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  • Caltech President Thomas Rosenbaum receives Robert A. Millikan's hood at the presidential inauguration ceremony on October 24, 2014.
    Credit: Lance Hayashida/Caltech Office of Strategic Communications
10/31/2014 09:43:45

The Inauguration of President Rosenbaum: A Recap

On Friday, October 24, 2014, Thomas F. Rosenbaum was formally inaugurated as the ninth president of Caltech in a ceremony on Beckman Mall that brought together Caltech students, faculty, staff, and academic leadership along with local community members and leaders.

The highlight of the ceremony was President Rosenbaum's investiture followed by his inaugural address, in which he reflected on important moments in the history of Caltech. The Institute has always played a significant role in advancing knowledge and then applying those advances to the benefit of society, Rosenbaum said—a focus that is as important today as it was in the Institute's history.

To succeed in this pursuit, the president said that Caltech will need to continue its commitment to a combination of excellence, ambition, focus, intimacy and perspective—five elements that are "difficult to achieve, and perhaps even more challenging to maintain in changing times," he said, "but taken together they yield intellectual magic."

As part of the investiture, performed by Board of Trustees chair David L. Lee (PhD '74), Rosenbaum was presented with Robert A. Millikan's doctoral hood—a symbolic inauguration tradition at Caltech. "With Robert A. Millikan's hood on my shoulders, we as a community are simultaneously reminded of our past and our potential," the president remarked.

"Our personal histories inform powerfully the roads that we choose to tread," he said. "Institutional trajectories also arise from particular histories. This inauguration ceremony provides an occasion for us as a community to . . . connect to the values that animate this glorious Institute. It is a time to ensure that Caltech's fundamental identity comes from within and that it is never imposed from without. It is an opportunity for us to distill the hard-won experience of the past so that we may create a sense of magic and wholeness for the future."

Rosenbaum added that, although Caltech's legacy includes many scientific milestones, "Caltech's most formidable contribution has been . . . a novel approach to discovery," he said. "And it continues to provide a wealth of cultural capital." As the research funding landscape changes, Rosenbaum added, Caltech must retain its fearlessness to try new ideas, as there are "no shortcuts to reimagining our place in the universe."

The inauguration program, presided over by Board of Trustees chair Lee, began with a processional that included eight Nobel and Crafoord laureates; 11 Distinguished Alumni Award recipients and 18 members of the Alumni Association board of directors; 53 delegates from academic institutions; and three delegates from learned societies.

Lee opened the ceremony with a few words about why the inauguration of a new president is special to the legacy of Caltech. "Today is not only about the future," he said, "it is also a day of honoring and celebrating the Institute's history. And what better time to do that than as we open a new chapter in that history."

Greetings from the Institute to President Rosenbaum were offered by representatives of the Caltech community. Richard C. Flagan, chair of the faculty board and the Irma and Ross McCollum–William H. Corcoran Professor of Chemical Engineering and Environmental Science and Engineering, addressed the president as a representative of the faculty.

"As the equally new chair of the faculty, I have had limited opportunity to see you in action, but what I have seen speaks volumes," Flagan said. "I can report that our new president is a man of principles who also understands the importance of process—of making sure that all involved in an issue feel that they are being listened to—that their opinions are both being heard and considered."

Catherine Jamshidi, president of the Associated Students of the California Institute of Technology, offered a welcome on behalf of the undergraduate students at Caltech. "I am very glad to say that the experiences we have had and everything we have heard and seen so far convince us that we have the right person for Caltech in President Rosenbaum," Jamshidi said.

Representing the graduate students, Sunita Darbe, chair of the Graduate Student Council, described in her welcoming remarks her enthusiasm for the new president's commitment to supporting diversity at Caltech. "Diversity catalyzes the new ideas and creativity so central to scientific progress and excellence," she said. "Supporting and nurturing a diverse graduate student body is the key to our continued success. We look forward to working with you, Dr. Rosenbaum, to make Caltech the exemplar for diversity in science and engineering."

Samantha Foster (BS '98), president of the Caltech Alumni Association, addressed President Rosenbaum on behalf of the Institute's alumni. "Relative to other universities, our alumni count may seem small: around the globe there are just over 23,000 of us. But you will find Techers in almost every field—from science and engineering to radio broadcasting and film production. . . . And wherever you find us, you will find a warm welcome," Foster said.

Keynote speaker Don Michael Randel, chair of the board of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, president emeritus of the University of Chicago, and a distinguished musicologist, discussed the challenges that can arise from society's inclination to divide the arts and sciences. Rather than the relevance of science and the arts being defended separately in higher education, he said, they should both be seen for their importance to the human experience. "My own view is that there is only one culture," he said, "and the scientists and the humanists share this culture. And the sooner we all come to recognize this and act on it, the better the nation and the world will be," he said.

"Curiosity matters a lot, and who is to say where it might lead in ways that a curriculum bound by the past and restricted to a single culture will be very unlikely to lead," said Randel. He closed by encouraging current undergraduates to follow their curiosities beyond the curriculum. "After doing everything the faculty tell you to do, you should perhaps . . . let your mind and your spirit wander beyond familiar confines."

For more complete information about President Rosenbaum's inauguration, please visit:

Written by Jessica Stoller-Conrad