Getting to know SU's newest chancellor Kent D. Syverud

Friends and colleagues say to expect great things from the man who will lead the university in January.

Kent D. Syverud is “honest.”

Kent D. Syverud is “a man of integrity.”

He holds open office hours for his students, and every year he hosts a dinner for international students with his wife, Dr. Ruth Chen.

He’s the first one at the office in the morning, and he’s the last one to leave at night.

And according to his colleagues and critics, he’s a brilliant man who will help Syracuse skyrocket to the top of the collegiate ratings.

Photo: Lenny Christopher
SU basketball coach Jim Boeheim congratulates Kent D. Syverud, who was named the 12th chancellor and president of Syracuse University on September 12, 2013 at Hendricks Chapel.

Video: SU introduces Syverud

But first, the facts.

Syverud grew up in Irondequoit, a small suburb of Rochester. Syracuse, he says, was the first university he ever saw. Even though he completed his undergraduate degree at Georgetown, he cheered for the Orangemen all the way from D.C.

After graduating from Georgetown magna cum laude, he went on to do the same and graduate at the top of his class at the University of Michigan Law School.

He comes to Syracuse with an illustrious resume: he’s served as dean for Vanderbilt University’s law school, Washington University in St. Louis School of Law, and clerked for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor

Dorsey Ellis, Dean Emeritus of the Washington University School of Law, first met the chancellor designate during Syverud’s interview process to become the next dean.

“His view of Washington University and its potential future was really exciting,” says Ellis. “And when he started, he began to implement that vision.”

“A man of his word,” as Ellis calls him, Syverud wasted no time before executing his plans to improve the law school at Washington University.

According to Ellis, Syverud had two main goals when he became dean: first, to innovate, incorporate and utilize technology; and second, to expand Washington University’s international outreach.

But Syverud didn’t stop there.

One of his biggest strengths as dean, says Ellis, was his understanding that “the best ideas are likely to come from faculty members. The dean’s role is to assess and provide support to the ones that have potential.” And Syverud was “extraordinarily good at that.”

Not just content to improve the law school, Syverud also aimed to create strong ties between Washington University and the urban community of St. Louis. The chancellor-designate has expressed his admiration for Nancy Cantor’s community outreach efforts in Syracuse, and he hopes to continue in a similar vein. But he acknowledges that there’s a lot of research and strategizing necessary before he implements any programs.

Most importantly, he will always put the students first, says colleague Andrew Martin, Vice Dean of the Washington University School of Law.

“The thing I like best about him,” says Martin, “particularly when we’re making hard decisions about budget and the like, is that his eye is always on the most important thing: training our students.”

During his tenure at Washington University, Syverud made an effort to teach classes, get to know his students, and even held office hours. Ellis views such a close relationship with students as a huge accomplishment for any dean.

But what really sets him apart? Martin believes it’s Syverud’s “tireless energy.”

“When I came into work at 7:30 in the morning,” says Martin, “Kent was always there. When I left at 6 at night, Kent was still there. Kent is always working.”

It’s this type of dedication that makes him such an asset to any school, says Martin. 

“You’ll see him at the Carrier Dome, on campus," Martin said. "He’s not going to be a chancellor that shies away from student interaction.”

Student Association president Alexandra Curtis is already impressed by the chancellor-designate.

“Syverud will be fantastic for Syracuse University. Not only does he have extremely impressive credentials, he has grown up with this university and knows how special and unique of a place it is. He is warm, inviting and eager to take SU to the next level and those are qualities that students and faculty alike can connect on.”

Though Martin is sad to see his colleague go, he has no doubt that Syverud will lead Syracuse University to a promising future.

Said Martin: “Let me say this: Syracuse’s gain is Washington’s loss.”

And, fun fact: his last name is pronounced “SIEVE-rude.”

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