Dr. Ajay Nair Inaugurated as Arcadia’s 22nd President

By Caitlin T. Burns | October 18, 2018

Message of “truth” highlights inaugural address
“The truth shall set us free,” was the message from Dr. Ajay Nair on Oct. 13, as hundreds of students, staff, faculty, alumni, trustees, families, friends, and community members ushered in a new era at Arcadia University with his inauguration as 22nd president.

Selecting “Reimagining Our Higher Education Community: From Inclusion to Justice” as the inauguration theme, President Nair highlighted the challenges facing liberal arts education. Calling for the end to an exceptionalist mentality, he declared how a “war on humanity” has created a mistrust of colleges and universities. However, in highlighting both the criticism and congratulatory remarks on diversity, President Nair also called for lasting solutions: challenging students to be better; meeting the educational needs of all students, not just a select few; and redefining what higher education means within American societies.

“In the role of president, I am privileged to serve my community by working to transform the higher education landscape through truth, justice, and liberation,” said President Nair. “We need leaders that are committed to justice; leaders that can problem solve and think critically; leaders that are thoughtful and imaginative in their approach; and leaders that seek the truth. We are about to embark on a journey to pave the way for others and change the landscape of higher education and the world around us.”

The University community, along with representatives from more than 50 institutions of higher education and governing bodies across the nation, came together in celebration of these presidential ideals and to celebrate the beginning of a new chapter in Arcadia’s 165-year history—one that President Nair envisions as a model for other institutions hoping to merge justice and education.

To begin the ceremony, representatives led by the Hamilton Celtic Pipes and Drums processed along the Walk of Pride and onto Haber Green. Dr. Doreen Loury, assistant professor of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminal Justice, then welcomed guests and delegates while reminding President Nair, “We got your back!”    

“Dr. Nair demonstrates the vision and leadership needed to reimagine liberal arts education, tackle complex issues in higher education, and strengthen the Arcadia University experience for future generations,” said Dr. Loury.

Former Beaver College / Arcadia University Presidents Bette Landman and Gerry Griener install President Ajay Nair.

Alison (Aaron) Madsen, Esq., ’85, chair of the Board of Trustees at Arcadia, led the transferral of office with President Emerita Dr. Bette E. Landman ’04H (president, 1985-2004) and former president Dr. Jerry Greiner (president, 2004-2011), who presented to Dr. Nair the University’s Chain of Office and Charter, respectively.

“The inauguration of President Ajay Nair marks a new chapter in Arcadia’s esteemed history, which stretches back to 1853,” said Madsen. “It is my great pleasure, as Chair of the Arcadia University Board of Trustees, to install you in [the Office of the President] with all its requisite rights, privileges, and responsibilities.”

In addition, while closing the ceremony, Madsen announced that a group of Arcadia Trustees has pledged $600,000 in support of Dr. Nair’s presidential initiatives.

“If you talked to my dad about his aspirations as a young person, he will tell you he was convinced that he could grow up to be a superhero,” said Rani. “Well, dad, you did it– you’re my superhero and a superhero to so many others.”

– Rani Nair

 Esteemed speakers and participants
The installation ceremony featured several speakers from the Arcadia and regional communities, including: Reverend Rebecca Crate ’09, pastor at Springfield Presbyterian Church, who offered an invocation; Lorna Stern, vice president and executive director of The College of Global Studies (TCGS), who introduced several of the event’s dignitaries and speakers to those in attendance; Dr. Alan Jansen, resident director of TCGS in South Africa, who echoed the words of Nelson Mandela while speaking on behalf of the University’s international community; Alexandra Heilbron ’20, president of Student Government Organization, and Elijah Wilson ’19, president of the Class of 2019, who offered remarks on behalf of the student body; Kerry Ann Costello Leraris ’92, ’94M.Ed., president of the Arcadia University Alumni Association, who welcomed Dr. Nair on behalf of Beaver and Arcadia alumni; Aashika Suseendran ’15, a psychology graduate, who performed “Imagine” during the ceremony; Dr. Ana Maria García, associate professor of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminal Justice, who represented the faculty and read excerpts from “The Tragic Plight” by Kumaran Asan, Dr. Nair’s favorite poet; and Bre Donnelly ’04 ’18M, assistant dean of Students, who spoke on behalf of staff. In addition to Madsen, the University’s Board of Trustees was represented by Vice Chair Dr. Joycellen Young Auritt ’71, who chaired the Presidential Search Committee; and Dr. James Wagner, a mentor of Dr. Nair and president emeritus of Emory University. The combined choirs of the Arcadia University Choir and the Bucks-Mont Camerata Chorus performed the national anthem and “Make Them Hear You” during the ceremony.

Also speaking at the ceremony were government and higher education officials from around the region and country, including Pennsylvania State Senator Art Haywood (D-4), Philadelphia Councilmember At-Large Helen Gym, Chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners Dr. Valerie Arkoosh, and Dr. Thomas Parham, president of California State University, Dominguez Hills.

Krishna and Rani Nair, children of President Nair and his wife, Paayal Nair, shared loving tributes to their father. An original rap song by Krishna, “Utopia,” played before Rani spoke, highlighted his father’s journey to becoming president of Arcadia. Upon stepping to the podium, Rani had many of the event’s most memorable lines, detailing humorous moments President Nair has used as lessons for her and Krishna, and about what it means to minority children to have a role model like him.

“If you talked to my dad about his aspirations as a young person, he will tell you he was convinced that he could grow up to be a superhero,” said Rani. “Well, dad, you did it– you’re my superhero and a superhero to so many others.”

Ending the ceremony, the Arcadia Alumni Group performed the alma mater and the Festive Arts Ensemble played the processional. After the ceremony, attendees were invited to a celebration on Haber Green, which was transformed into a world showcase to represent Arcadia’s global perspective and President Nair’s family heritage. Diverse food, activities, and entertainment were available to attendees, encompassing Chinese, Japanese, Latino, Indian, Irish, Italian, and American cultures.

The weeklong Inauguration celebration began on Oct. 8 and including LGBTQ allies training, a community service day, a lecture by Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States, and a presidential panel on Friday with Dr. Parham; Dr. Karen Stout, president of nonprofit Achieving the Dream, Inc., and former president of Montgomery County Community College; and Dr. Nair.

The panel addressed concerns about the current state of higher education, where students posed questions about diversity training for faculty, staff and students, including students seen as “other,” and creating equity within the University.

Dr. Nair, who assumed office as president of Arcadia on April 2, 2018, is a nationally recognized expert in student affairs issues and an accomplished social justice, race, and ethnicity scholar. He is the first person of color to lead the University as President. Prior to leading Arcadia, President Nair served as senior vice president and dean of Campus Life at Emory University. He has served on a wide range of university and civic boards and organizations, including as director of the Division for Equity, Inclusion, and Social Justice for NASPA (Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education). Dr. Nair earned a Doctor of Philosophy and a Bachelor of Science from Pennsylvania State University.