WHENEVER possible, I try to take in college presidential inaugurations, though most reporters put them in the plague category.
The speeches are seldom memorable and the music usually humdrum, but there's a compelling medieval atmosphere about inaugurations. I love to try to crack the color code of the academic apparel. Easy enough to figure why holders of economics degrees are garbed in copper, but how did the lawyers get purple gowns?
Goucher College's installation of Sanford J. Ungar as its 10th president Friday was the best inauguration I've witnessed. There was a central intelligence about the affair; the speeches were quite good, Ungar's among the most thoughtful (and shortest).
Internationalism was the theme of inaugural week at Goucher. Ungar, a broadcast and print journalist and former director of the Voice of America, seems particularly suited to carry that theme, and world events of the past two months played into his plans with tragic irony.
The music, to fit the theme, was international in choice and presentation, concluding with a recessional to the beat of an African drum ensemble. A keen observer could have spotted two U.S. senators, a lieutenant governor and a dozen college presidents and provosts moving to the rhythm - perhaps a first in Maryland college inaugurations.
In his talk, Ungar decried America's increasing isolationism over the past decade or so, while news organizations cut back on foreign coverage and "the lowest common denominator flourished," especially on television.
"Somehow and somewhere along the way, apparently the United States became unpopular among many people around the world, and we barely noticed," he said. "Was it really not enough to keep telling ourselves we had the greatest country on earth? Could it be that - waves of immigrants notwithstanding - not everyone wanted to live like us after all? Were we so self-satisfied that we had no idea terrorists were establishing themselves and hatching their schemes in our very midst?"
Ungar vowed to dedicate Goucher to "genuine internationalism," sending more students around the world to study and bringing more from overseas to study here. He said the school, established in 1885 as the Woman's College of Baltimore City, "will find new means and methods to enrich our curriculum with international perspectives."
Ungar promised that "we will never prescribe opinions; we will only encourage their formulation on the basis of international awareness. ... I promise you: The world will be hearing from Goucher, and Goucher will be hearing from the world."
Ashes of dead student create an anthrax scare
On occasion since Sept. 11, life has seemed stranger than fiction.
A Washington woman inundated by delinquency notices on her son's college loans set out to prove that he had been dead for two years and should not have to pay the money back. So she dispatched some of the son's cremated remains to the Washington headquarters of Sallie Mae, the nation's largest student loan purveyor.
You know what happened. Sallie Mae officials called 911 after finding the gray, powdery substance in an envelope. Five employees were sent to physicians for anthrax checkups and antibiotic shots.
The woman, whose name wasn't disclosed, did not prevail, even though her story checked out. To close the loans, Sallie Mae officials insisted they need an official death certificate with a raised seal, not an envelope of ashes.
Former Towson U. official shows way to novel library
A former Towson University administrator is showing a novel way - in California - to build and operate a library.
The city of San Jose and San Jose State University are constructing an elegant eight-story downtown library that will be operated jointly and used by the university and the general public.
Campus and city leaders say they've removed most of the traditional barriers between town and gown in raising 93 percent of the $177.5 million cost of the new building.
City librarian Jane Light, who will be co-manager, said that sharing the library would mean significant savings because student and public use are expected to overlap. University students generally use a library during weekdays, while traffic in the public library is heaviest after 4 p.m. and on weekends.
Savings of a jointly operated library range as high as 30 percent, said Robert Caret, president of San Jose State and former provost of Towson University.
Hmmm. Think of five downtown colleges and universities close to the Pratt's antiquated central branch. The same for Towson University, Goucher and the aging Towson public library.