President John Anderson Fry was officially inaugurated April 15 in an investiture ceremony at the Drexel Recreation Center. The event featured a number of speakers and major announcements from Fry during his inaugural address.
“Today I stand before you, comfortable in my own shoes and excited to offer my vision for Drexel becoming a top-flight, global university,” Fry said. He joined Drexel as president Aug. 1, 2010, and has since been examining the University “from stem to stern.”
Fry framed the first part of his presidency as building on the University’s history and strengths, forging “a deeper and better version of today’s Drexel.”
He described the University’s ideals as sturdy and rooted in Anthony J. Drexel’s vision and experiential education, but continued, “While our moral foundation is firm, our physical foundation and academic infrastructure are not yet sound and secure. Who among us could walk around campus and take full stock of all of our spaces, resources and supports for faculty and students, and then say this is a campus befitting a world-class university?”
On improving campus, Fry said, “I have a message for all of our faculty, students and professional staff, regardless of your school or program: I cannot deliver the moon, but I will do all I can to equip you with the resources that you require to flourish and excel.”
Fry also addressed disparity between academic programs. “Despite many centers of excellence, some of our schools are not as mature, or in some cases, not as well supported, as they need to be … I pledge to build on our strengths, and particularly to invest my time and energies toward making every enterprise bearing the Drexel name a valuable asset in our drive to becoming a powerful global university.”
“That goes for the College of Arts and Sciences as well as the College of Engineering,” he said, continuing to list each of Drexel’s major academic divisions.
With goals for a solid institutional foundation established, he moved into three major objectives that support the second half of his vision — “play[ing] an even larger and more beneficial role on the local, regional and national stage, while also becoming a powerful force for shaping the future in this complex, complicated and often confounding world.”
Improving Our Neighborhood and Region
“The road to global leadership begins with our first objective. We will become one of academe’s most powerful engines for neighborhood improvement and regional economic growth.”
Fry is known for his work with the neighborhoods surrounding Franklin and Marshall College and the University of Pennsylvania, and first outlined his plan to engage with Powelton Village and Mantua during his convocation address Oct. 5, 2010. During the inauguration, he announced that the University has received a $15 million donation from Philip B. Lindy, who has also since 2009 funded the Lindy Scholars Program — a program through which Drexel students provide academic support to middle school students and their families in West Philadelphia. Drexel’s Center for Civic Engagement will be renamed in Lindy’s honor, and the donation will go toward community outreach and education programs.
As far as regional economic growth, Fry pointed to the importance of translating research into industry.
“Harnessing and capitalizing on the collective research might of Drexel and our sister universities is not a new idea,” Fry said, discussing the University City Science Center, which was founded in 1963 to serve as an incubator for science and technology developments coming out of universities, hospitals and other institutions in the Philadelphia region.
“We haven’t found the spark to make our regional network as powerful as our counterparts in the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, in Cambridge, Mass. and in the Silicon Valley … Let’s end a half-century of unfulfilled potential and make our region a national leader in innovation in the new economy.”
Tackling Societal Challenges
From there, Fry moved on to his second objective: “We must mobilize our entrepreneurial and creative energies to confront major threats to human health, economic prosperity and the environment.”
“A great university will be remembered not just for the quality of our graduates and the intellectual goods we turn out, but also for the good they did in service to humankind,” Fry said.
While saying that Drexel is large enough to tackle many societal challenges, the first on his agenda is autism, a developmental disorder which according to Fry affects 1 in 110 newborn children and around 4 million adults in the U.S. The first session of the academic symposia April 14 was dedicated to autism research, and Fry has a personal connection to the disorder, which affects his nephew.
“We need a comprehensive public health institute,” Fry said, “with one clear objective: to discover and implement approaches for preventing the morbidity and disability associated with autism. Let’s not waiting around for this to happen—let’s dream it, and let’s do it.”
He announced the formation of such an institute, spearheaded by School of Public Health Dean Marla Gold and Craig Newschaffer, professor and chair of the School’s Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and leading autism researcher.
Building A Global Network
“Maximizing Drexel’s global reputation and impact,” is the third major objective Fry described, emphasizing the need for students to develop an interdisciplinary repertoire of communication skills and cultural awareness to solve global problems. He said Drexel has not “fully forged the kind of strong partnerships with universities overseas that would nourish our inventive spirit and bring the best minds in the world closer to Drexel.”
Fry will be traveling to China next month to develop exchange and research partnerships with the Chinese Academy of Science as well as universities in Shanghai and Beijing.
