University President Dr. William Behre emphasized the importance of making education accessible and promoting campus culture during his inauguration speech on Friday.
“We must be constantly asking ourselves if we are doing enough to serve all of our students,” Behre said. “Education is instrumental at providing the opportunity that some might not otherwise have.”
Throughout much of his address, Behre compared SRU to steel and the process by which it is made. He was adamant that complacency could be attained during his early time as president in searching for “stresses and flaws” at the university.
“We live in steel country,” Behre said. “Steel is an alloy made mostly of iron and carbon. Take iron, add less than two percent carbon, and you get a metal that’s hard and strong. Steel is one of the most widely used metals in the world. Its elasticity and ductility make it an amazingly versatile metal. It can be used to suit many needs. That is its real strength: it can be used to suit many needs.”
In Behre’s eyes, the more versatile the university is in terms of what it can offer students, the more promising their future is. He compared choosing those new initiatives to crafting an alloy for student success.
“What is it that makes us strong, durable and versatile enough to suit many needs?” Behre said. “What is necessary to make our steel even stronger? Our future will rest on the elements we choose to add to our alloy.”
Behre’s inaugural address also focused on how Slippery Rock can create a culture that is accepting of all students while continuing to offer a quality education. This idea of “right-sizing” the university was also brought up in Behre’s state of the university address in September.
A step towards that goal for the current administration is promoting diversity on campus. Behre announced an increase in diversity scholarships in the amount of an additional $200,000 a year over the next four years. A total of $1.2 million has now been deployed by the university in hopes of facilitating a more diverse student body. This is also in response to SRU’s graduation rate for minority students, which currently sits at 43 percent.
“In the coming year, we will focus on refining our financial aid strategy in order to attract and sustain more students with financial need, as well as more ethnically diverse students,” Behre said.
Representatives from the other 13 Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education institutions came to witness the inaugural ceremony. They were joined by two former university presidents (William Smith and Cheryl Norton), Student Government Association President Dallas Kline, SRU’s Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties President Dr. Ben Shaevitz and several other members of university administration.
Dr. Joseph Marbach is the president of Georgian Court University, the institution where Behre served as chief academic officer since 2014, and formally introduced Behre prior to his address. Marbach joked about his friend and former colleague, ultimately concluding that Behre was the right choice for the job and that he would serve the Slippery Rock community well during his tenure as president.
“Bill’s commitment to forward the same educational opportunity that he was afforded as a young man was important to him,” Marbach said. “That is to ensure that first-generation students, and those students who face adversity in their daily lives are provided with the best education possible. This is not just rhetoric for Bill. He not only talks the talk, but walks the walk.”
Marbach thanked Behre for his time at Georgian Court and assured those in attendance that Slippery Rock had inherited someone who had walked in their shoes.
Behre, who was overcome with emotion early on in his speech, acknowledged frequently how thankful he was for the opportunity to hold office at SRU.
“I knew that today was going to be special, but this is really cool,” Behre said. “It truly is an honor and a privilege to be here. To the other presidents, I don’t want to insult you, but I have the best job in the world.”