This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Questions &Answers

Published: September 23, 2004

D. Bruce Johnstone is University Professor of Higher and Comparative Education in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy in the Graduate School of Education. He is a former SUNY chancellor and president of Buffalo State College.

What can you tell us about the origin of the presidential investiture as a campus ceremony in the United States? Does it differ from similar ceremonies at European universities?
There has always been ceremony and regalia connected to universities, probably going back to their ecclesiastical roots and to the veneration in which the scholar was held in days past (maybe a little more so than today). European universities are generally led by a rector: always a distinguished senior member of the faculty, elected by the faculty for a limited term, and who would one day return to his or her professorial duties. Therefore, even more so than with a U.S. university president, the European university rector is quite literally a "temporary first among equals," presiding at the sufferance of his or her senior colleagues.

What meaning is the ceremony meant to convey and how is this done?
I think that the ceremony, with all of its regalia and pomp, is meant to convey the enormous importance to the university of its roots and its traditions. The university is not just another organization: it is a repository—an anchor—of a society's history and literature, its science and its culture. The modern university, going back to its early 19th century German roots, is the paramount social institution devoted to the search for truth, and is, or at least always should be, anchored in deeply held and hard-to-change values. What may appear "merely ceremonial," then, actually has considerable purpose.

Are the academic regalia used in campus events like commencement even more important in a presidential investiture? If so, why and in what manner are they displayed or used?
To me, the academic regalia conveys the "specialness" of the academic profession and the traditions and values that are so important to the academy. The academic procession with all of the professorial costumes, signals that the faculty, which is the heart of any great university, are welcoming our new president to our midst as the leader of our scholarly community—which is quite different than welcoming a new boss in a company.

Beyond the historical significance of an investiture, why is such a ceremony still relevant today?
Perhaps because so many values and traditions are seemingly being swept away in this day, one could say that the investiture, with its reminders of these noble traditions, is even more important.

It has been a dozen years since the investiture of former President Greiner, so the upcoming investiture of President Simpson will be a brand new experience for UB students, and probably many of the faculty, too. What can they expect at the ceremony?
I hope they will be reminded of the larger, even more noble, mission of the university and the international institution of which UB is merely one example—as opposed to the more mundane, and frankly distracting, issues that so easily preoccupy us, such as budgets, parking, campus housing and security.

More broadly, what would you expect to be the effects of an investiture ceremony on the life of the campus and those who directly participate in it?
I hope they are reminded of, and perhaps remember, these values and traditions, as well as the fact that John Simpson is here as our president because he shares these values and traditions.

Can you reflect a little on your own previous investitures—as president of Buffalo State College and as SUNY chancellor? What did these ceremonies mean to you personally?
Leadership in a college or university is especially difficult—much more so than in a business or even a governmental agency, where there is a boss in charge. A university president must be a leader who is responsible for millions of dollars, as well as the education of thousands or tens of thousands (or in my case as SUNY chancellor, hundreds of thousands) of students, but who must lead and influence, more than merely exercise authority. By participating in these investitures, I was conveying the fact that I, too, had to lead and influence, rather than merely be a boss over the State University of New York.