Next year, he will travel to Israel to cultivate Drexel’s existing relationship with Hebrew University. The partnership focuses on biomedical research, including drug development and health care work that may lead to patents and commercial solutions.
Fry and Drexel: Soul Mates?
“Do I have outsize ambitions for Drexel University? You bet I do,” Fry said. “No ambition is too tough to wrestle with or too big to realize as long as we work together and, as important, dream together.”
University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann introduced the featured speaker, Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland Baltimore County. He spoke on the impact that Drexel has and its role as a model for experiential education, and described Fry and the University as “determined to prepare people to be citizens who care about other people.”
“I would submit that your challenge is to produce students and research that will focus on the sticky issues of the day,” Hrabowski said. “Drexel has the fundamental brainpower to make a difference.”
Hrabowski employed a line which has become popular in describing Fry’s ambitious leadership style, quoting a March 5, 2008 New York Times article in which Franklin and Marshall College Professor Louise L. Stevenson said: “There are two speeds in Lancaster. There is Lancaster speed, and there is Fry speed. And Fry speed is fast.”
When asked later to approximate “Fry speed,” the president responded, “Well if the speed limit is 65 [miles per hour], then Fry speed is probably about 90.”
Fry also described the inauguration as basically the same as any other day, but also “like the day I got married,” echoing the sentimental sense of compatibility exhibited throughout the ceremony. During his address he quoted T.S. Eliot, “The end of all of our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time,” and described Drexel as “creative, diverse, entrepreneurial, inpatient, unpretentious and a little fearless — in short, my kind of university.”
Hrabowski ended his speech by congratulating Fry and the University for “having the good judgment to choose one another,” and many Drexel representatives spoke on the positive interactions they’d had with Fry thus far.
Chairman of the Board Richard Greenawalt, who also led the presidential search committee, said, “I believe that in John Fry we found the perfect candidate — not only for the presidency of a modern university, but for Drexel.”
Barbara Hornum, associate professor of anthropology and chair of the Faculty Senate spoke on behalf of the professoriate. “As many of us have begun to work with [Fry], a number of adjectives come readily to mind: caring, compassionate, concerned, collaborative, communicative, community-oriented. These and many other qualities indicate that we have the leadership qualities that should enable Drexel University to be an innovator in developing a model for the urban university of the future.”
Undergraduate Student Government Association President Lucas Hippel gave Fry a clock as a welcoming present on behalf of the undergraduate student body, “with the reminder that the time is now for Philadelphia, for Drexel, and for you.” He described Fry as “genuine” and “not only a leader, but a motivator with a strong sense of community.”
Lawrence Fried, student government president at the Drexel College of Medicine, presented Fry with a lab coat, and president of the Graduate Student Association Jonathan Soffer welcomed Fry with a donation made on his behalf to the University City District.
A Poetic Ceremony
In addition to visions for the future, the ceremony was filled with tradition, history and poetry.
Provost Mark Greenberg riffed on a line from Shakespeare. “Today marks a new beginning for Drexel, but don’t view it as a break with what came before — rather, we are sewing a tight seam between where we’ve been and where we’re going, creating the next prologue to a future that one day will be remembered as a glorious part of our past.”
Greenberg guided the investiture ceremony as Greenawalt and former interim president C.R. “Chuck” Pennoni dressed Fry in the presidential academic regalia, including a hood, medallion and cap.
Pennoni had three pieces of advice for Fry: “Trust the students … trust Drexel’s mission … trust your instincts … your vision will most certainly take Drexel University to new heights.”
Pennoni recalled the inauguration of Fry’s predecessor, the late Constantine Papadakis: “Like you, he was bursting with ideas for the challenges and opportunities offered by this great urban university … You will of course be your own kind of leader, just as your predecessors were their own kind of leader.”
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter made an appearance reading Walt Whitman’s “I Dreamed a Dream” at Fry’s request. “When Philadelphia prospers,” Nutter said, “so does Drexel — our futures are inextricably tied together.”
Fry’s oldest daughter Mia, a sophomore English major at Williams College, contributed a reading of “Long Island Sound” by Emma Lazarus.
The invocation was delivered by Rev. David Peck of St. James Episcopal Church in Lancaster, Pa., and the benediction by Rabbi Isabel de Koninck, Director of Drexel Hillel and Director for Intercampus and Israel Initiatives at Hillel of Greater Philadelphia. The University Chorus, backed by the Brass and Percussion Ensembles, performed a text by Theodore Roosevelt set to music composed by Professor Steven Powell.
Webcasts of the investiture ceremony, academic symposia and inaugural concert can be found on the inauguration website.