Christopher Capuano inaugurated as FDU’s 8th president

By Angelo Carfagna and Kenna Caprio

Christopher Capuano, the eighth president of Fairleigh Dickinson University, delivers his inaugural address. (Photos by Michael Paras)

September 27, 2017 — Fairleigh Dickinson University opened for classes on September 16, 1942. Seventy-five years and eleven days later, the University community gathered at the Florham Campus to officially inaugurate its 8th president, Christopher Capuano.

The ceremony took place under a tent on the Library Lawn, before a crowd of more than 500 people, including former FDU presidents Sheldon Drucker and Francis Mertz, higher education dignitaries and other college presidents.

Patrick Zenner, chair of the Board of Trustees, and Christopher Capuano. In the background is Board Vice Chair Anthony Vespa.

Board Chair Patrick Zenner formally invested Capuano as president, praising him for his “keen intellect, his incredible work ethic, his unrelenting drive and, most of all, his tremendous passion for this University and for our students.”

Acknowledging Capuano’s work in his first year as president, he said, “With this installation today, we officially recognize and commemorate your leadership. We charge you with the responsibility of guiding the institution and confer upon you the authority necessary for the task.”

The presidential medallion

Zenner bestowed upon Capuano the presidential medallion. “We expect much from you,” he told the president. “In return, we pledge our complete cooperation and support.”

The inaugural address

In his keynote address, “Celebrating Our Past, Building Our Future”, Capuano said he was “deeply humbled and honored” by the community’s “faith and confidence in me. I promise to do all that I can to meet your expectations and to support you in your efforts.” But, he stressed, leadership is just one element of success — and — that FDU has always advanced best through the efforts of a community united together. “It is our collective will and effort that will carry the day. The true measure of our success will be what we do together.”

Christopher Capuano and his wife, Sue

Capuano talked about his father — who was there in the audience for the inauguration — an Italian immigrant who came to the United States with nearly nothing. His father worked hard, ultimately earning a college degree and enjoying an accomplished career. Capuano says what he most learned from his family is, “The best things in life are not the things that are given to you, but rather those things that you work hard for and earn.”

Discussing the grand tradition of the University, Capuano praised those who built the foundation and instilled core values that have propelled the University to great heights. “These values include an unwavering commitment to developing world citizens, to innovation and adaptation, to access and opportunity for diverse populations, and to rapid responsiveness to real-world concerns and society’s changing needs.”

Moving to the present, he said, “What we are doing today is going to make possible an even better and brighter future.” But, he cautioned, “There are winds of change blowing all around us.” Among the challenges he mentioned were an increasingly crowded marketplace, a declining number of high school graduates, higher costs and climbing student debt, lower graduation and job placement rates and too few students from underrepresented populations going to college.

Citing the track record of innovative programs at FDU and the recent success of major initiatives like the Vancouver Campus and the School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Capuano said the current strategic plan provides a roadmap that will establish more centers of excellence and further elevate the University’s reputation.

Among the exciting developments underway or about to happen, he said, are the strengthening of the University’s programs in health sciences and business, the expansion of the International School of Hospitality and Tourism Management to Canada and England, the new School of Public and Global Affairs and the forthcoming School of the Arts. In addition, he said, the University is finalizing an agreement with a major hotel company to construct new facilities, including a hotel, on the Metropolitan Campus.

He also announced that the University’s most ambitious capital campaign in history, currently in the quiet phase, is off to a great start with commitments totaling more than $30 million.

But, he emphasized, “We cannot rest on our laurels. Change will continue to come. We must stay true to our values, adapt when necessary and always do what’s in the best interests of our students … We will honor our past, while building a brighter future.”

One leader to another

Vincent Forlenza, chairman and chief executive officer of BD

Vincent Forlenza, chairman and chief executive officer of BD, attended the event as an honored guest and delivered congratulatory remarks for the occasion.

“Grounded in the traditions and guiding principles of the University’s past, energized by its strengths and accomplishments, [Chris Capuano] knows, too, that what differentiates FDU from other institutions of higher learning are its people — faculty, staff, alumni, students, parents and friends — who will come together like never before to write the next great chapter of this incredible University.”

