Baylor's Presidential Inaugurations: A Historical Overview

September 13, 2010
By Randy Fiedler

Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas, the vision of the founders and the ongoing commitment of generations of students, scholars and University leaders are reflected in the motto inscribed on the Baylor seal: Pro Ecclesia, Pro Texana -- For Church, For Texas. While most early Baylor presidents began their service as the University's chief executive with little or no public fanfare, modern presidents have been introduced in public inauguration ceremonies designed to unite the Baylor family around common goals and remind participants of the traditions and values that have guided the University during its 165 years.

Presidential inaugurations: The 19th century

Baylor's first four decades were spent in Independence, Texas, under the leadership of five presidents -- Henry Lee Graves, Rufus Columbus Burleson, George Washington Baines, William Carey Crane and Reddin Andrews. During this period, the first time a new president typically would have the chance to address the faculty and student body was during a ceremony marking the start of each academic session. These opening ceremonies, in effect, served as the platforms for the public introductions of Baylor's presidents.

In the case of Baylor's fourth president, William Carey Crane, he delivered what one historical account termed his "inaugural address" on Jan. 11, 1864, when he opened the first academic term under his presidency. When Crane delivered the address, titled "Mind is the Standard of the Man," only 25 students were present at the opening ceremony to hear him, as most male Baylor students had left to fight in the Civil War.

When Baylor University relocated to Waco in 1886, it merged with Waco University, which former Baylor President Rufus Burleson had left Baylor to lead in 1861. Burleson became president of the new combined school, Baylor University at Waco, and continued the tradition of presiding over the opening of the first classes, which occurred in September 1886.

The move toward more modern inauguration ceremonies progressed with ceremonies introducing Baylor's sixth president, Oscar Henry Cooper, in September 1899. While Cooper's inaugural was contained in the traditional ceremony to open the academic year, the length and scope of the program was expanded considerably to highlight the beginning of the new presidential administration.

First of all, Baylor's fall opening ceremony was increased in length to last two days instead of one. The extra time was needed for multiple ceremonies that saw a number of prominent Baylor leaders, alumni and Texas public figures make addresses. Speakers during the opening ceremonies included Baylor officials such as Dr. B.H. Carroll, trustee president, Rev. George W. Truett, alumni association president, and President Emeritus Rufus C. Burleson. Non-Baylor speakers included Texas Gov. J.D. Sayers, Texas School Superintendent J.I. Kendall, State Representative Dudley Wooten and other elected officials.

During his Sept. 5, 1899, inaugural address, President Cooper told a large audience in the Baylor chapel on the third floor of Old Main that "Baptists have been characterized all through their history by their uncompromising love of the truth for its own sake and for their devotion, even to martyrdom, to civil and religious liberty...Baylor is loyal to the highest form of truth, the truth of the Christian religion."

Presidential inaugurations: The 20th century and beyond

While Baylor's first presidential inauguration of the 20th century followed the ceremonial style used during the previous six decades, by the middle of the century a more modern inaugural style had emerged. The new model used the investiture of a new president as a standalone event designed to unite the university in a time of celebration and dedication.

Over the years at Baylor, a presidential "inauguration" came to be known as the broad term used to refer to the full range of activities involved with publicly welcoming a new president. The ceremony held to confer a new president with the articles and symbols of office, by contrast, came to be known as an "installation."

1902: Samuel Palmer Brooks

The inauguration of new Baylor President Samuel Palmer Brooks followed that of President Cooper in its structure and style. Brooks had arrived on campus to begin serving as president just a short time before he delivered his inaugural address at the opening of the fall 1902 session of classes. Prior to the ceremony, Baylor had announced the largest fall enrollment in its history -- approximately 450 students.

Because construction of the new Carroll Chapel and Library building was not yet complete, Brooks delivered his inaugural address before an overflow crowd in the Old Main chapel.

After an introduction by Board of Trustees Chairman B.H. Carroll, Brooks was greeted with an ovation lasting several minutes. In his address, Brooks paid honor to the founders of Baylor and the men and women who had guided the university through difficult times.

