February 16, 2013 11:19:07 PM
Carmen K. Sisson - [email protected]
For a college president who has embraced change since his arrival, Friday was a bit of a role reversal for Mississippi University for Women President Dr. Jim Borsig, who bowed to pomp and tradition this week for his inauguration as the 14th leader of the "long blue line."
Hundreds filled the seats at Rent Auditorium in Whitfield Hall to witness the festivities, which began with a solemn procession of black-gowned dignitaries drawn from the state Institutions of Higher Learning as well as The W's faculty and administration.
Borsig sheepishly grinned, fumbling with the newly-bestowed gold presidential medallion around his neck, as he approached the podium. It was a moment steeped in symbolism, from the eagle-emblazoned medallion to the blue velvet bars and gold cording on the sleeves of his gown.
"Please," he said as the audience clapped.
More than a year ago, Borsig stood before many of those same people, accepting the job as president of a university struggling to regain its morale after several years marked by turmoil.
Many have credited Borsig's steady hand with bringing stability back to a proud campus, and some made note Friday of his efforts.
"The past couple of years of change and transformation at MUW have been turbulent and uncertain," said Dr. Royal Toy, president of the faculty senate. "However, despite the difficulties that our community has experienced, we've been able to weather the storms that have raged around us. The selection of Dr. Borsig as president has provided a bolster to our sails and put the wind again at our backs."
That came as no surprise to Dr. Aubrey Lucas, president emeritus and interim president of the University of Southern Mississippi. When Borsig was a student at USM and Lucas was president, the two shared a friendship almost like that of colleagues.
Borsig focused on "real issues," Lucas said, finessing solutions where many believed there were none. From leading the student body to support a semester system they hated to coaxing dollars from faculty for student programs, Borsig showed early signs of being "presidential material."
"The work you are called to do now is the most important of your life, and it is important because you're privileged to be part of an organization that is literally changing the lives of those who are associated with it," Lucas said, addressing Borsig. "There will be times when you will feel very lonely in your decisions and you will not really be sure whether you're right or you're wrong. There will never be enough money and your colleagues and the students will not always appreciate your hard work every time. Those difficult moments will give way to happier ones when you remember the importance of your work and the transforming nature of higher education."
Few challenges are more difficult than that of walking the fine line between progress and tradition, conservation and change, Borsig said.
The key to The W's continued success lies in remaining true to the college's heritage as an institution that provides access and opportunity to all while also recognizing the needs of a changing world, he said.
The student body is growing older, with many choosing online courses over those in the classroom. Collaborations between MUW and community colleges are becoming increasingly important. Today's university is not the university of yesteryear.
But the more things change, the more things remain the same, even at a campus founded in 1884 as the nation's first publicly-chartered college for women.
"We are one long blue line," Borsig said. "Every graduate, and all those who love this university, stand in this long blue line. Certain characteristics like hometown, academic majors, ethnicity and gender and race may change, but one thing never changes: Our students come here drawn by our stellar academic reputation and they leave here empowered by their education and experiences to make their way in the world. And they join the long blue line."
In the upcoming year, Borsig said he plans to emphasize service and volunteerism, particularly in strengthening public schools.
"This university doesn't fear change and isn't afraid of our future," Borsig said. "This is the time to embrace daring possibilities. We celebrate the promise of each individual. We dare to doubt, dare to question and challenge, subscribing not to conformity but to the radical idea that all serious daring starts within us."
Part of that daring includes embracing The W's emerging role as a coeducational institution. Though "unapologetic" about the college's commitment to the education of women, the admission of male students shouldn't be seen as a conflict, Borsig said.
Instead, he believes, the joining of traditions serves to bind the university more strongly.
Leading the university will not be an easy task, cautioned Lucas as he exhorted the audience to support Borsig's future endeavors.
"I think it is up to us to nurture this good man so he will continue to be the kind of president The W needs and deserves," Lucas said. "Reinforce his effectiveness and the entire university benefits."
Borsig succeeds Claudia Limbert, who served as president from 2002 to 2010.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.