Thomas C. Katsouleas was formally inaugurated as the 16th president of the University of Connecticut on Friday afternoon at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts.
With all the traditional trappings of an academic ceremony, Katsouleas clearly laid out his bold vision for the future of university including announcing a new program that will provide greater access and affordability to Connecticut families.
Under the program known as the Connecticut Commitment, lower-income residents admitted to UConn as undergraduates will receive free tuition starting with the fall 2020 entering class, news that was greeted by a standing ovation from the audience.
In his remarks, Katsouleas addressed the ever-changing makeup of the traditional liberal arts education.
“We must also work to enhance and even redefine the value proposition of a liberal arts education,” he said. “The traditional 20th century role of liberal arts education of imparting knowledge and instilling identity is not enough. The liberal arts education of the 21st century must also increase agency and purpose. When I speak to legislators, they see the role of the public universities and colleges as work force development, while the faculty I speak to see it as human development. Fortunately, there is no inconsistency between these two views.”
Katsouleas expressed the need for UConn to provide a mentor to each and every student and for students to have the opportunity to apply their classroom knowledge to authentic real-world problems while still enrolled.
“To do so at the scale of 24,000 undergraduates is the grand challenge before us,” he said. “I believe that the university that takes on that challenge will not only benefit their own students, but will lead higher education and the nation.
“So you may wonder why should Connecticut be the place to lead such a transformation? There are lots of leading institutions that people might expect to point the future directions of higher ed. But UConn is well poised. It has already been a leader in the frontier of the past decade – improving completion rates and time to degree. It has a culture of excellent teaching and renowned programs such as its honors program to build upon. And perhaps as important, it has a culture of exceeding expectations.”
Katsouleas, who began his presidency on Aug. 1, was formally installed by Gov. Ned Lamont and Board of Trustees Chairman Dan Toscano ’87 (BUS).
“He has the skills, the science, the knowledge you need to get ahead in life, but also understands the magic of arts and music,” said Lamont. “There’s no contradiction in that and that is why he is going to be an amazing president for UConn.”
Said Toscano, “I think it would be a massive disservice to label President Katsouleas as a scientist or a researcher…although he is both of those. He is so much more than a label can do justice to. So, I prefer to label him simply as ‘Our President’.”
Duke University President Emeritus Richard Brodhead, a native of Fairfield, Connecticut, and a former colleague of Katsouleas, offered the ceremony’s keynote address. Katsouleas served as dean of the Duke University School of Engineering for seven years during Brodhead’s presidency.
“Tom is an articulate communicator and he will excel in representing the public’s needs to the university and the university’s values to the public,” said Brodhead. “Doesn’t he sound like a great choice? I think so.”
The audience also included three former UConn presidents – Susan Herbst (2011-19), Philip Austin (1996-2007) and Harry Hartley (1990-96) – and visiting delegates representing more than two dozen other higher education institutions.
A large contingent from the Greek community was in attendance including Katsouleas’ father, Steven, who made the trip from Greece for the event.
With all the members of the Greek community in attendance, the new president said he would need to call it “My Big Fat Greek Inauguration” — a nod to the hit movie of nearly the same name.
Performances were woven throughout. The UConn Symphony Orchestra performed “Discover the Wild” by Professor Kenneth Fuchs, UConn’s Grammy-winning composer. And, Sean Frederick Forbes, assistant professor-in-residence of the Department of English, offered a poetry reading.
After a rousing rendition of the alma mater by the UConn Chamber Singers, Andrea Dennis-LaVigne, master of ceremonies and vice chair of the UConn Board of Trustees, closed the event with an invitation.
It was time to address the new president with the Greek word “axios,” she said, meaning “worthy of.”