The new president said he had addressed a letter to all Baylor alumni, asking for their assistance in building up the university. He then stressed that Baylor and Waco were partners who grew stronger by helping each other, and asked for the continued support of local government and Waco area business leaders.

Brooks identified a number of goals his administration would pursue, including the construction of new dormitories, more financial aid for deserving students, additional books for the new Carroll Library, increased campus beautification efforts and the return of law classes to Baylor.

Brooks ended his address with these words: "If you are true to your alma mater, if you are true to the harmony of this institution, you will give us your support and, though you may differ with us, it will be to your good both now and hereafter. We are working for life for tomorrow as well as today. We are teaching you for the future that is to be. We are striving to prepare you for an appreciation of that kind of training that ends in the spiritual reformation of your own soul."

Pat M. Neff

Baylor's eighth president, former Texas Gov. Pat M. Neff, took office in June 1932 during the third year of the Great Depression. The financial problems already affecting other parts of the country had by now reached Baylor. In the fall of 1931 the university began running a slight budget deficit, and as a result trustees in February 1932 cut faculty and staff salaries 15 percent. Soon after Neff took office, he was forced to announce that faculty and staff salaries would be further reduced for a total cut of 25 percent, although he said that Baylor's recent policy of paying part of each salary in scrip -- a form of IOU -- would end in August 1932.

It was against this backdrop of financial challenge that Baylor's board of trustees began planning for the inauguration of the university's new president. A board committee met and decided that Neff would be inaugurated in April 1933 in a ceremony that representatives of 200 educational institutions around the country would be invited to attend. As part of the three-day celebration in Waco Hall, poet Robert Frost, sculptor Lorado Taft and other noted national artists would be invited to speak.

Trustees decided that an inaugural chorus composed of 250 Baylor students would perform during the ceremonies. Campus tryouts for the chorus were held and rehearsals began on Jan. 24, 1933.

But despite the enthusiastic preparations and the best intentions of Baylor officials, economic reality could not be ignored. On the front page of the March 14, 1933, edition of the Daily Lariat was a brief article announcing that plans for Neff's inauguration had been "indefinitely postponed" due to "financial stress, here and elsewhere." Robert Frost would indeed come to campus and speak in the spring of 1933, but Pat Neff's proposed inaugural was no longer the reason for his visit.

1948: William R. White

The inauguration of Baylor's ninth president, Dr. William R. White, was a ceremony that in many ways set the example for all the others that would follow it. For the first time in Baylor history, the presidential inauguration was a standalone event, not merely a series of special addresses and presentations made as part of a seasonal academic gathering.

The Baylor Golden Wave Band under the direction of Professor Richard L. Morse performed a concert in Waco Hall the night before the 1948 inauguration to kick off the official festivities. Also that night, a free presentation of the drama "Jupiter Laughs" was offered to inauguration guests by Baylor's drama department under the direction of Paul Baker.

White's installation ceremony the next day, on the morning of April 13, 1948, began with a procession from Pat Neff Hall to Waco Hall. It was the first Baylor presidential installation to be held in Waco Hall, and was the first with an address by a national figure as part of the ceremony. The featured speaker for White's inauguration was Dr. Robert Andrews Millikan, the 1923 Nobel Prize winner in physics for his work in isolating and measuring the electron.

Special guests included representatives of 100 American colleges and universities, Texas Gov. Beauford Jester, Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice J.E. Hickman and Texas State School Superintendent L.A. Woods.

During the ceremony, the university chorus sang "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," organ professor Robert Markham played and the Baylor band performed a fanfare arranged by School of Music Dean Daniel Sternberg.

In his inaugural address President White said, "Baylor University will acquaint itself with the latest thought in all fields of human investigation and interest. We shall pass on to our students the best results of the sanest thinking of our age. We shall not be swept off our feet...We are anchored to eternal principles."

Following the installation ceremony, a luncheon for 400 invited guests was held at Memorial Hall and included brief talks by Gov. Jester, educators and alumni. Later in the afternoon a public reception was held at Alexander Hall to conclude the inaugural events.

