One of the College’s arguably more confusing traditions manifests itself in a position known as “Chancellor.” At the university level, this usually indicates a high office in the administration for its possessor. For the Tribe, it means quite a different thing. Either way, we’ve seen many well-known individuals hold this job, including a former president, prime minister, secretary of state and chief justice of the United States Supreme Court.
With the naming of Justice O’Connor as our 23rd Chancellor last fall, many are still wondering what exactly this person does for the College. Sure it comes with courtesy billing on the programs for Charter Day and Commencement. There’s a badge of office too, which I more affectionately would like to refer to as the bling. The tricked-out robe (originally designed for Margaret Thatcher) may also be a perk, though Henry Kissinger was reportedly not so much a fan.
In addition to donning the gold encumbered mantel, our last Chancellor was met with protest at his installation. In fact, Henry Kissinger made only a handful of visits to campus before he announced his intention to step down from the post last summer. Despite his noticeable lack of presence on campus, Dr. Kissinger did advocate for the College and was recognized by President Nichol for his work in the international arena.
His predecessor, Margaret Thatcher, played quite a different role during her tenure as Chancellor. She hopped the pond about 7 times to visit campus before hanging up her robe as the College’s good will ambassador. Her most recent appearance was in the form of a “surprise” visit to Commencement exercises in 2003.
The contributions of past Chancellors are not necessarily easy to see. One of the most tangible would be the late Chief Justice Warren Burger’s personal and professional papers, a gift to the College by his son Wade following the Chief Justice’s death. While not given directly, the acquisition of such a rare collection was undoubtedly facilitated by the College’s connection to Burger.
No one can be sure exactly what kind and how big of a role Justice O’Connor will play on campus. Traditionally, the position of Chancellor is an honorary title given to individuals who represent the College’s mission well and will also make use of their notoriety to advocate for the College. What remains certain is that her installation marks another step in the progression of our goal to be “both great and public.” I personally take great pride in saying that she is the newest addition to our community in a year of new faces.
Paul Brockwell is a staff columnist for the DSJ. His views do not necessarily represent those of the entire staff.