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Published: Sunday, 10/28/2001

New UT chief pledges unity

BY RYAN E. SMITH AND BARBARA HENDEL
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

Promising partnership with the community and a renewed embrace of the University of Toledo's urban mission, Dr. Daniel Johnson was installed officially yesterday as UT's 15th president.

“For me, the vision of the university engaged through meaningful partnerships with its community and regional environments is a compelling vision,” he said.

Dr. Johnson, 61, addressed nearly 1,500 faculty, students, community leaders, and other dignitaries during a two-hour inauguration in Savage Hall.

Among the dignitaries were two New York City police officers - Richard Lang and Nino Navarra - who were involved in the rescue and recovery efforts at the World Trade Center.

James Tuschman, chairman of the UT board of trustees, told the crowd that the university stands on the threshold of a new beginning.

“Everyone in this hall knows, I am sure, the university has faced some tough challenges in the past two years,” he said. “We pass on to our incoming president a university that recognized its problems and set a course to fix them.”

“We are here, and we are ready,” he said.

Two years ago, the university inaugurated its 14th president, Dr. Vik Kapoor. His 17-month tenure, marked by unpopular, rapid change and faculty turnover, was a tumultuous time for the university.

Dr. Kapoor was forced to resign in June, 2000. William Decatur took over as interim president. Following a national search, Dr. Johnson took office July 1.

An expert in metropolitan universities and a former provost at the University of Alaska at Anchorage, Dr. Johnson pledged to do his best to earn the trust and confidence of the university's stakeholders, including the surrounding community.

He described a movement in higher education that believes universities ought to take on the problems of the day, offer students experiential learning, and help boost the quality of life in the area.

“It is my hope and expectation that our strategic planning will point us in the direction of a closer, more meaningful relationship in and with the city of Toledo, Lucas County, and northwest Ohio,” he said.

A processional of nearly 400 people flooded the building with faculty in colorful, hooded gowns, as well as international students carrying flags, delegates from other universities, and more than 100 community representatives.

Music throughout the program, including an interlude that featured “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “America the Beautiful,” was provided by the university's chorus and concert chorale, orchestra, and wind ensemble.

Dr. Johnson, saying he was deeply moved, spoke following a short video of university and community members welcoming him and brief remarks by a number of dignitaries, including Dr. Frank Horton, UT's 13th president; U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo); Roderick Chu, chancellor of the board of regents, and Edward Lee Gorsuch, chancellor of the University of Alaska at Anchorage.

“Now is the time for a strong, independent president whose decision-making is firmly rooted in traditional academic values,” Dr. Horton said. “President Johnson, with the support of the board, staff, faculty, students, alumni, and friends, will create a future that we all can be proud of.”

Miss Kaptur mentioned the new president's dedication to scholarship, research, and a metropolitan mission, and said: “I celebrate your vision.”

The keynote speaker was Adm. Vern Clark, chief of naval operations and the new UT president's brother-in-law.

The four-star admiral - whose appearance coincided with UT's homecoming - spoke of the commitment to service and preparing young people for the future that he and Dr. Johnson share.

“The greatest promise that we give our young people is the commitment to their education and their growth and development,” Admiral Clark said.

“I want you to know that Dan Johnson is a team player,” he said. “I expect that his leadership will forge a strong and lasting bond between this university and the wider community.”

The ceremony was followed by a simple yet elegant reception in the east lobby of Savage Hall, which was decorated with 1,000 gold flowers.

The focal point was a $4,000, 48-square-foot replica of Centennial Mall on the Bancroft Street campus, complete with park benches and students. Each of the nine buildings around the mall - including University Hall and its trademark bell tower - was made of cake.

The inauguration cost between $70,000 and $80,000, officials said, much less than the $137,000 spent two years ago for Dr. Kapoor. The cost was paid by the UT foundation and the alumni association.

The inaugural was part of the university's homecoming festivities, which included an afternoon parade in the campus area and a football game last night against the U.S. Naval Academy Midshipmen.

Officers Lang, 41, and Navarra, 37 - part of a special operations unit - were chosen by their superiors for the trip paid for by the university, which included being special guests at the UT alumni dinner Friday night.

On Sept. 11, both men rushed to the World Trade Center to help their comrades after the collapse of the second tower. They said they knew upon arriving there were few, if any, survivors.

Yesterday, they rode in the middle of the parade in a red Saab convertible, just behind a bagpiper who stopped periodically to play “Amazing Grace,” drawing applause from the crowd. They tossed candy to spectators lining the parade route.

Before attending last night's football game, the officers received handshakes, hugs, and even some kisses from Toledoans offering their support and sympathy for the attack that left nearly 5,000 dead or missing.

The pair, in their first visit to Toledo, said they appreciated the warm reception. They said the response is further proof of how united and generous Americans have become since the attack.

“This is one of the proudest moments in my life to be an American,” said Officer Lang, a 16-year police veteran.

Added Officer Navarra, a 14-year veteran: “I never knew I had so many friends. People have come together - time, money, and everything.”



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