As collegiate events go, a presidential inauguration sometimes seems more like a coronation.
The 2008 inauguration of Wellesley President Kim Bottomly included fireworks over Lake Waban, a chamber ensemble and a community picnic. The 2005 inauguration of Sharon Herzberger at Whittier College included an Evening with Isabel Allende, an art exhibition and a fall festival and concert. The 2010 installation of Troy VanAken as president of Thiel College included an art exhibit, a concert, a baseball and softball double-header, a reception, a ball and two more concerts.
College leaders say the two- and three-day inaugural extravaganza is about celebrating the institution, not the president. But they cost many thousands of dollars, often to the chagrin of budget-strapped faculty and staff. And students — those for whom the school exists -- tend to get shut out of the best events.
Matthew Shank wanted no such fanfare. So, the president of Marymount University in Arlington more or less sabotaged his own inauguration.
Shank will be inaugurated Friday in a mass at the university’s chapel. But he will forego the usual schedule of inaugural festivity. The only other campus event that might be termed inaugural is the school’s annual President’s Circle Dinner, scheduled for Friday evening after the mass.
The dinner, which honors a group of donors and other institutional friends, and which would have been held in any case, will now serve a dual purpose in honoring the new president. Shank will make a speech.
“We’re not going to spend any more money than we would have anyway,” Shank said Thursday, in an interview.
“I just don’t think it’s wise to spend money on essentially a glorified party,” he said. “Personally, I could care less about having that kind of attention drawn to me at this point, or at any point.”
Other institutions have downplayed presidential inaugurations in recent years, because of their cost. According to an account in Inside Higher Ed, they include the University of Connecticut, Franklin and Marshall College and, locally, Catholic University, where the inauguration of President John Garvey went a bit quicker than previous ceremonies; some events were combined.
Presidential inaugurations are generally held several months after the president begins the job, Shank said, which is odd in itself. They celebrate a moment that’s not quite the start of the president’s job — but nowhere near the end. And Shank doesn’t see the point.
“I’m sort of a believer that you should celebrate somebody’s accomplishments more than you should celebrate somebody being in a position,” he said. “If in five years I’ve achieved all the goals I have set forth for myself and the university, that would be the time to have a big party, not at the beginning.”
Shank thinks downplaying his own inauguration sends a message that Marymount “would like to be very student-centered and invest in the students,” he said. “In an inauguration, it’s not typical to even invite students.”
Some schools see a lavish inauguration as a feel-good moment, as a way to move past bad times, or as a way to draw attention to the institution.
Shank, a marketing professor by academic training, sees little promotional value in inaugural rituals.
“Whenever I receive an invitation to an inaugural event, I throw it in the trash, and that’s the last I think of it,” he said. “It’s a one-shot deal that everyone forgets about the next day.”
Shank estimates his school has saved, in a conservative estimate, $30,000 by not inaugurating him. So, he has dedicated that sum of money to a student scholarship.
When Shank informed the faculty there would be no inaugural weekend at Marymount, the room erupted in applause.