New chancellor chosen to replace outgoing Cantor

Kent D. Syverud, dean of the School of Law at Washington University in St. Louis, brings experience and local perspective to chancellor position.

Heavy clouds hung down from the sky, coating the Syracuse University campus in a layer of shady gray. The rain was falling from them fast and hard. The air was filled with an invisible thickness; its warmth coating the skin of students huddled underneath their umbrellas. In the midst of all this meteorological misery, Kent D. Syverud, who had just been announced hours earlier to the Syracuse community as the next chancellor of the university, stood at the podium in Hendricks Chapel, clad in a tie emblazoned with a bright printed SU logo. In front of him sat an audience comprised of students, faculty, alumni and more, all of whom were waiting with baited breath to hear the new Chancellor-designate’s first words to the university.

Photo: Lenny Christopher
Chancellor-designate Syverud speaks at press conference following his announcement at Hendricks Chapel, September 12, 2013.

“I have two words for all of you who love Syracuse University, and want this university to have a future even greater than its amazing past. Two words for everyone who bleeds orange,” Syverud told the audience. “I’m in.”

The eruption of applause from the energized crowd following those two words was deafening. And the crowd wasn’t alone in its excitement. The chancellor selection committee unanimously voted Syverud to the position yesterday afternoon. The committee reviewed over 270 candidates for the role. Syverud will replace Chancellor Nancy Cantor, who has been with the university for almost 10 years. This January, she leaves Syracuse and will serve as chancellor for Rutgers University’s Newark campus.

“It was a remarkable process to see everyone unite very quickly, and very unanimously,” said Dick Thomas, chairman of the board of trustees.

The chancellor-to-be comes to SU from Washington University in St. Louis, where he is currently serving as the dean of the School of Law. He has a lengthy history in the world of higher education: he's served as dean of the Vanderbilt Law School, an associate dean at the University of Michigan School of Law -- which he has a degree from himself -- and served as a clerk under Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

However, Syverud has a deeper connection to SU outside his work on college campuses. Syracuse itself is familiar territory of Syverud, a native of the Rochester suburb of Irondequoit. Syracuse was the first college he ever laid eyes on, Syveryd said, and he grew up viewing Syracuse as the pinnacle of a college experience: the academics, the sport, and perhaps most importantly, the spirit. His long history with the university and the area made the chance to become chancellor especially appealing.

“It’s like a dream,” he said. “I’ve been pinching myself. You have no idea what a big deal Syracuse University was for me growing up.”

Steven DeSalvo, the current Student Association comptroller and a Central New York native, believes that Syverud’s home ties to the area will benefit the university and give him an instant connection to the campus.

“As kids, this is the first place that you see in this area,” DeSalvo said. “When you have dreams in high school of going to college, you think Syracuse. Him coming from this area will help him to have a vision when he looks at the future of this university.”

Syverud commended Cantor’s active community engagement during her time at SU, including programs such as the Connective Corridor and the Near-West Side Initiative, which strove not only to improve conditions in the city of Syracuse, but also to better integrate the university with the city. Syverud hopes to continue to grow the relationship between the university and the city, but admitted it will take time to learn what needs to be done in that respect.

“All politics is local,” Syverud said. “I need to learn locally what’s been done, and learn what the challenges are to the advancement of the community and the region.”

Syverud has already reached out to local leaders, he said, and expects to spend time with them during his next visits to Syracuse, before he takes over the position in January.

During the chancellor selection interview process, the message from students, faculty, alumni, staff, and board members that resounded with Syrevud most was, “Syracuse took a chance on me, and I have made the most of it.” Students, faculty and more impressed Syrevud with their passion for the school and their desire not only to make the most of their time here, but also to better Syracuse as a whole.

“That statement is a wonderful combination of humility and ambition,” Syrevud said. “None of you was perfect when you came here. You did not feel entitled, but you did feel responsible for seizing the amazing range of opportunities, and activities, and courses and ideas across this university.”

For senior film major PJ Alampi, who served on the chancellor selection committee, one of the biggest takeaways from Syrevud’s speech was utilizing the opportunities given to members of the Syracuse community as well as giving back to the university.

“That should be one of our biggest messages when looking at the future of the university, is how can we give back [to the university], and really be a part of this community,” Alampi said.

But something that may make basketball fans squirm is Syverud’s bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University.  But don’t be fooled by his Georgetown diploma: his roots are pure orange. While he was as a Hoya, the two schools were not yet rivals, and Georgetown wasn’t even a member of the Big East conference.

“I rooted for Syracuse while I was at Georgetown,” Syverud said.

Former Student Association President Dylan Lustig has high hopes for Syverud’s role as Chancellor.

“He’ll continue to looking outward to the community and continue Scholarship in Action, but also I think he’ll bring more,” Lustig said. “Only time will tell what that more will be.”

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