Reflections on the Inauguration of Andrew Hamilton as NYU's 16th President

Sunday, September 25, 2016

When I heard the news that the University of Oxford’s Vice-Chancellor, Andrew Hamilton, would be NYU’s next president, my first thought was, “Terrific choice!”  My second thought, reflecting on NYU’s increasing excellence and prominence under John Sexton’s leadership, was, “I sure hope he has a pair of really big shoes!”  And, only to briefly summarize my third through 150th thoughts:  “NYU’s future is bright.”

It is a great honor and delight to join you in the celebration of Andrew Hamilton’s inauguration as NYU’s 16th president.  Congratulations to President Hamilton (my friend, Andy) and congratulations to all of you at NYU.

I’ve known your new president for more years than I should admit.  And, I have to confess, I feel some measure of responsibility, having lured him into academic leadership when I was Provost at Yale.  I remember well those conversations!

I recruited Andy as Deputy Provost because he is a great problem solver.  As chair of the Department of Chemistry he had successfully navigated a set of challenges that had stymied many others.

Part of what made his navigational skills so exceptional, was that he made finding solutions – even to the very most difficult challenges -- lots of fun.  As you’ve no doubt already experienced, Andy has a great sense of humor.  While he’s very American in many ways, he just can’t get away from his wry British sense of the sublime.  (You have to wonder:  is that nature or nurture – the perpetual British drizzle, the fish and chips? Perhaps it just comes with the accent?)  In any case, Andy’s wit makes it sometimes hard to figure out who’s the brunt of the joke – is it me?  Is it he?  Happily, it’s usually both, and everyone gets a very good laugh.  And most importantly, the job gets done.

He moved from Yale to Oxford and now to NYU:  In retrospect, he has been in training for the NYU presidency for his whole career.

He started small:  Yale has about 12K students, Oxford has close to 24K, and NYU’s students exceed 50K!  (For the mathematically inclined, you’ll have noticed a doubling function, which tracks his ability to ramp up his capacity.)

He has studied, first-hand university history:  Oxford began sometime around 1200; Yale in 1701; and, the newcomer, NYU was established in 1831.

President Hamilton has experienced the academic ethos in its many different manifestations: from Princeton to Pittsburgh, from Cambridge to British Columbia, from New Haven to New York.  While having much in common, each university has its own character, its own culture, and its own constituents.  Andy’s mental notebook contains an array of perspectives from which to understand the workings of a university.          

In short, he is very well prepared for his next chapter.

Inaugural occasions often call out the “unusual” features of a president’s appointment.  President Hamilton arrives as:

            NYU’s very first scientist-president;
            NYU’s first president raised outside the United States;
            And, I’m told, as NYU’s first president to be top scorer in his over-40s soccer league.

Now, a new president’s “first-evers” are often portrayed as departures from the past.  But, more often than not, they speak to the university’s ambitions and reflect directions already in development.

President Hamilton’s “first-evers” pick up the NYU Torch from John Sexton and his predecessors and highlight some important themes for this university:

NYU’s first scientist-president

NYU has expanded and improved science and recently returned the Tandon School of Engineering to its academic portfolio.  These changes reflect the critical role of science and engineering education and research for the 21st century.  The solutions to this century’s daunting challenges call for partnerships:  bringing the tools of the biological, physical and engineering sciences together will accelerate discovery and the practical applications necessary to meet the needs of the 9.5 billion people who will inhabit this planet by 2050.  And, NYU is perfectly positioned to bring them together with the humanistic and social sciences to develop perspectives and policies that will guide the implementation of new technologies.  As a scientist, Andy Hamilton embodies this theme.

NYU’s first president raised outside the United States 

At their founding, the early American colleges and universities aimed to educate the local populous – so it is was for NYU, as I understand your history, founded with the inspiring mission to establish, and I quote,  “a system of rational and practical education fitting for all and graciously open to all.”  Inspiring!

American colleges and universities have grown up into national and international centers that now attract the very best scholars and students from around the globe.  Like the first universities of the late 12th century Europe, NYU now is a powerful global talent magnet, attracting scholars from afar to think together.

NYU’s bold and brilliant move to create a multi-campus footprint has reimagined the global university.   Many of the most pressing problems of this century are taking form beyond this city and beyond this nation, and people with direct experience of them must participate in designing the solutions to those problems.  NYU’s global campus map provides the platform for these essential collaborations.

President Hamilton, an international citizen, is ideally prepared to foster NYU’s global theme, which is setting a new standard for international engagement and for global opportunities for study and research.

NYU’s first president as a high-scoring over-40 soccer player

I’ll leave that one for you to attach significance.


The University first emerged in the 12th century as a convening place that created conditions for students and scholars to extend humankind’s reach beyond the present.  Their magic has come from making “out of the many, one.” 

Of course, we are never entirely one in practice, except, perhaps on a day like today, with this sea of brilliant violet robes.

But a university is one in its over-arching purpose – to educate and invent for a future that we cannot fully imagine.  

Andrew Hamilton’s presidency will bring the individual brilliance of NYU’s many geographies and schools, labs and centers, departments and majors, to effectively deliver on that inspirational mission.