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George Vlahakis
IU Media Relations

Last modified: Friday, April 9, 2004

IU inaugurations have reflected tradition and personalities of those being installed as president

No cameras were around for William Lowe Bryan's inauguration in 1903. The moment was captured in this artist's illustration. Courtesy of IU Archives

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EDITORS: Photos of other IU presidential inaugurations are available from IU Media Relations.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- When Indiana University's first president, Andrew Wylie, arrived in Bloomington with his family for his inauguration, it prompted an enthusiastic escort of faculty, students, trustees and citizens.

And the best supper that the frontier town of 600 people could muster.

"Between the speeches, the flutist and fiddler played their most enlivening airs," reported the late IU historian James A. Woodburn, "the fiddler keeping the time by the pat of his foot, in which exercise all the boys and a good many of the citizens gleefully joined."

A few weeks later, at a well-planned occasion at the Monroe County Courthouse, Dr. David Maxwell, the IU trustees' president, presented Wylie with the keys of the college and declared him duly elected and installed as its president. The Indiana Journal reported that, afterwards, Wylie gave "a chaste and appropriate address."

"Of what advantage is a college to the community?" Wylie offered in his opening remarks on Oct. 29, 1829. "To this question, it is reasonably expected that, on an occasion like the present, a plain and satisfactory answer should be given."

His prepared remarks to answer that question lasted about an hour and can be printed out over 27 pages. Woodburn commented that IU's first inaugural address would make for dull reading for most people today, but it was directed at persons then who barely understood the concept of a university.

The question Wylie raised, "Of what advantage is a college to the community?," remains one that subsequent IU presidents have continued to answer in their own installation ceremonies, like that of Adam W. Herbert on Thursday (April 15) at the IU Auditorium.

To celebrate Herbert's inauguration as the university's 17th president, the IU Archives is presenting an exhibit highlighting ceremonies of many past IU presidents, including Wylie. The exhibit, on display April 15-22 at the Lilly Library, will feature photographs, programs, texts of speeches and congratulatory letters.

Pomp, circumstance and personality

University inaugurations, at IU and elsewhere, usually reflect the history and traditions of scholarly administration dating back to the Middle Ages. They also often reflect the personalities of those being installed as well as the times.

Inaugurations "reaffirm the traditions and values of the university and show solidarity with other universities," said James Capshew, associate professor of history and philosophy of science at IU Bloomington. "It's an ingathering of all of the stakeholders in the university."

Herman B Wells proceeds to his inauguration in 1938. Courtesy of IU Archives

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Capshew believes the tradition continues to be relevant today. He has assigned the 20 students in his intensive writing class to cover the event and prepare historical critiques of Herbert's address. "I want them to be exposed to one of the great places on the IU campus and all of the pomp and circumstance that accompanies this tradition, and see what I, as a faculty member, feel is an important aspect of the academic life and community in action."

Ceremonies for the university's previous 16 presidents have been quite varied. Joseph Swain, IU's ninth president, delivered his inaugural address at the 1893 commencement ceremonies. John W. Ryan, its 14th president, requested a dignified, yet simple occasion in the Bryan Hall board room, and only 45 people were in attendance.

IU's 13th president, Joseph Sutton, indicated in media reports that he was not superstitious. However, shortly after being named president, he needed emergency surgery to remove his gall bladder in January 1969. In that same year, his wife fell ill to cancer, leading up to her death in December 1970. He stepped down as president shortly thereafter. No records exist in the IU Archives about an inauguration ceremony for Sutton.

William Lowe Bryan, the only IU president to be a native of Monroe County, was inaugurated during three days of activities surrounding Foundation Day (now Founders Day). It was the custom to present a student play on the eve of Foundation Day, and, perhaps coincidentally, Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing was produced. Science Hall (now Lindley Hall) was dedicated as part of his installation in 1903.

"My inaugural address (on Jan. 21, 1885) I made very informal, as my installation took place in the middle of the year and at a time when affairs seemed at a dead-low ebb," wrote IU's seventh president, David Starr Jordan, in his memoir, The Days of a Man. "Nevertheless, I spoke of the institution as the most valuable of Indiana's possessions, not yet a great university, not yet even a real university, but the germ of one, its growth being as certain as the progress of the seasons."

Jordan had been selected quickly after the sudden resignation of President Lemuel Moss in December 1884. In his three-paragraph inauguration address, Jordan was somewhat self-effacing. "I am glad to believe that the president is not the essential part of the university," he said. "I certainly hope, that as president, my efforts may aid the growth of the university, but I also take comfort in the belief that my blunders cannot do much to retard it. In any case, success or failure does not depend upon my efforts alone."

Mindful that state politics played a role in the economic vitality of the institution, IU's fourth president, John H. Lathrop, turned to then Gov. Ashbel Williard and said, "In her darkest hour, the university of Indiana found in you a steadfast friend. Long may you live to witness the glories of her risen day."

"Often times, the inaugural addresses sketch policy directions and plans for the university, the presidential vision," said Capshew, who also teaches a class on the history of IU and is writing a biography about its 11th president, Herman B Wells.

The modern tradition

The tradition grew in scope and spectacle during the last century. While the installation for Wells was considered low-key for its day, the event still attracted a vast audience of 3,400 people and was broadcast live on the NBC and Mutual radio networks.

Universities and colleges from across the United States and the world typically send representatives, along with those from governmental agencies, educational associations and industry. Many of these dignitaries participate in the familiar practice of a procession into the installation ceremony and are adorned in colorful caps and gowns.

"A crowd of 200, many clutching cameras, waited along the procession route from the old fieldhouse to the Auditorium," the Indiana Daily Student reported about the 1962 inauguration of Elvis Stahr, IU's 12th president. "Some had been standing in the crisp morning air since 9:30 a.m. to catch a glimpse of the new president and the color of the ceremony."

Stahr, who previously had been U.S. secretary of the Army and had served under three U.S. presidents, attracted the interest of the current and two former Indiana governors, two foreign ambassadors and dozens of college presidents at his ceremony at the IU Auditorium.

John Ryan's installation as president in 1972

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Since 1962, with the exception of Ryan, the 3,700-seat IU Auditorium has been the venue for the inaugurations of IU's last five presidents. All of these ceremonies have been televised.

The largest inauguration celebration was the 1987 installation of IU's 15th president, Thomas Ehrlich. The celebration began in Indianapolis the day before with an academic convocation at the Hilbert Circle Theatre. It featured a procession that wrapped around Monument Circle. The following day, the Ehrlichs utilized an unusual receiving line. Instead of remaining stationary, while the line moved forward, they took the initiative and moved through the line of people who had come to meet them at IU's Main Library in Bloomington.

His successor, Myles Brand, by contrast had a smaller ceremony reflecting the times. It was a highlight of IU's 175th anniversary celebration. The day after his installation, Brand and a delegation from IU reaffirmed the state's charter establishing IU as Indiana's first land-grant institution of higher education.

The procession leading east on Seventh Street to Thomas Ehrlich's installation in 1987 at the IU Auditorium. Courtesy of IU Archives

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"In many ways, the inauguration of Adam Herbert will follow established traditions, while being a more contemporary occasion that pays tribute to IU's academic heritage," said Robin Roy Gress, secretary of the IU Board of Trustees. "It pays honor to the office, while taking an approach that is reasonable in today's times."