Updated: Sep 15
By Leighah Beasuoleil Editor-in-Chief
Framingham State officially inaugurated Nancy Niemi as the eighth president of the University at the Dwight Performing Arts Center May 5.
Niemi began serving as president in July 2022 after the Board of Trustees selected her from among the three presidential search finalists in December 2021. Her selection was accepted by the Board of Higher Education on February 1, 2022.
Following her first academic year in office, Niemi and the Framingham State community came together to celebrate her inauguration.
Among the attendees were the Board of Trustees, Kristin Esterberg, chancellor of the University of Washington Bothell, Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll, Senate President Karen Spilka, representatives Kate Donoghue and David Linsky, Senator Jake Oliveira, as well as Framingham Mayor Charlie Sisitsky.
The greetings to the president portion of the ceremony included Board of Trustees Chair Kevin Foley, SGA Vice President Raffi Elkoury, Graduate Student Olivia Mangue Nnandongo, Director of Human Resources David Baldwin, and MSCA Framingham Chapter Vice President Mirari Elcoro.
Chancellor Esterberg served as the guest speaker for the inauguration.
“Today exemplifies the extraordinary impact that institutions like Framingham State University have on our communities, and the way in which good leadership helps institutions flourish,” Esterberg said.
She said this inauguration marks a new chapter in Framingham State’s history.
Esterberg added a new leader changes the trajectory of an institution, and when higher education leadership is effective, students are able to succeed.
According to Esterberg, this success includes the ability to become active and engaging members of a community who are not only informed, but have been taught to “think critically, thoughtfully, competently, and dare I say compassionately about the world around us and the hairy challenges we face.”
She said in the world today, an “almost but not quite” post-pandemic world that is facing issues of inequity and an “era of intense cultural division,” higher education leaders are faced with a new set of challenges.
However, Esterberg said she believes Niemi is “eminently suited to lead this extraordinary institution.”
Through a series of rhetorical questions, Esterberg demonstrated the many problems a University president must navigate through a “strategic vision.”
She said her confidence in Niemi’s ability comes from her knowledge of the president’s accomplishments and experiences.
She added these experiences align directly with the values and goals of the University, including her work at a range of higher education institutions - both public and private - as well as her work in equity and inclusion, such as when she led the Student Success Equity Intensive and the Black Path Teacher Initiative at University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
Esterberg said, “She understands deeply the importance and impact of education for individual lives.”
In closing, she asked the attendees to “please be her partners, her appreciative critics, and her supporters, for Framingham will be much, much stronger for your collective efforts.”
Following Esterberg’s remarks, Foley and Kristen Porter-Utley, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs, presented Niemi with the “Symbols of the Office of the President,” which include “The Mace” and “The Chain of Office.”
The Mace represents the authority of the University. This particular mace has been constructed from the wood of an 18th-century white oak tree that once stood near Dwight Hall, according to the inauguration pamphlet.
The Chain of Office is used to honor “the highest officials of educational institutions,” according to the pamphlet. Framingham State’s chain includes the engraved names of its former presidents.
Afterward, Lt. Gov. Driscoll spoke - reflecting on Framingham State’s history as the first public higher education institution for educating teachers.
Driscoll emphasized how Niemi personally connects to this history as a teacher of teachers herself.
“It's really a perfect time to build on this legacy and reimagine the role and impact of public higher education today,” she said.
Driscoll discussed the importance of higher education and its ability to provide students with the skills and tools necessary to succeed within both the realm of “economic mobility and civic empowerment.”
She added the value of public higher education is the fact that approximately 75% of students who attend a Massachusetts state school will remain in the commonwealth, meaning they will comprise a large portion of the workforce.
Driscoll said the state’s current budget proposal includes “historic” increases in higher education funding. This increase is 23% or $371 million more in funding than in the last fiscal year.
“The costs [of higher education] have risen, and our commitment to public higher ed needs to rise with it,” she added.
She said this funding will help support students who face income and equity barriers.
“We're thrilled to honor a leader who knows how to turn those resources into real opportunities for students who will be attending Framingham State,” Driscoll said.
To Niemi, Driscoll said, “You have the soul of an educator and the track record of a leader. You have the passion and the vision to lead this campus into the future.
“On behalf of Governor Healey, myself, and our entire administration, I want to thank you for your commitment to the students of Framingham State University and to the students of our commonwealth,” she said. “I wish you the very best as you formally launch your presidency.”
Following her remarks, Driscoll administered the oath of office to Niemi.
After Niemi took the oath, she presented her inaugural address.
“Let us celebrate this endeavor we call education,” Niemi said. “It is, I believe, the most powerful activity humans undertake.”
Niemi thanked her administrative assistant, Katie Hebert, the University’s executive staff, alumni, former FSU presidents, faculty, staff, and students.
To students, she said, “You are the reason we are here. We believe in you and your futures and without you, FSU is just a bunch of buildings.”
Additionally, Niemi thanked her family, including her parents, siblings, husband, and children, as well as her friends.
Niemi emphasized the importance of public higher education in the United States.
“Public higher education has been a raging success in helping create more educational equity in our country,” she said.
“The reason why public higher education has succeeded is because it made learning about the world, knowledge of the world, and questions concerning the world available to so many who have been previously denied this opportunity - largely because they were not considered wealthy enough, white enough, or smart enough,” Niemi added.
She discussed how commonly higher education, especially when it is public, is criticized and seen as unnecessary.
She said she believes the strength of this narrative is derived from the success of higher education.
“It has delivered on its promise to make the acquisition of knowledge, skills, and diverse perspectives a public good and having the skills, appreciating multiple and varied perspectives, formulating provocative questions, and gaining knowledge cannot return to the province of the privileged,” Niemi added.
Niemi said education gives people the power necessary to create an “equitable society” and shape lives.
“Everyone has the right to a free and equal basic education,” she said. “That belief has been extended in the last 75 years to higher education as well.”
Niemi discussed the history of the University as a public normal school, and how it was shaped by the social equity movements of the 60s and 70s that demanded equal access to higher education for women and people of color.
She then pointed to the shift in which employers began to see the value liberal arts education gave their employees. “The purpose of college pendulum began to swing and we began to juxtapose liberal arts thinking and job training.”
Niemi discussed the pushback that higher education suffered from people like former President Ronald Reagan, who, when serving as the governor of California, claimed, “If the public was willing to pay for people to go to college … the primary focus should be on creating a stronger capitalist economy.”
This led her back to her initial discussion of the increase in disdain for higher education. “Access to knowledge is denied precisely because it is so powerful, and it is this I fear.
“Curricula restrictions are under consideration,” she said. “Every time they succeed, they restrict access to knowledge for those who cannot or choose not to afford private higher education, and this is why we are here at Framingham State University.”
Niemi said this is because “democratic higher education cannot die.”
She said this is why those in higher education need to work hard, shape and prepare students, and be open to the perspectives of others. “We need faculty and staff from every perspective, every discipline, and every corner of the planet so that they in turn can nurture students.”
Niemi added the more diverse the institution is, the more “equal” its community will become.
“New England needs its public universities,” she stressed. “We are entrusted with the education of our communities. If the communities we are designed to serve lose trust in our ability to help them gain the knowledge and skills they need to thrive, then our communities will decide they no longer need us.
“We do not live in a community of isolated units,” Niemi said. “By working and serving with others. We nurture their faith in themselves and humanity, helping us to imagine and create a better future - a more equitable future - prioritizing the common good.”
She concluded, “I said it here on my very first day on the job, and I believe it now more than ever. Our future is extraordinary at Framingham State University. Let's go!”