Dressed in velvet and satin robes and ceremonial caps, more than 100 academics paraded into the convocation center at the University of Texas at San Antonio on Tuesday for something that has happened just five times before in the institution’s history: the inauguration of a university president.
Orchestral music played as UTSA’s sixth president, Taylor Eighmy, made his way to the main stage accompanied by UT System Student Regent Jaciel Castro, Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5), Student Government Association President Marcus Thomas, poet Carmen Tafolla, UT System Chancellor William McRaven, his wife Peggy, and university administrators.
Eighmy has been on the job more than six months, and the planning process for his inauguration has been underway nearly as long. Since taking the reins, Eighmy has announced plans for an expanded downtown campus, discussed aspirations to become an elite research university, and called for UTSA to be the “university of the future.”
On Tuesday, speakers at the ceremony recognized Eighmy’s contributions in his short time in office and referred to him as the president who would “propel the next generation of leaders.”
Thomas, who represents UTSA’s student body of more than 30,000 students, compared Eighmy to Manu Ginobli, the popular sixth man for the Spurs.
Gonzales told the convocation center that Eighmy’s vision for the downtown campus would lead to a “Westside renaissance” in the district she represents.
McRaven described the pool of applicants for the UTSA president’s job as “extremely competitive,” but said that Eighmy stood out among his peers.
“Taylor Eighmy is everything UTSA needs,” McRaven said, describing Eighmy’s research background as key to elevating the university’s research pursuits.
After Tafolla, a former San Antonio and Texas poet laureate, read a poem she wrote specifically for the occasion, McRaven hung a presidential medallion around Eighmy’s neck and handed him the ceremonial UTSA mace that is typically carried in academic ceremonies. The two then bumped elbows and slapped hands in a seemingly choreographed handshake.
This informal gesture set the tone for the rest of Eighmy’s speech, which featured him showing off photos of his three dogs in ceremonial academic caps, telling the professor who normally carries the mace to audition for Game of Thrones, and dedicating his address to the students.
“Dream no small dream,” Eighmy told the students. “I want you to have this magical moment in your life when you find this ‘aha!,’ this ‘aha! of what you want to do.”
Eighmy told of his own “aha!” moment his second undergraduate year at Tufts University when he changed his major and “became enamored” of his studies of snails. This, he said, encouraged him to pursue a future in academics.
“Every one of our students should have their dream germinated, the genesis of their dream sparked here,” he said.
Eighmy came to UTSA from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, where he was the university’s chief research officer. He had prior experience Texas, serving as the chief research officer at Texas Tech University, and before that, at the University of New Hampshire.
In addition to his bachelor’s degree from Tufts, Eighmy holds a master’s in civil engineering and a doctorate in environmental engineering from the University of New Hampshire.
More change will arrive at UTSA once a new chief academic officer is selected from a pool of five candidates, whose names were announced Monday. One of the five likely will replace Mauli Agrawal, the outgoing interim provost and vice president for academic affairs who is leaving UTSA to become chancellor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City in June.
Agrawal said he will remain at UTSA through the end of the spring semester. Candidates come from Utah State University, University of New Mexico, University of Iowa, and the University of Arizona. The fifth candidate has yet to be announced.
The finalists will visit UTSA’s campus in the next three weeks for the interview process. UTSA officials said a new provost will likely be appointed as early as June.