He praised the long history of cooperation, collaboration and partnership between the medical technology company and the University — both of which would not exist without namesake Colonel Fairleigh S. Dickinson. Together with his business partner, Maxwell Becton, Dickinson founded BD in 1897. Decades later, he matched the seed money needed to found FDU.

“I want to emphasize how proud we are at BD to have been here from the beginning — 75 years ago — and to partner in the University’s mission and growth. Since the days of Colonel Dickinson and Maxwell Becton’s involvement, BD has built on its tradition of investing in FDU and its students,” Forlenza said.

Throughout the years, BD has invested in Henry P. Becton School of Nursing and Allied Health, and specifically the Doctor of Nursing Practice program, and the School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. The company continually funds scholarships for nursing students.

Forlenza also offered tips from one president to another: don’t insist on being called Mr. President, surround yourself with the smartest and best leaders, and always do the right thing — even if it’s not the most expedient, cost effective or popular choice.

He concluded: “FDU and BD are united by our common ideals and aspirations, and we at BD are excited about the future of the University.”

The trusted adviser

Gillian Small, University provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, and Christopher Capuano

By Capuano’s side, helping set the academic tone for that very future, is Gillian Small, University provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. She lauded Capuano’s efforts over the last year — most related to initiatives outlined in the strategic plan — and previous contributions during his well-established career with FDU.

“With his bold ideas, Chris has helped set this trajectory and, now as president, he will continue to lead and support this ambitious agenda,” she said.

“There are various qualities needed to be a great university president — in addition to having sound ideas and being able to carry them through, you need to be able to listen to others — be flexible and think outside the box, be forward thinking, collaborative and, perhaps most important, have a good sense of humor. In the brief time I have been at the University, I have witnessed many of these qualities already in Chris.”

The student perspective

Akshay Patel, Metropolitan Campus Student Government Association president; Christopher Capuano; Nuttanit Boonprasert, Vancouver Campus Student Government Association president; and Greih Wilson-McClain, BA’17, who sang the national anthem

The three Student Government Association presidents, who represent student populations at the Metropolitan, Florham and Vancouver campuses, were members of the platform party.

In his remarks, Akshay Patel noted that he and his counterparts, Sean Mehr and Nuttanit Boonprasert look forward to engaging with Capuano on behalf of the entire student body.

“The strategic plan focuses most directly on our students. It emphasizes student-centered learning and campus unity. As a representative of all students of the University, I encourage all of us to become active learners and form a solidified, unified student body,” said Patel.

Following the ceremony, the student presidents presented Capuano with a proclamation.

The decree reads, in part, “We salute President Capuano and congratulate him on earning this prestigious appointment ... With cooperation and solidarity for the vision he aspires toward, we the student body pledge to support President Capuano’s efforts, to continue to advocate for the interests of the academic community and the growth of student life and to help build a new era of excellence at Fairleigh Dickinson University.”                                                                                                     

The FDU community

David Rosen, professor of anthropology and president of the FDU Faculty Senate

Faculty, staff and alumni representatives also officially welcomed, praised and congratulated the 8th president of FDU during the inaugural ceremony.

“President Capuano’s long and successful history of academic leadership at FDU places him in a unique position to exercise leadership and stewardship in both responding to the challenges and opportunities facing Fairleigh Dickinson University, while guarding the core values of our University,” said David Rosen, professor of anthropology and president of the FDU Faculty Senate. “We are confident that he has the skills and dedication to lead us as we work together to realize this vision.

Sarah Azavedo, director of student life and president of the Professional Administrative Senate, said: “Although the road ahead may present a few detours and challenges along the way, know that you have a highly skilled and dedicated professional staff eager to work toward the betterment of FDU as we prepare and support the next generation of scholars.”

“What gives us alumni great confidence is that your shoes have walked many, many miles at FDU, and you are ready to lead this University into its next chapter as higher education continues to evolve rapidly,” said Stephen Bozer, MBA’06, president of the Alumni Association Board of Governors.

Christopher Capuano and student volunteers

Reflecting on the day, Capuano expressed his deep gratitude for all involved in the ceremony and planning, the well-wishes from the community and the pledges to work together to better FDU. “My heart is full of pride today, and I’m so very excited for what our collective future holds. We’ve celebrated the past and future today, and here in the present, we’re transforming this University into the best it can be. I can’t wait for what comes next for our students.”