by Kelly Brooks
On Feb. 26, Xavier University and the entire New Orleans community officially welcomed the nation’s only historically Black and Catholic university’s new president, Dr. C. Reynold Verret during a formal investiture ceremony at the university
In addition to President Emeritus Dr. Norman C. Francis, who served as XU’s leader for nearly five decades; chair of Xavier’s Board of Trustees Michael Rue; Archbishop Gregory Aymand; Mayor Mitch Landrieu; president of Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament Sister Donna Breslin, along with Xavier students, faculty and staff took part in the ceremony.
Haiti’s ambassador to the United States Paul Altidor also celebrated Verret’s appointment at the ceremony.
Reflecting on the historical connections between New Orleans and Haiti, Altidor said “it’s truly an honor to be here today to congratulate you on this historic occasion…Here we are today in 2016, February, month of Black History, to celebrate yet another momentous achievements of one of Haiti’s own. It’s stories like yours that not only make me proud as a Haitian, but as an ambassador.”
Dr. Verret was unanimously elected the sixth president of Xavier University by the Board of Trustees last spring and began on July 1, 2015. He joined Xavier from Savannah State University where he served as provost and chief academic officer. He met with The New Orleans Tribune weeks before the official ceremony to talk about his and Xavier’s future specifically and the future of historically Black colleges and universities, in general.
At that time, Verret talked about re-imagining Xavier University’s founder St. Katharine Drexel’s vision for today’s students and needs as he embarks upon leading it into the next century. He echoed those sentiments in during his investiture speech as well.
“Since its founding, Xavier has responded to the needs of the times,” he said. “Throughout its history, this university has welcomed change. It opened as a secondary school to provide basic education. To address the shortage of qualified teachers, the primary challenge of the day, a normal school was soon added. The College of Arts and Sciences was then established to expand opportunity and give outlet to the talent that was receiving education. At each of these critical junctures, Xavier leadership, then the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, could have chosen to just be satisfied with previous accomplishments. Instead, they heeded the signs of the times and listened to students and their parents yearning for more options to pursue ever broader horizons…The times speak to us today as they have before. As I pledge myself as a member of the Xavier community, we all stand here on a summit together. What are the signs that we must heed?”
He continued, “We are called to reflect on Xavier as it is now and to contemplate the Xavier we will become. We have been principally an institution for traditional undergraduates. Xavier will continue to serve this role, but Xavier will expand boundaries and explore what new educational programs can best serve the needs of this day and tomorrow. We look at the evolving economy to know how Xavier can best prepare the agents of that economy. Whether we expand graduate offerings in specific fields, provide programs to mid-career professionals or reach adults seeking to complete their bachelor’s degrees and develop key proficiencies, we must respond to the signs of the times.”
Born in Haiti, Dr. Verret and his family fled to the United States in 1963 to seek refuge from the atrocities of President François Duvalier, settling in Brooklyn, New York. He earned an undergraduate degree in biochemistry from Columbia University and a PhD. in biochemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Xavier’s Board of Trustees selected Dr. Verret, citing his proven leadership in higher education proven leader, expertise in STEM education, as well as his support of liberal arts and the humanities. Verret has served in teaching, research and senior administrative roles at several universities, including Tulane University, Wilkes University, the University of the Sciences, Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse School of Medicine. He has also served on many professional organizations and advisory bodies, including those of the National Institutes of Health, the Board of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, and the Georgia Coastal Indicators Coalition.