The lobby of the Hathaway-Howard Fine Arts Center was standing-room only for the Hail and Farewell reception Monday at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
Held exclusively for faculty, staff, students and administrators, the reception honored Interim Chancellor Calvin Johnson for his leadership and welcomed Laurence B. Alexander as incoming chancellor.
“We are all here to bear witness and celebrate an event that will go down in the annals of university history,” said Mary Benjamin, vice chancellor for UAPB Academic Affairs.
Elbert Bennett, administrative coordinator for Student Affairs, said this was the first change in leadership he’d witnessed in his 35 year tenure at UAPB, adding, “this is an opportunity to celebrate history.”
A resolution was given by Associate Biology Professor Sederick Rice on behalf of the UAPB Senate to honor Johnson’s service to the institution. Donald Bobbitt, president of the University of Arkansas System, was present and paid homage to the contributions of longtime Chancellor Dr. Lawrence A. Davis Jr. and Johnson’s service as interim.
“We all appreciate the service of Dr. Davis as chancellor,” Bobbitt said. “I also know that we are thankful for Dr. and Mrs. Alexander’s presence today and look forward to the future with excitement and promise.”
He noted his concern about UAPB upon Davis’ decision to retire, but said his anxiety was eased when Johnson stepped in to lead the university.
“Over these last months, I never referred to him as interim because he cares deeply for this institution like he was and has been chancellor,” Bobbitt said.
“I feel very fortunate that we were able to attract a candidate with his caliber, drive, initiative and accomplishment,” Bobbitt said. “I think his presence speaks volumes to the quality of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and the promise that resides at this institution.”
Alexander, who was a distinguished teaching scholar and a professor in the Department of Journalism at the University of Florida, chaired the Graduate Curriculum Committee and directed more than 20 student development and funding programs, including the UF McKnight Doctoral Fellowships and the National Science Foundation LSAMP Bridge to the Doctorate. He also led the Graduate School’s program in recruitment, retention, success and graduation of underrepresented minority students. Previously, he served as chair of the Department of Journalism at the University of Florida and coordinator of journalism in the English Department at the University of New Orleans.
After his remarks, Bobbitt passed a ceremonial baton to Alexander signifying a “change of the guard” in the leadership of UAPB.
Johnson was received with a standing ovation as he prepared to make his comments. He reflected on the SWAC Football Championship in 2012, improvements in customer service and recent NCATE accreditation and emphasized his gratitude for the opportunity.
“I am grateful to those who have been very supportive during my time here,” Johnson said. “It was a humbling learning experience.”
Alexander approached the podium as the room quieted from applause awaiting the first words of the new chancellor, “Good Morning!” he said. “Good morning, UAPB!”
He told the crowd he feels blessed by the opportunity and said he and his wife, Veronica, are grateful, humble, delighted and honored to join the pride at UAPB.
“We understand that this is a grand opportunity for us,” Alexander said. “We also honor Dr. Johnson for his dedication to this institution. It is not easy to give up one’s retirement and take on the responsibility of running an institution. I commend him and his wife for their outstanding service to the university.”
He said he appreciated the foundation laid by Johnson, Davis and leaders before them over the span of the institution’s 140-year history and pledged to build on their successes.
“The true greatness of any institution can be measured in the quality of the work product of its inhabitants — its faculty, students, alumni, stakeholders and friends of this institution,” Alexander said.
He said his goals starting out will be achieving the gold standard in overall academics, teaching, research, service along with growth in size and stature of the student population. He said that growth will not be measured by size alone but by the success of the students through graduation and beyond. Advancement for UAPB will also be sought in the development of new resources and the fostering of a spirit and culture of excellence in everything that is done, he said.
“We begin that work today,” Alexander said.