1961: Abner V. McCall

The inauguration of Judge Abner V. McCall on Oct. 14, 1961, shared many qualities with the ceremony for his presidential predecessor, Dr. W.R. White. McCall's installation ceremony was held in Waco Hall, and began with a procession from Pat Neff Hall to Waco Hall. In this case it took a full 30 minutes for the 1,000 people in the procession to move between the two buildings.

McCall's inauguration also continued the tradition of having a national figure make an address. The featured speaker was Dr. Willis M. Tate, president of Southern Methodist University, who spoke on the special responsibilities of church-related universities in preserving American ideals.

There were many special guests at McCall's inauguration, including Texas Gov. Price Daniel and Congressman W.R. Poage, both Baylor alumni, Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert W. Calvert, several associate justices and former U.S. Senator William A Blakley of Texas.

One invited guest unable to attend the ceremonies was former U.S. President Harry S. Truman. A lifelong Baptist, Truman sent McCall a formal letter turning down the invitation and wrote in his own handwriting at the bottom, "Congratulate the new president and tell him any time he wants real trouble stirred up to send for a Baptist to do it and one who likes to do it!"

There were several new elements added for the McCall inauguration. It was the climax of Baylor's annual American Ideals Conference, which included three days of chapel and seminar talks. And McCall's installation ceremony was the first at Baylor to be shown on television, broadcast live on Waco's KWTX-TV.

In his inaugural address President McCall said, "It is well for us to remember if we have any pride in this university, it must be a pride of not what we have wrought but what we have inherited from the best of Christian men and women, who by prayer, dedication and sacrifice slowly built this great institution."

Following the ceremony a luncheon was held in the Student Union Building, featuring remarks by Baylor College of Medicine Dean Stanley W. Olson and 10 other Baylor-related speakers.

1981: Herbert H. Reynolds

The inauguration of Dr. Herbert H. Reynolds as Baylor's 11th president on Sept. 17, 1981, featured the last installation ceremony to be held in Waco Hall. It began with the traditional procession from Pat Neff Hall down Founders Mall to Waco Hall. The procession was led by a representative of Bologna University in Italy, considered the western world's oldest university, and included trustees, faculty members, administrators and 150 Baylor students carrying colorful flags representing the 50 states and 100 countries where Baylor alumni then lived. The flags formed a backdrop on the Waco Hall stage during the ceremony.

Attendance at the ceremony was by invitation only, due to limited seating in Waco Hall. Special guests in the crowd of 2,200 were representatives of 205 schools, institutions and academic societies from the United States and five countries. The presidential installation ceremony was the first to include the use of the Baylor Mace, which had been adopted by trustees in 1974 for use in formal processionals.

The featured guest speaker was former Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski, a Baylor law graduate and Distinguished Alumnus, who praised Baylor as being "admired for its excellence, its scholastic standards, its program of character development and for its dedication to the highest standards of ethical and moral conduct."

W. Dewey Presley, chairman of the Baylor Board of Trustees, presided at the ceremony and brought congratulations to Baylor and Reynolds from Vice President George Bush. Presley then invested Reynolds with the office of the presidency and presented him with the presidential medallion, assisted by Chancellor Abner McCall.

In his remarks President Reynolds said, "Throughout our 136 years, Baylor has remained true to its Christian heritage while seeking enlightened educational goals. During my tenure as president, I pledge that we will continue to remain true to that heritage and respond faithfully to the trust granted us." Reynolds also announced the goal of increasing Baylor's endowment to $250 million by the early 1990s.

Two original musical compositions by Baylor faculty were performed during the ceremony -- "Fanfare for Brass" by Dr. Richard Willis and "Make a Joyful Noise," an anthem based on Psalm 100 written by Dr. Herbert Colvin.

The installation ceremony had been preceded by a scientific symposium on campus, which featured four international scientists that had been colleagues of Dr. Reynolds at the Air Force Biomedical Research Laboratory, and by a concert performed by Baylor music faculty and the Baylor Chamber Singers.

