Video: Larry Kanarek '76, chair the Board of Trustees, speaks at 9th Brandeis Presidential Inauguration

Faculty, students, staff, friends of Brandeis, my fellow trustees, a very warm welcome to the Inauguration and celebration of the ninth President of Brandeis University for Ronald Liebowitz. Also, a very warm welcome to Jessica Liebowitz, Ron's family, many of whom are present here today, including his mom I understand. It's just wonderful to have you all with us.

Beyond the great privilege of chairing the Board of Trustees, I also had the good fortune to chair the Presidential Search Committee that brought us to Ron. Many of you know Ron, but I wanted to give you a sense of the man we got to know through that search process.

At the outset, we did what every search committee does. We spoke to hundreds of people, faculty, staff, former Brandeisians, students, to develop a set of criteria. It was very clear that the generic set of criteria for the president of a university doesn't quite do for Brandeis and all of its unique aspects, its personality, and its quirkiness, because Brandeis is in fact different.

From those hundreds of conversations, we distilled what we were looking for down to four things. The first was obvious from talking to hundreds of people, that everyone had a different opinion about what we needed as president, and everyone of them was quite certain that their opinion was exactly right. Well, it takes a special person with special character to build the confidence and win the trust of such people. We looked, therefore, for somebody with really special character. Specifically, we looked for somebody who is comfortable in his or her own skin, who promotes openness and debate in the Brandeis' tradition, who listens, connects and builds bridges through the community, and has the courage to make bold decisions and take risks to declare his or her priorities, and is unafraid of confrontation.

When we first met Ron, it was clear he was comfortable in his own skin. He said what he meant and he meant what he said. He was a good talker, as you'll see today, but he was an even better listener. He didn't read the room to determine what he thought we wanted to hear. He engaged us. Ron enjoys discussion and debate and will change his mind when presented with new and compelling facts. He's analytic and logical, but there's an incredible human side to Ron as well. He has the courage of his convictions, even when he knows his view or decision may not be popular with everyone.

Second, we were reminded that Brandeis is not an easy place to understand. Its founding, its mission, its culture, the way it goes about what it does are all different and unique from other universities. Its easy to be blindsided by things that are obvious to Brandeisians but quite perplexing to an outsider. Especially because our presidential search was largely external, our second criteria was to find somebody who gets Brandeis. Those of you who know Brandeis, know that the phrase "gets Brandeis" has some special meaning and somebody who knows how to adopt the Brandeis missions and values as his or her own.

After the first round of interviews, Ron asked us for more information about Brandeis than anyone else we interviewed. By the time the second round rolled around, Ron had devoured that information, read books and articles about Brandeis' founding and its progress since then, and had quietly consulted with many people who knew Brandeis. By then, Ron knew about as much about Brandeis as any of us on the search committee. His understanding of, and respect and admiration for Brandeis, including our quirks, and we do have our quirks, was obviously and apparent.

Third, it's clear that there are many winds of change facing higher education today and all universities, including Brandeis, will need to understand those forces, navigate them, conquer them, adapt to them, and find ways to turn those forces of change to their advantage. The status quo is unlikely to hold, and so, our third criteria was a strategic thinker with vision, whose eyes are on the future.

Ron, of course, was on a year’s sabbatical already, working with Jessica on the future of graduate school education in the United States. They had been thinking deeply about these winds of change and what that might mean for all universities, and Ron began thinking about what it might mean for Brandeis. When we interviewed Ron, he was by far the most insightful about these changes. Yet, he was also incredibly humble about what he knew about where it would take us. He knew the answers would be elusive and that it would take a lot of hard work to figure out what they meant for Brandeis.

Finally, the challenges of leading a complex university, like Brandeis, with a complex psyche, through a period of change in higher education required somebody with real experience, successful experience, and so our fourth criteria was proven executive leadership, somebody who had had real success in a transferable leadership position. Ron's record at Middlebury, over his 11 years of presidency and the many years before, spoke for itself.

Since he's become president, the Ron Liebowitz I've just described has been apparent to all the people he's come into contact with. From sitting down at lunch, completely unannounced, with students at Sherman Dining Hall, to meeting in discussions with the student union, to open and transparent meetings about Brandeis' financial situation with faculty, staff, and students, to memos he's written to the board with his early thinking, and to the standing-room-only meetings with alumni in Boston and New York where he won their hearts, Ron's energy, enthusiasm for Brandeis, clear thinking, quick mind, openness, and perhaps most important, his warmth, shine through.

Brandeis is lucky to have such a warm, energetic leader at its helm. In turn, this reflects the very special personality of Brandeis that Abram Sachar first talked about, that we're able to attract such a talent as Ron. Thank you.

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