R. Owen Williams was installed and celebrated as the 25th president in the 231-year history of Transylvania University on April 29 in a colorful and impressive ceremony on the steps of Old Morrison. Looking on was a gathering of trustees, faculty and staff members, students, alumni, friends, political leaders, and representatives from more than 80 colleges and universities in the United States and abroad.
After several weeks of rainy weather, the clouds parted and the mid-morning sun shone brilliantly from a crisp blue sky on Transylvania's first presidential inauguration in 27 years. William T. Young Jr., chairman of the Board of Trustees, spoke the official words of installation and conferred upon Williams the presidential medallion and university mace, symbols of the authority and responsibility of the office and of the transformative powers of the university.
"With his education, experience, scholarship, energy, enthusiasm, and supportive family," Young told the crowd, "Owen Williams is the right person to lead Transylvania into the next century and into the ranks of the top liberal arts colleges in the nation."
Williams came to Transylvania after a 24-year career as a Wall Street investment banker and a 10-year period of scholarly preparation at Yale University, Harvard University, and New York University. He holds an A.B. in philosophy from Dartmouth College, an M.A. in intellectual history from the University of Cambridge in England, a Ph.D. in American history from Yale, and an M.S.L. in law from Yale Law School.
The ceremony was the highlight of a three-day celebration that began on Wednesday with a bluegrass barbeque and student fine arts showcase and concluded Friday evening with a reception, black-tie dinner, and inaugural ball. In between there were an academic symposium, a piano concert, a celebration brunch, and many other events.
Williams used his inaugural address to pay homage to the rich history of Transylvania, to articulate the value and relevance of a liberal arts education, and to present a vision for the university's future that calls for exciting new directions.
Recalling Transylvania's founding in a virtual wilderness area in 1780 as the first college west of the Alleghenies and the 16th in the nation, Williams said, "Transylvania served boldly as a 'lamp in the forest,' a beacon of enlightenment....For over 230 years, Transylvania's pioneers have cut new paths on behalf of our larger society."
Reaffirming the essentiality of a liberal education, he said, "The liberal arts and sciences teach students how to think about thinking, resulting in self-discipline, integrity, and empathy. Thus begins a process of self-education that continues for a lifetime."
Finally, Williams articulated an ambitious future for Transylvania encompassing a rise in enrollment to 1,500, a more international student body and faculty, changes in the curriculum to reflect a more international outlook, a more robust endowment, and a campus dedicated to sustainable practices. That led to his concluding remarks, based on ideas stated in the university's slogan-Question Everything; Accomplish Anything-which was unveiled at the inauguration:
"I look forward to our continued resilience, reflection, and resolve, to the journey that lies ahead, to being part of the pioneering family of Transylvania, to the many questions that we will ask, and to the accomplishment of our dreams."
Links to Inauguration Pages
Quotes from the inauguration
"The university's campus marks our city's history, and we are marked by it. As city dwellers attached to this institution, we have all inherited, and we all live, Transylvania's rich legacy. It's part of our DNA. It's a touchstone, a talisman for our city, representing the best of our purpose and promise."
The Honorable Jim Gray, Mayor of Lexington and Fayette County
"It is indeed an exciting day for Transylvania, for Lexington, and for the Commonwealth of Kentucky. People involved with Transylvania tell me there is a renewed sense of purpose at the school, energized by the vision that President Williams is determined to turn into reality."
The Honorable Steve Beshear, Governor of Kentucky
"Today, Transylvania's past converges with its future. President Williams, you inherit an institution steeped in tradition, yet poised for the future. We, the alumni, will support you as you carefully guard our traditions while rendering them relevant to future generations."
The Honorable Karen K. Caldwell '77, United States District Judge, Eastern District of Kentucky
"Students at Transylvania are forever dedicated to the liberal arts mission that this college was founded upon. President Williams has a strong vision for Transylvania and has developed a passion for our beloved university. With his direction and the support of the Transylvania student body, I am confident he will achieve his goals."
Jessica Beard, class of 2011, Student Government Association president
"Owen Williams has proven that he understands and, better yet, appreciates what being the president of Transylvania University is all about. We cultivate the future of excellence together. I look forward to Dr. Williams's leadership in the next chapters of Transylvania's esteemed history."
Tammie Williams, administrative assistant, Division of Fine Arts
"No particular name covers the vigilance, the constant imaginative interpolation that marks a good faculty mind. We are grateful to Dr. Williams for showing how having that disposition invites us to bold intellectual adventure and most especially, within that enterprise, to strong engagements with diversity. He has that habit of mind crucial to those upon whom nothing is lost and has encouraged that in us. For that reason, and many more, we faculty welcome him as one of us."
Jack Furlong, professor of philosophy
"Owen Williams brings to Transylvania a rare combination of skills, honed both in the world of corporate finance and in academe. His academic focus reflects an appreciation for all Transylvania has been and provides a vision for our place among the very best liberal arts colleges in the twenty-first century."
William F. Pollard, vice president and dean of the college