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Austin inaugurated as UConn's 13th president (Released: 4/17/97)

by Thomas Becher, Office of University Communications.

STORRS, Conn. -- The University of Connecticut is poised to become a world-class university providing excellent academic programs, attracting the best and most diverse students, and playing a key role in Connecticut's economic future, UConn President Philip E. Austin said today in his inaugural address.

Austin, the University's 13th president, was inaugurated during a formal academic ceremony attended by scores of well-wishers from academia and state government.

He told the crowd of alumni, students, faculty, staff and friends of the University that UConn 2000, the 10-year, $1 billion program to rebuild, renew and enhance the University's campuses is the catalyst that will forever change the state's flagship public university.

"I came to Connecticut last October firmly convinced that no public university in this country is better positioned to improve, and improve dramatically, the level of excellence, access and service it offers. I retain that conviction today," Austin said. "The University of Connecticut has been an important university for many decades. Now it has the potential to become a great university -- one of a handful of public institutions that define what a state can do when it makes a commitment of resources and a commitment of will."Austin, 55, chancellor of the University of Alabama system from 1989 until his arrival at UConn Oct. 1, 1996, was honored throughout the day, first at a luncheon with contributors to the University and, later, at a public reception on campus. Lt. Gov. Jodi Rell -- filling in for an ailing Gov. John G. Rowland -- presided over the investiture, or installation, of the president, while dozens of faculty, in full academic regalia, participated in the ceremony.

Austin used the occasion to articulate his goals and vision for the University.

"I offer today a statement of purpose and partnership," he said. "I look to the day when excellence in all programs of this institution will be widely acclaimed, the day when outstanding students and distinguished professors from throughout the country will compete to become members of this University community. Achieving this goal will require careful investment, intellectual rigor, focused leadership and, above all, a partnership dedicated to the principle of excellence in everything we do."

Speakers representing the governor, legislators, students, alumni, faculty and staff welcomed Austin to UConn.

Rell said that with UConn 2000 construction projects now under way, "Let there be no doubt in anyone's mind: The days of dreaming about building a world-class University are over. That world-class University is here and we are beginning to build it now.

"Gov. Rowland and I pledge to stand with you," she said. "We pledge to be your partner as we take UConn the final way from an agricultural land-grant college to the world-class University it really is. UConn is an integral part of the state's landscape and an integral part of our future."

House Speaker Thomas Ritter, D-Hartford, said Austin's leadership is vital as the University and state work together.

"We need the University's help to turn out a work force that can compete in a highly competitive world," Ritter said. "We must provide a strong financial investment in the future of the University. We in Hartford must support UConn -- indeed it is that premise that brought President Austin here today."

"We want to celebrate your new leadership with a new state budget that for the first time in years actually will increase our investment in the University and in student financial aid," added Kevin Sullivan, president pro tem of the state Senate. "We'd like 13 to be UConn's lucky number because we are indeed lucky to have you here with us at this University and in Connecticut."

"This inaugural event symbolizes a new beginning and encumbers upon the president the challenges and achievements of the future," said Kenneth Parzych, president of the UConn Alumni Association's Board of Directors. "It represents heightened expectations for this great University."

Harry Johnson, chair of the University Senate executive committee and a professor of finance, said Austin is a leader who can take UConn into the next millennium.

"The next five years will be the most crucial years in this University's future," he said. "Dr. Austin has already exhibited the leadership and experience the University requires. A better choice could not have been made."

"I'm very glad to have him here," said Brian Collins, president of the Undergraduate Student Senate. "I've watched him envelop this whole University and take everything in."

When trustees were looking for the next president, they knew they needed someone with a sense for the need to change, said Lewis B. Rome, chair of the Board of Trustees.

"The qualities that we needed were the qualities that we found: a wonderful listener, a person willing to make decisions, a person to carry out responsibility. He not only meets challenges but makes challenges."