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Less than a full day into his new job, Richard C. Levin faced what must be every college president’s worst nightmare: thousands of rowdy students packed into a small space and demanding action. But Levin, the Frederick William Beinecke Professor of Economics—and freshly minted 22nd President of Yale—just smiled, and readily joined the throng in a spirited singing of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” The event was an inaugural party for more than 5,000 that was hosted by Levin and his wife, Jane, on the Old Campus following his installation. Evidently satisfied with the President’s ability to carry a tune, the entire audience, most of whom wore t-shirts specially printed for the event, joined in on the chorus. “It was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen,” said one of the celebrants. “I wish it had never ended.”
Similarly informal and freewheeling gatherings were the hallmarks of the occasion, which included both the traditional investiture ceremony—attended by nearly 2,700 people in Woolsey Hall—and a Cross Campus reception that, for the first time in memory, was open to the public.The day’s cast included virtually every living past and present trustee and officer of the University. Among them were such luminaries as Senator David Boren '63, former New York City mayor John Lindsay '44, '48LLB, and former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance '39, '42LLB. Vance was back in New Haven for the first time in two years after attempting to broker a peace accord in the former Yugoslavia as a special United Nations envoy. “It’s a great thrill to be here,” he said as he strolled under clear skies beside former trustee William Beinecke '36. “I joined the Corporation when Kingman Brewster was President, and I’ve been present at the inauguration of every President since then. You can see the continuity and the unity here. It’s a great day.”
Special guests of the University for the day included representatives of more than 100 colleges and universities, among them the presidents of Brown, Cornell, and Dartmouth. Harvard’s president, Neil Rudenstine, who was himself inaugurated only last October, shared Vance’s enthusiasm. “It’s not only a great day for Yale,” Rudenstine said, “it’s also an important day for higher education in America. It will make a big difference for all of us. Rick Levin is the kind of person who will approach the interests of the institution and of higher education with the longer term in mind.”
Two former Yale Presidents, Benno C. Schmidt Jr. and Howard R. Lamar, were also present for the day’s festivities. Schmidt, who resigned as President in May of 1992 and is now working to create a new system of low-cost private schools known as the Edison Project, described Levin as “a great choice” for Yale’s top job.
“I feel great about today,” said Schmidt. “It will be fun to watch Rick. It’s wonderful to see so many old friends, and I’ve had the chance to see some of the projects we launched come into being.” (Among them was “The Women’s Table,” a monument designed by Maya Lin '81, ’86MArc to honor Yale women and dedicated the day before the inauguration.) As Lamar and Schmidt stood together watching Levin prepare for his maiden address as President, Schmidt smiled and said, “I honestly prefer marching in the former Presidents' part of the procession.”
With the Harkness Tower bells tolling, two separate streams of participants—one of faculty, the other of present and former administrators and trustees—formed up at Sterling Library and at Woodbridge Hall and moved out toward the Cross Campus to the accompaniment of the Concert Band, which played a fanfare composed by conductor Thomas Duffy.
College Registrar John Meeske and Senior Marshall Peter Schultheiss, a professor of electrical engineering, led the faculty procession, which included the representatives of sister institutions. Students carried the Yale banner, as well as those of the residential colleges, the Graduate and professional schools, the city of New Haven, the state of Connecticut, and the United States. The faculty passed beneath a festive, 60-foot-high, blue-and-white balloon archway that swayed in the breeze in front of Sterling, while the administrators and trustees filed from Hewitt Quadrangle across Wall Street to Cross Campus. Officers of the University carried the traditional symbols of Presidential authority—Provost Judith Rodin, the original 1701 charter of the College; University Secretary Linda Koch Lorimer, the University seal; and Vice President for Finance and Administration Joseph Mullinix, the four ceremonial keys—to Connecticut Hall (the oldest campus structure), Dwight Chapel, Sterling Library, and the gateway at the base of Harkness Tower.
Following Yale tradition, the President-elect began his march with his faculty colleagues. But at the center of Cross Campus, the parade of faculty and delegates of other universities and educational associations intersected with that of the administration and trustees. Both processions then briefly halted. In one of the most symbolically rich moments of a day that included many, Levin, escorted by Corporation Senior Fellow Sid R. Bass '65, literally joined the ranks of the administration, at which point the remaining several hundred faculty members stepped off through the Noah Porter Gate and onto Elm Street for the march to Woolsey Hall. Behind the University mace, which was borne by Deputy Provost Charles Long, Levin then continued on after the faculty at the head of the administrative procession as several thousand students, staff, and New Haven-area residents looked on.
Once the procession arrived in Woolsey Hall, Levin took his place in a chair used by Abraham Pierson, who served as first Rector of Yale, from 1701 to 1707. University Chaplain Frederick Streets delivered the invocation, and the Glee Club then sang an anthem composed by Fenno Heath, director emeritus of the chorus (who had also composed anthems for Presidents Brewster, Giamatti, and Schmidt, based on texts chosen by each President). Levin had selected for his anthem the second chorus of Sophocles' Antigone, which in translation begins, “Numberless are the world’s wonders, but none more wonderful than man.”
Levin’s selection did not please everyone: A handful of Glee Club members refused to sing the anthem because the translation referred to “man” and “his.” In a meeting with Levin before the event they had argued that a genderless text would have been more appropriate. Levin declined the request and was quoted in the Daily News as saying, “sensitivities cannot lead us to rewrite history.”
Sid Bass then began the formal presentation of the symbols of office to Levin. Aided by Secretary Lorimer, he first placed the President’s Collar on Levin’s shoulders, provoking some apprehension in the audience when the clasp would not cooperate. But the problem was soon solved, and Lorimer’s reassuring pat prompted a relieved round of applause. Levin then received the ceremonial keys and the Yale charter.
Yale’s importance to the community outside the campus figured prominently in the new President’s 20-minute inaugural address, “Beyond the Ivy Walls: Our University in the Wider World.” First he touched on the foundations of the University’s enterprise and reiterated its commitment to the teaching of undergraduates, but he then went on to review Yale’s traditional role of producing leaders on the national stage, among them four signers of the Declaration of Independence and three of the last five United States presidents.
Levin then turned to Yale’s future role, which he said “must focus even more on global issues if our students are to be well prepared for world leadership, if we are to be a world university.” After citing some of the benefits Yale brings to New Haven, he said, “we must do more.” He said that bolstering the city was in Yale’s self-interest “if we are to continue to recruit students and faculty of the highest quality.” He added: “But our responsibility transcends pragmatism … We must help our society become what we aspire to be inside our walls—a place where human potential can be fully realized.”
Following the Woolsey Hall ceremony and address, thousands gathered on Cross Campus, where Levin and his wife and children greeted guests and friends beneath a blue-and-white striped canopy set up on the plaza in front of Sterling Library. Arrayed on the lawn were tents where desserts and punch were served. Even those in regal robes from ancient universities seemed pleased to be serving themselves ice cream bars from Good Humor carts. Law School Dean Guido Calabresi, resplendent in the blue-and-gold robes of the University of Bologna, observed, “I think this is more joyous and more elegant than any other inauguration, and I go back a fair number of years, to Griswold in 1950. That was a very good one, but this has a special degree of joy and elegance.”
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