Hallock said.
He promised the crowd that he would work incredibly hard and collaborate with everyone to make UR an even more outstanding place to study, learn and work, he said.
“I'm only 53 years old, and I have a ton of energy,” Hallock said, and the audience laughed in response. “I look forward to seeing what this institution will look like in 15 years and being part of our continued progress.”
At the end of his address, the entire crowd rose from their seats in the stadium and applauded the new president.
Senior Zena Abro attended the ceremony and said she had spoken with Hallock personally about things that he was passionate about.
“And it doesn’t seem like, you know, they’re empty words,” she said. “It seems like he is really, truly passionate about it and he is going to put forth his 100% effort to make a difference.”
Lori O’Toole, an alumna, also said she had met Hallock before, and liked the five points he made regarding access and affordability, belonging, well-being, academic excellence and community engagement.
“I think that’s what makes the difference in a university,” O’Toole said.
After the ceremony, community members made their way over to the Westhampton Green for the community festival, where there were lawn games, student performances, organizations tabling and an overall clear sense of community.
Contact news editor Natasha Sokoloff at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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