Syracuse University Magazine

Syverud Chosen to Lead the University


On the day Syracuse University announced Kent D. Syverud would become the University’s next Chancellor and President, he embraced his soon-to-be new community with two words: “I’m in,” he said. “I’m in with all of you who have those loyalties [to SU] and hopes and dreams. Like you, I’m committing everything I am and everything I have to this place, to our team, and to achieving greatness here through patience, hard work, loyalty, and a cheerful can-do attitude.”

At a gathering in Hendricks Chapel on September 12, the current dean of Washington University School of Law in St. Louis addressed hundreds of students, faculty, staff, community members, and online viewers, saying he was inspired to speak that simple phrase after hearing a recurring statement from members of the SU community he met during the search process: “Syracuse took a chance on me, and I made the most of it.” That statement represents the University and the country at its best, and how students who come here understand they have a lot to learn—but are ready for the challenge, Syverud said. “You did not feel entitled, but you did feel responsible for seizing the amazing range of opportunities and activities and courses and ideas across this University,” he said. “You made the most of it here in Syracuse, across the world, and over your whole lifetime.”

Syverud, a dedicated, award-winning teacher who has nearly two decades of experience in academic leadership at premier national universities, was unanimously selected by the Board of Trustees as the 12th Chancellor and President following unanimous recommendations by members of the Chancellor’s Search Committee and the Board’s Executive Committee. The search committee, led by Trustee vice chair, Judge Joanne Alper ’72, was composed of trustees, faculty, students, staff, alumni, a dean’s representative, and a representative from the Chancellor’s Cabinet. Syverud will begin his tenure on January 13, succeeding Chancellor Nancy Cantor, who will become Chancellor of Rutgers University-Newark in January. “Chancellor-designate Syverud is exceptionally well prepared to guide SU as we seek to build on our tremendous momentum and continue to raise SU’s profile while fulfilling its proud legacy,” Board of Trustees Chairman Richard L. Thompson G’67 said. “Throughout the selection process, he distinguished himself by the impressive range and depth of experience he brings from having been a faculty member and academic leader at some of the nation’s best universities, by his demonstrated leadership on some of the most important issues facing higher education and the world today, and by his profoundly thoughtful and collaborative spirit.”

Syverud was born and raised in Irondequoit, New York, a Rochester suburb, and earned a bachelor’s degree magna cum laude from Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in 1977, a law degree magna cum laude from the University of Michigan in 1981, and a master’s degree in economics from Michigan in 1983. Prior to becoming dean of Washington University law school, he was dean of Vanderbilt Law School from 1997 to 2005. He served as associate dean for academic affairs and was on the faculty at the University of Michigan School of Law; an associate with the Washington, D.C., law firm of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering; and a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. He currently serves as one of only two trustees appointed to oversee the $20 billion trust established to compensate victims of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

He and his wife, Dr. Ruth Chen, an environmental toxicologist who will hold a professor of practice appointment at SU, have three grown sons: Steven, Brian, and David. “Today, I am truly honored that you have taken that chance on me,” Syverud said, concluding his speech. “I mean to make the most of it. With your help and advice and support, I will do that. I’m in, and I sure hope you are, too.”     —Kathleen Haley