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Inaugurating President Fuhrman: TC Lives Its Legacy


Inaugurating President Fuhrman

Inaugurating President Fuhrman

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"We welcome this daughter of New York. We welcome her home to the city she loves and to the College where her dreams were made and professional career began."

With those words, Donna Shalala-'"President of the University of Miami and former Teachers College faculty member-'"greeted her former student and advisee, now officially the College's tenth president and first woman to hold the job.

The two days of festivities surrounding the inauguration of Susan Fuhrman celebrated both a new leader and the happy return of an alumna, but even more they revisited the College's history of great ideas and social engagement-'"a history in which Shalala herself, as a former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, has played no small part-'"and drew on them as a source of inspiration for the future.

Themed "Living the Legacy," the inauguration events included an academic forum at which some of the nation's leading educators talked about how to promote great research and ensure its impact on the real world (see story below); a dinner in Low Rotunda on the Columbia campus that brought together Fuhrman's "five families" (including her husband and three sons, family friends, and former colleagues from the University of Pennsylvania, where she was Dean of the Graduate School of Education from 1995 through August 2006); and, finally, ceremonies in Riverside Church, at which Fuhrman was officially welcomed by Shalala and other representatives from around the nation, the state, the city and TC itself, and which culminated in a 20-minute address by the new president on TC's great thinkers of the past and how the College can continue to build on their work (see accompanying video of the full proceedings at Riverside).

Among those who welcomed Fuhrman at Riverside were Joel Klein, Chancellor of New York City's Public Schools; Judith Rodin, President of the Rockefeller Foundation and former President of the University of Pennsylvania; and Lee Bollinger, President of Columbia University.

"I think it speaks volumes, Susan, that you asked me to step up here and speak," Klein said. "Unlike Donna Shalala and unlike Judy Rodin, I'm not a longtime friend or colleague. I am here today because at this academic institution, and at this great inauguration in this remarkable house of worship, Susan Fuhrman wanted to make sure that the 1.1 million kids in the city of New York and-'"by extension-'"the millions of others throughout this nation-'"would be represented, so that this university, this College, would remember always, their responsibility and their role."

Columbia's President Bollinger recalled that when he first came to New York City in 1968, just after getting married, he studied law at Columbia while his wife, Jean, enrolled at TC.

"I therefore lived with my own marriage in the context of TC, and perhaps because of that I can't help thinking of the Columbia-TC relationship as a kind of marriage," he said. The challenge the two institutions both face is to bring the benefits of education to people of all backgrounds and stations, regardless of their means to afford it. "It is here, at the juncture of this wider responsibility, that I believe Columbia and Teachers College can make their greatest contributions together and in so doing can simultaneously nurture their own relationship. President Fuhrman and I have already begun to discuss and plan how to do this, and I can think of no one better suited or more capable of achieving these ends."

Rodin said it was her "personal pleasure to join in celebrating an extraordinary woman" with whom she had worked so closely for more than a decade. "Susan," she said, "having witnessed your extraordinary achievements at Penn, I can only imagine what you will continue to do at your alma mater, a school that fostered your passion and harnessed your ingenuity."

TC faculty member Lambros Comitas-'"also speaking at the ceremony at Riverside-'"recalled the words of the poet John Masefield, who said that "there are few earthly things more beautiful than a university, a place where those who hate ignorance may strive to know, where those who perceive truth may strive to make others see." For both of these tasks, Comitas said, "Teachers College is "fortunate in its choice of a leader." He described Fuhrman as "a scholar of distinction" and "a person of compassion."

At the height of the ceremony in Riverside, Edmund W. Gordon, Richard March Hoe Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Education, presented Fuhrman for investiture. Jack Hyland and Bill Rueckert, Co-Chairs of the Teachers College Board of Trustees, formally installed Fuhrman as President, placing the ceremonial chain of office around her neck.

Afterward, Fuhrman delivered her remarks, declaring herself "overjoyed beyond words to return to Teachers College, my alma mater, as its tenth President, and noting that she had defended her dissertation "exactly 30 years ago this month."

"I still have to pinch myself to belief that I've made that journey," she said. "It's good to be home."

The new president talked about the legacy of contributions by such TC scholars as John Dewey, Edward L. Thorndike, James Earl Russell, Lawrence Cremin, A. Harry Passow, Morton Deutsch, Edmund Gordon and Maxine Green.

"What would it mean if we were to truly live up to our legacy at TC?" she asked. The answers ranged from improved research and stronger partnership with city schools to closer ties with Columbia and a greater exchange with the education systems of other cultures. Ultimately, Fuhrman said, living up to the legacy would mean moving beyond ideology to a clear focus on ideas that produce the best results.

"Nearly 80 years ago, in his book Experience and Education, Dewey exhorted educators to "think in terms of Education itself rather than in terms of some -'ism' about education," she said, calling that "perfect advice for these ideologically fraught times."

Fuhrman concluded by pledging herself to work towards the goals of "equity and excellence" above all others, for "as long as I serve Teachers College."

"Just imagine," she said. "When TC's twentieth president reflects on our legacy, she will refer to the early years of the 21st century, when Teachers College became the most consequential institution of its kind in the world. And she will feel the same pride and joy that I feel today."

More quotes from Inauguration greeters.

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