John W. Nicklow on Wednesday was formally installed as the University of New Orleans’ seventh leader before a crowd of roughly 500, including leaders in academia, business and politics.
Selected as UNO president in March by the University of Louisiana Board of Supervisors, Nicklow has been serving in the role nearly eight months. But, in the tradition of academia, the investiture ceremony held on the lawn facing the stately columns of the University’s Earl K. Long Library, marked the official start of a new chapter in UNO’s 58-year history.
Dan Reneau, interim president of the University of Louisiana System, placed around Nicklow’s neck the so-called “presidential chain of office,” a medallion bearing the names of all of UNO’s seven leaders.
“Inherent in this chain is the indelible connection you have to each your predecessors and to the storied history of this institution,” Reneau said as two former UNO leaders sat in the audience. “This chain and the office it represents also embody the ultimate responsibility for safeguarding and protecting the future of this University, for educating its students, for inspiring its faculty, for leading its staff, for encouraging research that will create new opportunities, and for reaching the local community and beyond.”
Nicklow came to UNO in 2015 from Southern Illinois University, where he was provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. He served as the UNO’s provost and vice president of academic affairs until being selected to succeed Peter J. Fos, who retired in January. Nicklow holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from Bucknell University and a doctorate from Arizona State University.
Cherie Trumbach, faculty senate president and professor in the College of Business Administration, said that when Nicklow arrived in New Orleans, he quickly built a reputation as an optimistic person of action and calm who valued faculty input, transparency and hard work, never shying from tackling the hard issues UNO was facing. When Nicklow was in the running for president, Trumbach said, she gladly shared with the University of Louisiana System board the reasons for the overwhelming faculty support Nicklow received.
“We have been through a lot as a University,” Trumbach said Wednesday, “and there are challenging times ahead. But, today, I do feel we have turned a corner and, with Dr. Nicklow at the helm, I do feel we have achieved stability.”
LeeAnne Sipe, president of UNO’s staff council and interim director of student involvement and leadership, also described Nicklow as a leader of character who has displayed a deep commitment to students and employees. He is visible, approachable, hard-working and thoughtful, she said. Students and employees see him everywhere. Sipe said that when Nicklow says people are the University’s greatest asset, it is more than lip-service: “He is the boots on the ground, just like we are.”
“It’s often been said,” Sipe continued, “that Dr. John Nicklow is an impatient man. He’s always ready for action. But I can tell you I am an impatient woman as well. I work with an impatient faculty, staff and students who are ready to take this institution to the next level and I look forward to making those things happen together.”
Antonio Torres, student government president, also described Nicklow as a champion for students: “Thank you for not leaving at 4:30 when there’s still work to be done, for keeping a high visibility at almost all student events and your endless efforts to make UNO all it can be.”
When Nicklow stepped to the lectern, he broke briefly from tradition, turned his back on those gathered and raised his iPhone to take a selfie with the crowd—one he later posted on his personal Instagram and Twitter accounts.
He thanked his family—especially his parents, wife, Stacy, and son, Ethan—but quickly turned to business, recapping the ways in which UNO influences the New Orleans and the region. He detailed economic data that showed UNO made a $470 million impact on metro New Orleans in 2014-15 alone. He reminded those gathered that UNO offers the only civil, electrical and mechanical engineering programs in metro New Orleans, the only naval architecture and marine engineering program in the region, the only master’s degree in urban planning in the state and the only School of the Arts in the region.
Nicklow again stated his priorities for the University: to increase enrollment, expand research and strengthen partnerships with business, community and alumni.
He announced a new $1 million student scholarship campaign and thanked those involved in the week’s “Making History” activities, which have raised more than $300,000 for student scholarships and efforts to support student success and degree completion.
“I believe that the mark a person makes on the world is not a material one,” Nicklow said. “Those who succeed, in the truest sense of the word, are those who make a mark on others.”
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu told those gathered that Nicklow is “a man who has met his moment” and he pledged his allegiance and cooperation to support UNO in its endeavors toward greatness.
“There is no more important institution in the city of New Orleans than the University of New Orleans,” Landrieu said. “There is no way a city can be great without a great university.”
The investiture ceremony was part of “Making History: A Celebration of University of New Orleans Leadership,” a weeklong series of activities honoring the University’s leaders, past and present. The celebration continues Thursday with a gala at the National WWII Museum honoring UNO’s distinguished alumni, Nicklow and the 2016 Homer L. Hitt Distinguished Alumnus Mark Romig (B.S., ’78), president and CEO of the New Orleans Marketing Tourism Corporation.