Eighteen months ago I unexpectedly found myself president of the university that had nourished my career for over 40 years. It has been an intense, challenging, and exceptionally rewarding experience. There can be no denying that it began during a difficult time for the University. The “White Report” had just been released with numerous recommendations for policy and programmatic changes in the aftermath of a widely publicized case of alleged misconduct. As I saw it, my mandate from the Board of Trustees was to do what I could to steer the University out of crisis mode, to oversee the implementation of the Report’s recommendations, and to work to assure that the University continued to fulfill its research, teaching, and patient care missions.
As my last days as University president draw near, and we await the arrival of our new president, Sarah Mangelsdorf, I am confident that the University’s prospects are strong. My confidence is based not only on the fact that my successor is a demonstrably able, experienced, and effective leader, but also on what I’ve learned during the past 18 months about the character, commitment, and talent of the people who make up our University community. Within hours of the announcement of my appointment, I received many dozens of letters from people I knew, and some from people I didn’t know, asking how they could help. That kind of response made it clear at the outset that this community would work together to recover and prosper. That widespread commitment has persisted throughout my presidency. Furthermore, as I recall my conversations during my first few weeks, I am reminded that it was quickly evident that our faculty, staff, and students were ably pursuing their work despite the challenging environment in which we found ourselves. That focus on our central responsibilities has surely continued.
Collectively, this community has accomplished a lot. We have addressed every one of the recommendations in the White Report and many other related topics as we tried to strengthen what came to be called our “Culture of Respect.” I hope and expect that the Vision and Values Statement that we adopted will continue to guide our behavior for years to come. We have set our standards high as a community that welcomes, respects, values, and finds great strength in our diversity of backgrounds, perspectives, life experiences, and nationalities. I appreciate the contributions of the students, faculty, staff, trustees, and alumni who participated in this work. In addition, it was of utmost importance to me that we keep focused on our significant University priorities while working on strengthening a culture of equity and inclusion. I saw it as essential that we underscore a continuing focus on core priorities, and I believe that we have achieved substantial gains in our research, educational, and clinical enterprises.
One of the greatest pleasures of serving as president has been the opportunity to learn about the talents and achievements of so many members of our community, especially those in parts of the University with which I’d been less familiar. Recent weeks have brought this into sharper focus as I’ve attended commencement ceremonies in all our schools and encountered dedicated alumni and so many supremely talented students moving on to the next phases of their lives. During these weeks I’ve also had the opportunity to attend events recognizing staff for their extraordinary service to the University and the community, in some cases acknowledging service of more than four or five decades. And I’ve also had the privilege of participating in several ceremonies in which our faculty have been awarded named professorships, reflecting both their own accomplishments and the generosity of our supporters. All of these events provide compelling testimony to our strengths, talents, and successes across all parts of the University. The punctuation mark for me was the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm in December, where I witnessed first-hand the consequential impact of research conducted here at Rochester.
In recent weeks, many of you have expressed gratitude for my willingness to assume this role. While I enjoy the words of appreciation, I am in fact overwhelmingly grateful to the Board of Trustees, the members of the University community, and to all the people I’ve worked with over the past year and half. You’ve made this as rewarding and fulfilling an experience as one could hope for. The inevitable stresses and challenges have been far outweighed by the satisfaction that comes from the opportunity to serve our extraordinary institution.
Thank you, and Meliora.
President and Professor of Philosophy