On Monday the country will observe its 57th Presidential Inauguration. In front of a massive crowd in Washington, D.C., and perhaps millions of Americans watching on their television sets, computer screens, or smart phones, Barack Obama will once again take the presidential oath of office and begin his second term as President of the United States of America.
Ernest L. Boyer knew about swearing-in ceremonies too. Maybe not in front of millions of Americans – and people certainly weren’t watching on their smart phones in 1971. But, on April 6, Boyer was inaugurated as the chancellor of the State University of New York (SUNY) in Albany, New York. At the ceremony, Chancellor Boyer delivered a speech entitled “To the Deeper Rituals.” The early ’70s was a time of turmoil for many public institutions of higher education. Aftershocks from the uprising and outcries of the late ’60s could still be felt and Boyer was very much aware of this reality. Instead of shying away, he acknowledged the present challenges head on, claiming: “Campus turmoil of the recent past has ripped our institutional fabric, and we, in the university, enter the decade of the seventies much more sober and mature.” To Chancellor Boyer, however, it did no good to dwell on the sobering realities SUNY faced. Instead, he focused on the solutions. ”I do not for one moment misjudge the urgencies we face. They are very real. And yet, ultimately, the issue is not the gravity of the crisis but rather the quality of the response. The strength, the fiber, of an institution, as in all of us, is not revealed in tranquil, easy times. Rather, character shines through when adversity looms large and hard choices must be made.”
As a college chancellor, Boyer launched new innovations and policies to further the reach of the SUNY system, which boasted 64 separate institutions, 350,000 students, and 15,000 faculty members. One of his most notable accomplishments was establishing the Empire State College – an institution specifically designed to meet the unique needs of adult learners. While chancellor, Boyer also created a bachelor of arts program that could be completed in three years and started the nation’s first student exchange program with the then Soviet Union. Seems like Chancellor Boyer responded quite well – and pretty impressive considering he accomplished all that without a smart phone.