A listening leader for Syracuse University: Matt's Memo

Matt Mulcahy with Syracuse U. Chancellor Kent Syverud

He walked into the high tech conference room with a coffee cup in one hand and the other hand extended. Syracuse University's new Chancellor had spent his first official day on the job touring campus and listening to students. He admitted to one student that he felt like a deer in the headlights as he soaked in all the details of a wide reaching private university. Yet, Kent Syverud is being modest when he hints that this job might be overwhelming to him.

Chancellor Syverud is quiet and unassuming. He is thoughtful and sincere. These characteristics could lead one to think he is soft or a push over. It appears more likely they mask a highly functioning intellect and capability forged from a unique array of experiences. He has been the Dean of the Vanderbilt College of Law. He has been the Dean of Washington University in St. Louis. He is one of two trustees of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Trust in the gulf. He has held national leadership positions in legal academia and he clerked for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

In the timeline of Syracuse University leaders Syverud comes from a different mold than his most recent predecessors. He does not impress through a forceful personality that was contained in the diminutive frame of Chancellor Nancy Cantor. He does not present with the powerful handshake of the old boys network as did Chancellor Kenneth "Buzz" Shaw. He does not pronounce a desire to grow the university physical plant as did Chancellor Melvin Eggers.

Part of Syverud's experience at his previous post in St. Louis may ultimately be his hallmark on University Hill. He led an effort to expand online education programs. As we talked amidst the preset television lights in that fancy conference room this graduate of Georgetown University pointed to the rapidly changing face of higher education. He is determined to get ahead of the educational curve. Rising costs and ever advancing technology will cut into the traditional residential university setting in the near future.

I asked the Chancellor, who was in his sixth hour on the job, what building might one day be named for him. That's a perk of the job as retirement approaches. He said he does not like to talk about himself. He would not want a building he wants to know that he help provide the best educational experience possible for students at Syracuse University. He told me he posted a note on the computer on his desk that reminds him it is always about the students.

Before we wrapped up Kent Syverud reached again for that cup of coffee. I suggested he be careful to not drink too much. He smiled and said it was decaf. That comes as no surprise for a soft spoken, quick thinking leader.


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