cantor speech
Chancellor and President
Nancy Cantor gives her
inaugural address.

 

By Margaret Costello

Photography
by Steve Sartori

 

Syracuse University has “hit the seas on a grand adventure” with newly installed Chancellor and President Nancy Cantor at the helm. The 11th inauguration ceremony, held in the Carrier Dome on November 5, reflected the personality and power of the University’s new leader. Incorporating everything from a formal academic procession and intellectual speeches to theatrical storytelling using larger-than-life puppets and a student-led rendition of the alma mater, the two-hour ceremony illustrated Cantor’s commitment and enthusiasm for her new role and her new home at Syracuse University. “Today’s event is rooted in a distant past while reaching expectantly for the future,” she said to a crowd of 4,500. “This seems only right, for in universities we examine and learn from the past even as we try to inspire those, inside and outside our walls, who will make and change the future.”

The figurative launching of SU’s ship into uncharted intellectual territories occurred during the Open Hand Theater’s performance of “Ships at a Distance,” a text adapted from the work of writer Zora Neale Hurston. As Francis McMillan Parks, director of Students Offering Service at Hendricks Chapel, read the excerpts, puppeteers “sailed” a three-masted ship and other figures across the Carrier Dome turf to the music of American composer Aaron Copland performed by the SU Brass Ensemble. Following this majestic display, Cantor described how the University could forge ahead in creating new partnerships with regional, national, and international communities and in crossing boundaries to try to better understand diverse peoples, disciplines, and cultures. “What we want to strive for is to tell our own truths passionately and then have the empathy of mind and the courage of will to cross boundaries—of our own and others’ making—and to try to understand the truths that others tell,” Cantor said. “And that is our responsibility: to extend ourselves in collaborations to make a better world.”

 

puppet
Members of the Open Hand Theater
perform “Ships at a Distance.”
dome
Members of the academic
procession enter the Carrier Dome.
choir
The Black Celestial Choral Ensemble sings at the inauguration.
McGowan
Rebecca McGowan, chair of the University of Michigan Board of Regents, praises Chancellor Cantor for her leadership abilities.
Mason
Travis Mason ’06, vice president of the SU Student Association, participates in the “Soul of Syracuse” greetings as Craig Forth ’05 looks on.

 

The ceremony opened with an academic procession led by College of Visual and Performing Arts student Elizabeth Lisle ’05, who carried a new inaugural banner that she designed. The procession featured more than 100 delegates from higher education institutions and organizations, representatives from the Onondaga Nation and Haudenosaunee Confederacy, 450 faculty and senior administrators, members of the Board of Trustees, and students from each of SU’s 13 schools and colleges as well as the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Another highlight was the Syracuse University Symphony Orchestra’s debut performance of the first movement of Symphony No. 2, which Professor Joseph Downing, director of the Setnor School of Music, composed specifically for the inauguration.

Two of Cantor’s colleagues from her years at the University of Michigan (UM)—Jeffrey Lehman, president of Cornell University, and Rebecca McGowan, Board of Regents chair at UM—described her in language that reflected the day’s activities: energetic, artistic, intellectual, bold, and courageous. Both praised Cantor for her strength of character in defending Michigan’s affirmative action admissions policy, despite harsh criticism from opponents. Tadodaho Sidney Hill of the Onondaga Nation and Haudenosaunee Confederacy welcomed Cantor in his Native tongue, highlighting the Chancellor’s interest in communicating across all boundaries. “We celebrate with you the continuing history of Syracuse University,” said Hill’s translator, Oren R. Lyons ’58, an Onondaga chief and a professor at the University at Buffalo. “We now offer our hand in friendship and support of your work in the coming years.”

