Pomp and Circumstance

One of my colleges just installed a new president. This was accompanied by a 2.5 hour ceremony, complete with some 15 different speakers, academic regalia, strings, brass, choruses, and presentations in at least six different languages.

My question is: what is the benefit to the institution? I am asking this question hoping for a response, although I start from a position of skepticism; I have attended a grand total of two college graduations, neither of which were for any of my three academic degrees. So it could be that I just need an attitude adjustment.

Here are my speculative answers, with lingering questions in parentheses:

  1. It serves to introduce the president to the University (But he has been in the community for over 40 years, and his remarks at the ceremony comprised only a small percentage of the ceremony).
  2. It serves to introduce the president to the larger academic community–many of the attendees were from other schools (See remarks above).
  3. It serves to create a spirit of cohesion at the University (But not a lot of students were there – I estimated that most people there were alumni, administration, monks, or faculty. Also, it seems like there would have to be regular meetings like these in order to add up to a significant change in student attitude).
  4. Any excuse to celebrate is enough to justify a celebration (Okay, but why do we only have these ceremonies when we change presidents? Why not have celebrations monthly?)
  5. It is tradition. (This evades the question–not all traditions are good. We should be able to justify the ceremony with some other reason if we are going to justify such an expense).

I would sincerely like to hear a response to my questions. I understand that my point of view is sometimes, well, odd, and I would enjoy understanding how others think about this.

Edit: On Facebook, one of my students pointed out that classes were cut short on the day of the ceremony. This further emphasizes the need to provide evidence that this ceremony is useful, since students pay for it in lost class time.

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6 Responses to “Pomp and Circumstance”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Ceremonies are important cultural events that help keep everyone on the same page. Ceremonies are a way for a large number of people to have the same shared experience.
    The president is a symbol of the school and having a big ceremony reminds the school community to treat itself as a special entity.
    Ceremonies where lots of people give speeches remind everyone who the leaders are and what their thoughts are. And it makes those people feel important.
    Ceremonies mark the occasion as special. Ceremonies mark the start of “something new” and many people want to witness this so they can be on the same page as everyone else who was there.
    The school spends a lot of money on a president and wants to let the world know what a great decision they made.
    People who make a lot of money are used to being treated like they are Very Important.
    People who make a lot of money want to be convinced that their colleagues are Very Important as well.
    Ceremonies give the band and orchestra an audience.

    • bretbenesh Says:

      Thank You
      Thank you for your comments. I feel like I understand this better, particularly the “shared experience” portion and the “special entity” portion.

      • ericakathryn Says:

        Re: Thank You
        I’d say that those reasons, especially the first ones, are about right. It’s worth marking such occasions. But I could have done with half the time, myself.

      • bretbenesh Says:

        Re: Thank You
        I can agree with this, although I think that there are better ways of doing it. Perhaps we make things more interactive–have break-out sessions where people discuss where we want the college to go, and then have time for a small group Q-and-A with the new president. Perhaps simply a barbecue (preferably one that does not have an entry fee) with the musicians playing could signify this.
        I do not mean to argue with the goals–I am a big fan of community-building. However, I am skeptical that having people sit in a room together for two hours and listen to speeches that are largely content-free is the way to achieve these goals.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Re: Pomp & Circumstance
    We also just had an inauguration ceremony for a new president the other week (with similar P & C).
    For us, making a Big Deal out of the whole thing also served to create a sense of excitement and hope for the future of the College in the midst of a tough financial situation and following the administration of an unpopular president. [Interesting parallels to national politics]
    It was also an opportunity to renew some of the ties between the college and the surrounding community, with many of the speakers being local community leaders.
    I think the ceremony (+luncheon +inaugural ball) succeeded on those counts, but I, too, couldn’t help wondering about the resources involved, especially while the College continues to have a freeze on tenure-track hiring and with a large number of staff having been laid off last year.
    (Although to be honest, I don’t know how much the College actually spent. Maybe they found a way to do it all on the cheap.)

    • bretbenesh Says:

      Re: Pomp & Circumstance
      I think that it is interesting to consider the popularities of the in-coming and out-going presidents. Unfortunately, we installed a new president because the previous one passed away. I am new to this college, but I am under the impression that he was fairly popular.
      Perhaps I would view things differently if we had just gotten rid of an unpopular president.

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