Welcoming Celebration 12-15-05

The Graduate Center Celebrates
President William P. Kelly


On December 15, The Graduate Center welcomed William P. Kelly as its president with a celebration that Kelly described as "not an installation or an inauguration" but "an opportunity to rejoice in all that we've accomplished here together and to anticipate with considerable pleasure all that is to come." The event featured a poetry reading and a jazz performance as well as remarks by Kelly and others on the current challenges and opportunities for The Graduate Center.

As master of ceremonies, Acting Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Linda Edwards began by recognizing that Kelly follows a succession of three other outstanding Graduate Center Presidents--Mina Rees, Harold Proshansky, and Frances Degen Horowitz.

"As a former provost and senior vice president, Dr. Kelly has already made impressive contributions," said Edwards, "perhaps best highlighted by the recruitment of 50 new scholars to The Graduate Center faculty over the last seven years; and, with the support of the chancellor and the university, the creation of five-year financial aid packages for about half of our entering class."

Kelly is also a distinguished American literature scholar, an expert on James Fennimore Cooper, a fan of American music (especially jazz), a lover of words and language, and "a devotee of 'the good book,' which for Bill, is Moby-Dick," she said.

James Richardson, a longtime friend of Kelly's, who is a professor of English and creative writing at Princeton University, read a series of aphorisms from his book Vectors: Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays, and a short poem, "Evening Prayer." The author of several volumes of poetry, as well as critical works, he was a 2004 Poetry Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Before presenting Kelly with the Medal of Office, CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein expressed his pleasure on behalf of the university at finding someone with such a breadth and depth of experience to lead The Graduate Center. "Bill Kelly is that rarest of leaders," he said, "someone guided by the highest academic ideals, a skillful and practical manager showing courageous leadership, and an independent thinker who has earned the respect of his colleagues."

"We gather at a propitious moment in the history of The Graduate Center," said Kelly upon accepting the medal. "Our institution has never been stronger; its future never brighter....Like all of CUNY's colleges, The Graduate Center has benefited mightily from the renaissance this university has enjoyed under Chancellor Goldstein's leadership." He cited the influx of new faculty members, the increases in financial aid, the rise in enrollment, the "striking diversity" of entering cohorts, and the new campus at 365 Fifth Avenue as reasons to celebrate.

"All of this said, The Graduate Center remains, my friends, a work in progress, an institution well positioned for growth and dramatic achievement, but one that faces a broad range of challenges," said Kelly.

He mentioned several initiatives that are now top priorities: "a CUNY-wide effort to strengthen research and training in the sciences; the development of a series of new master's degrees to extend the work of our doctoral programs; enhancement of student support across the disciplines; an extended commitment to promoting diversity; concerted efforts to decrease time to degree and to rationalize student progress; more involvement of young faculty at CUNY campuses in doctoral education; and "a deeper engagement with university center programs such as the Honors College, the School of Journalism, and the School of Professional Studies."

Kelly also spoke of the larger principles that animate these objectives. "We exist to educate the children of the whole people—to pursue excellence and access," he said. "That mandate is as clear today as it was when the Free Academy was established in 1847." While there are many persuasive arguments for the importance of doctoral education in general, said Kelly, it is the connection between excellence and access that makes The Graduate Center matter in particular.

"Here, doctoral education proceeds from the system in which it is embedded. Through the genius of the consortium, CUNY is integrated vertically and horizontally," he said. "The great majority of our faculty are drawn from across the colleges; they bring with them to our seminar rooms the experience of teaching what is arguably the most heterogeneous undergraduate population in the world....We stand in the midst of a constant flow of ideas and practice informed by what it means to be a public university...."

"Celebration, joy, public culture, excellence and access" are all terms that are at the heart of The Graduate Center's purpose, Kelly said, and they also describe "America's greatest gift to world culture: jazz."

He concluded by introducing the David "Fathead" Newman Quartet, who performed their arrangements of standards by the likes of Duke Ellington, Clifford Brown, and Max Roach, as well as a tributes to the late Ray Charles, "Georgia on My Mind" and "Hit the Road, Jack." (Newman had a long association with Charles as a saxophonist in his band.) The group was joined by vocalist Cynthia Scott, another Charles band alum, who delighted the audience with renditions of classics such as "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered" and "I Only Have Eyes for You."

Afterwards, the celebration continued as The Graduate Center community joined in a lively holiday party in the Dining Commons.

Submitted on: DEC 15, 2005

Category: President's Office