Throughout the ceremony, Cantor expressed unabashed enthusiasm in the hugs and waves she lavished on participants, friends, and family members who traveled from around the country to attend the event. She dedicated the day to her father, Aaron Cantor, who died a month before the inauguration. “As my father would have said—more eloquently than I—at the dawn of the new millennium, the ideal may be unreachable, but we must do what we can in the pursuit of it,” she said. To initiate movement toward that ideal, Cantor invited community members to participate in a yearlong conversation focused on the theme “University as Public Good: Exploring the Soul of Syracuse.”

Cantor concluded her remarks by suggesting the “soul of Syracuse” can only be found by gathering together all of the region’s individuals. She referenced John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, the featured work in the community’s Shared Reading Project, which encourages all Central New York residents to read and study the book together at organized events. “‘A fella ain’t got a soul of his own, but only a piece of a big one,’” she said, quoting the character Tom Joad. “May we find our big soul together in years ahead.”

Nine individuals, representing a variety of ages, cultures, races, interests, nationalities, and professions, then stepped onto the field and introduced themselves. Each ended his or her description by proclaiming, “I am part of the soul of Syracuse.” The last, Travis Mason ’06, vice president of the SU Student Association and an operatic vocalist, encapsulated what this year’s search may discover: “Together we struggle, we persevere, we inspire,” he said. “We are innovators, world-changers, and leaders. We are the soul of Syracuse.”

Following the inaugural ceremony, guests enjoyed lunch on the turf as student a cappella and dance groups performed. Many guests then attended the inauguration symposium, “Universities and Moral Responsibility: Respecting Humanity at Home and Abroad” (see story below), in Goldstein Auditorium. Inaugural visitors were also invited to view several art displays on campus, including Six Curved Walls (Syracuse) by Sol LeWitt ’49, Surrender: A Video Installation in Honor of the Inauguration by Bill Viola ’73, H’95, and Three Suites from Inside the Barbed Wire by Roger Shimomura G’69.

By the close of the day, it was clear that a new journey had begun at the University—one embracing many perspectives, meeting challenges, and employing the creative arts as a portal into discussions of large social issues. As Cantor observed in her speech: “Universities, in my view, are about the uneasy but productive tension between the recognition of complexity, uncertainty, and diversity, and the need to push on toward the future.”

hill
Tadodaho Sidney Hill welcomes Chancellor Cantor on behalf of the Onondaga Nation and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.
rotc
The ROTC color guard marches in the procession.

 

six curved walls

An Artist’s Lastin Tribute

Internationally acclaimed artist Sol LeWitt ’49 made his mark on the Syracuse University landscape on November 5, when his new installation—his largest permanent work to date—was unveiled on the north lawn of Crouse College. The installation was one of several cultural exhibitions created in honor of the inauguration of Chancellor Nancy Cantor. “For Sol LeWitt to design a piece for SU at the time of my installation as Chancellor is an extraordinary honor,” Cantor says. “His gift is challenging us to look at our surroundings in new ways. Even as it was being constructed, it generated dialogues of place and function; in its becoming, it provided a powerful context for change.”

The installation, titled Six Curved Walls (Syracuse), stretches 140 feet across the hill in front of Crouse College and consists of a series of six undulating walls, each 12 feet high. The assemblage is constructed of cinderblocks, which LeWitt chose to illustrate how the ordinary can be heroic.

“Chancellor Cantor’s idea to have LeWitt create one of his most ambitious works for her inauguration is a bold and brilliant statement,” says Jeffrey Hoone, director of Light Work and organizer of the installation process. “For many years to come, LeWitt’s elegant and complex contemporary sculpture will announce that SU is a place where bold ideas matter, and a place that values art and artists as essential to the learning experience on campus and across the community.”

LeWitt, who earned a B.F.A. degree from SU, began exhibiting his work in New York City in the 1960s, and has been featured in museums and galleries around the world. Several museums have mounted retrospectives of his work, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum in New York City, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. “When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair,” LeWitt says. “The idea becomes the machine that makes the art.”

