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PRESIDENT RUNTE SHARES HER VISION FOR OLD DOMINION AT INAUGURATION CEREMONY

Tradition and vision shared center stage on Kaufman Mall Oct. 11 at the inauguration ceremony of Roseann Runte.

Along with the pomp and circumstance of installing Old Dominion's seventh president, which included the investiture by Lt. Gov. John H. Hager and a presentation of the University Medal to Runte by former presidents James Bugg and Al Rollins, there was a break with tradition by having the ceremony include the awarding of honorary degrees.

"We celebrate the sciences and engineering, the arts, the humanities and the social sciences with four brilliant, distinguished leaders," Runte said, referring to honorary doctorate recipients Richard Ellenberger, Michael Bloomfield, Jon Hendricks and Julia Kristeva.

For Runte, the past and the future also came together at the ceremony. She welcomed relatives and old friends who were in the audience, which numbered about 1,500, and paid particular tribute to one, Pierre Francois, a professor of hers when she was an undergraduate at State University of New York at New Paltz.

"He is proof of the influence teachers have on young minds," she said. "I really never intended to major in French. But he helped me discover Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu, and the rest is history."

Runte also recognized the members of the university community, thanking them for their input as she begins her presidency.

"Together we have all established a vision for Old Dominion University. You are my vision. Each one of you is an important part of this university and its future. Like this university, which is evolving and becoming better and stronger each day, our vision will grow."

Runte drew a laugh when she talked about her move south from the cold weather of Toronto. "Some of you appear to be concerned that I will miss the snow and cold. I would like to assure you that before signing the contract I considered this matter seriously and decided that I would not miss the cold. I will get along just fine. The only inconvenience is that
in an icy, freezing, cold climate, it is slightly easier to walk on water!"

Later in her address Runte announced a number of plans and initiatives, saying, "We have all dreamt of new dominions for our Old Dominion. We are now going to create the programs and find the means to implement them."

She first cited the need to increase scholarship support for both graduate and undergraduate students, and pledged to contribute $20,000 to the university scholarship endowment each year of her presidency.

She also said that a "peer-adjudicated research fund for special projects" will be established and that the Research Foundation will eventually move to the central part of the campus. In addition, Runte announced the creation of a "fund for academic innovation" to which both students and faculty can apply.

Addressing the theme of Inauguration Week, "Portal to New Worlds," she noted, "We want to step into a new generation of distance learning that needs a new name, perhaps TELETECHNET II, which will, like the rest of the university, be international and integrated into research and graduate teaching, which will provide links among universities -- becoming an active, international, inter-university network (Virginia's portal to the world), and which will explore new methods of application including combinations of video teleconferencing, video streaming and direct computer links."

Citing the need to have globalism "deeply imbedded in our curriculum," Runte announced another new initiative, the Presidential Global Scholarship Program, created by John Heyl, executive director of international programs. The program, she said, will offer a four-year set of experiences designed to help students understand global issues and build global
competence.

Runte also announced the beginning of a symbolic project that will result eventually in the creation of a new sculpture for the campus. She invited members of the university community to bring some of the coins they have collected from their travels around the world to a large box in Webb Center.

Once the box is filled, a sculpture will be designed and cast from the coins, Runte said. "It will represent international understanding and remain an inspiration for us all as we endeavor to achieve this global agenda."

Runte's inauguration, which had been in the planning stages since July, came exactly one month after the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. At a meeting of the Board of Visitors Sept. 14, Runte asked if board members felt the inauguration should be postponed. The overwhelming response was that it -- like the rest of the country's activities and business -- should go on as planned.

In her speech, Runte acknowledged, "We are united in a time of sorrow when we still mourn those who lost their lives in last month's tragedy, especially those members of this university community. It is a time of uncertainty as we wait with our many military students and their families to know if they will be called to duty."

While noting that, "In this troubled world, it might seem frivolous to speak of education and selfish to celebrate the work of a single institution," Runte went on to quote English author G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936), who said that education is the "soul of society which is passed from one generation to the next."

Runte added, "The closest human beings come to eternity and to universality is in the pursuit of truth and knowledge, in the creative expressions of our deepest thoughts and hopes. Artistic and scientific creations have both fostered human life and made life possible."

She also said, "The greatest positive changes in the world have occurred as expressions of human will, not by the force of arms, but by the force of words. The pen is indeed mightier than the sword, having the power to transform positively."

Referring to the events of Sept. 11 and what has since transpired, Runte concluded, "The support of education, research, creativity, the arts and the sciences must be considered the most important investment humanity can make in the future and today, especially today."

Roseann Runte is not the first president of Old Dominion to have a background in the humanities -- James Bugg and Al Rollins started out as professors of history -- but she is the first administrator who is also a poet, which she addressed in her speech: "If anyone thinks that being led by a poet means that will and power will be submissive or weak, then he has forgotten Elizabeth Sargent's definition of verse: "Poetry is a way of taking life by the throat."

Runte pledged continued service to Hampton Roads and its various communities, but let it be known that progress will require outside help. "As we work to support the population of this region, we will need a financial investment from the government of the commonwealth of Virginia and the assistance of the community so that, together, we can achieve these
ambitious goals."

She also spoke of focus. "Our focus is on people and projects. Our focus is on pride and perseverance, on planning and perspective, and on that quintessential element, quality."

Runte concluded, "Let us move together through new portals to new dominions: new dominions of the mind and spirit, new dominions of strength and leadership.

"Let us bring new worlds to the Old Dominion and make Old Dominion the portal to the world for the community of Hampton Roads and the commonwealth of Virginia."

This article was posted on: October 11, 2001

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