The installation ceremony was followed by a luncheon in the Student Union Building. Baylor faculty, staff and students were invited to a reception in the early evening, while the general public was invited to a second reception immediately following the first.

1995: Robert B. Sloan Jr.

Baylor's 12th president, Dr. Robert B. Sloan Jr., was the first president whose installation ceremony took place in the Ferrell Center. Initial plans had been to hold the installation in Waco Hall, site of the previous three ceremonies, but after thousands of people sent in RSVPs it was decided to move the event to a more spacious facility.

A number of special events were held on campus prior to Sloan's installation ceremony on Sept. 15, 1995. The night before, an Inaugural Concert featuring Baylor faculty and student musicians was held in the Mary Gibbs Jones Concert Hall, located in the Glennis McCrary Music Building. The morning of the inauguration an academic symposium featuring four visiting theological scholars and titled "University, Church and Society: Traditions in Tension" was held in the Jones Theater of the Hooper-Schaefer Fine Arts Center.

Also on the morning before the presidential installation, Baylor Regents made a historic decision by approving revised construction plans for what would eventually become the McLane Student Life Center. The vote authorized Baylor administrators to seek the funds needed to build the project. A VIP luncheon, with a guest list including internationally renowned pianist Van Cliburn, was held in the Barfield Drawing Room of the Bill Daniel Student Center just prior to the installation ceremony.

The ceremony began with a 500-member Inaugural Procession inside the Ferrell Center led by 185 students carrying flags. The procession included the presidential party, representatives of other academic institutions and learned societies, Baylor faculty, representatives of the Baylor staff and the student body, and the Baylor Board of Regents. Guests included representatives of more than 200 colleges and universities around the world.

Gale Galloway, chairman of the Baylor Board of Trustees, presided at the ceremony and invested Sloan with the office of the presidency. Galloway presented Sloan with the presidential medallion, assisted by Chancellor Herbert Reynolds. Ann Miller, professor of English and Master Teacher, presented Sloan with symbols of his new office, including a 155-year-old Bible, two medallions and custody of the Baylor Mace.

Robert L. Reid, professor emeritus of history and Master Teacher, was chosen by Sloan to deliver the inaugural address. In his response, President Sloan said, "I accept the challenge; I accept the responsibility. I ask for your prayers. I ask for your continued encouragement. I declare before you today that together this full family of Baylor University will continue to march ahead and into the 21st century as the vanguard of Christian education on this planet."

Following the ceremony, a public reception was held on Burleson Quadrangle.

2006: John M. Lilley

On April 21, 2006, the Ferrell Center again played host to the installation ceremony of a Baylor president -- Dr. John M. Lilley, the university's 13th chief executive.

The night before the ceremony, an invitation-only dinner in the Barfield Drawing Room of the Bill Daniel Student Center was followed by an inaugural concert open to the public in Waco Hall. Performers included the Baylor Wind Ensemble, Baylor Opera Theater, the Baylor Symphony Orchestra and the A Cappella Choir.

The morning before the installation ceremony, Baylor Regents met and approved a $317 million operating budget that included $11.5 million in additional scholarships, as well as money earmarked for construction of the Willis Family Equestrian Center.

The ceremony began with the traditional Inaugural Procession inside the Ferrell Center. Special guests included Congressman Chet Edwards of Waco. Will Davis, chairman of the Baylor Board of Regents, presided over the event, which saw Chancellor Robert B. Sloan present Lilley with the presidential medallion.

Jon Meacham, managing editor of Newsweek magazine and author of American Gospel: The Founding Fathers and the Making of a Nation, delivered the inauguration's keynote address. In his remarks, President Lilley vowed to serve humbly, saying that he was reliant on the ideas of colleagues, students and friends. He said the installation ceremony was an opportunity to reaffirm a collective vision enabling students to "compete intellectually and spiritually in our global society."

A public reception was held immediately following the ceremony in Burleson Quadrangle.

(A condensed version of this article was published in the fall 2010 edition of BaylorNews)
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