—Amy Mehringer

 

Asserting
Our
Humanity
PowerSamantha Power SorkinAaron Sorkin ’83 CartyLinda Carty
pic
William Safire ’51, H’78

The topics were weighty and the tone serious, yet the atmosphere was hopeful as a distinguished ensemble of artists, journalists, and social thinkers gathered on campus to explore humane, intelligent solutions to racism and genocide. The inaugural symposium, a three-panel discussion of “Universities and Moral Responsibility: Respecting Humanity at Home and Abroad,” was held in Goldstein Auditorium on November 5, following the inauguration of Chancellor Nancy Cantor. Participating via satellite from London, Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s chief international correspondent, set a compassionate tone for the event, challenging those assembled to take responsibility for resolving racism and calling for an end to genocide. “We can intervene,” she told the audience. “We can stop the worst evils taking place.”

Latino poet Martín Espada introduced the first panel with a passionate reading of three poems. Newhouse broadcast journalism professor Hubert “Hub” Brown led a discussion on the pervasive nature of racism and explored the university’s role in initiating honest conversation about issues related to race. Panelists included African American studies professor Linda Carty; New York University president John Sexton; distinguished representatives from the Syracuse community, and leaders from the University of Illinois, Harvard, Stanford, and the University of Michigan. The discussion touched on the need to create safe spaces within the academic setting for engaging in tough conversations about racism and higher education’s responsibility to serve as a consistent model of inclusion. “We have a special role to play, and it begins with ceremonies like today and panels like this,” Sexton said. “We have the obligation of speaking the truth out into the world.”

pic
Newhouse professor Hub Brown, center, leads the panel discussion on racism. On the Web

To read Chancellor Cantor’s address, view a web cast of the symposium, or learn more about inaugural year activities and “Exploring the Soul of Syracuse,” go to http://soulofsyracuse.syr.edu/main.html.

Some panelists expressed optimism about the healing potential of an enhanced relationship between the Syracuse community and the University. “The issues in this town are extremely complex and sad,” said Llamara Padro Milano of Syracuse Area Latinos United Against Disparities. “But I think the University offers the richness to shine a light on racism, to bring the science to it, so the nonbelievers can’t dispute it.”

Samantha Power, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, opened the discussion on genocide. She described the current situation in Sudan, where women in refugee camps are systematically raped and sometimes murdered while gathering firewood for cooking. “The international system that allows this is terribly flawed, but functional,” said Power, a public policy lecturer at Harvard who covered wars in the former Yugoslavia. “Part of fixing that system, of changing the scope of the vision of statesmen and the way they do business, begins here at the university in a conversation that links the liberal arts and genocide.”

Facilitated by New York Times columnist William Safire ’51, H’78, the panel included David M. Crane G’80, chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone (see profile), and several award-winning journalists, academic leaders, and professors of philosophy, religion, international relations, and psychology. Safire asked panelists to consider who should judge whether genocide is taking place, who should intercede, and what form intervention should take. New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof stated that the focus is too often on military intervention as the only resolution. “If we can get anyone to intervene, we should,” he said. “We should apply pressure in any way possible.” Other panelists agreed that grassroots efforts on the part of such institutions as churches, universities, and the press might provide alternatives to government interventions, which can become bogged down in the complexities of history, politics, and economic interests.

The third panel discussion focused on context and translation: how stories connected to racism and genocide are expressed in the arts, and how education addresses the underlying causes of, and remedies for, threats to humanity. Marlboro College president Ellen McCulloch-Lovell led the panel, which included writer and television producer Aaron Sorkin ’83; School of Architecture Dean Mark Robbins G’81; artists Carrie Mae Weems of Syracuse and Roger Shimomura G’69, professor emeritus at the University of Kansas; and several other artists and educators. Panelists explored the role of the arts in teaching us our humanity, and debated the question of the artist’s social responsibility. “The artist has no special nobility of soul just because he is an artist,” said Professor Silvio Torres-Saillant, director of the Latino-Latin American Studies Program. “But he is not exempt. The artist is also a citizen.”

—Amy Speach Shires


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