This past Friday, April 26 2013 marked the inauguration of Mason’s sixth president, Dr. Ángel Cabrera. The event was a ninety-minute celebration of both old and new, both tradition and innovation. Beginning with a staid traditional procession accompanied by an orchestra and choir, the ceremony ended with a rousing recessional by the Mason pep band, the Green Machine and their leader Dr. Michael “Doc Nix” Nickens. The program featured speeches by Virginia Secretary of Education, Laura Fornash; James T. “Til” Hazel accompanied by other Mason Founding Fathers; and AOL founder Steve Case. Dr. Cabrera, in full academic regalia, was invested by Rector of the Board of Visitors, Daniel Clemente. Vintage video footage and photographs of the university’s past were juxtaposed with modern videos promoting the Mason IDEA and a spoken word performance by Mason student Sha’air Hawkins. Dr Cabrera emerged later in a jacket and an open collared shirt with no tie to give his inaugural speech before leading the inaugural party from the stage to the Green Machine’s rendition of Battle Without Honor or Humanity.
We thought it would be appropriate to look back on previous CEOs at Mason and see how they assumed office.
George Mason’s first leader was John Norville Gibson Finley, for whom Finley Hall is named. At the time of his elevation to the Directorship of the University of Virginia’s branch college in Northern Virginia (July of 1957), he was currently serving as Director of another institution of higher learning, the Northern Virginia University Center, an extension center for the University of Virginia operating at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington. On July 20, 1957, University of Virginia President Colgate W. Darden, Jr. sent Finley a letter instructing him to take charge of the newly created two-year branch at Bailey’s Crossroads. The college was not called George Mason in 1957, rather it was called University College of the University of Virginia. It would later be named George Mason College of the University of Virginia in December 1959. We have no record of any actual “inauguration” for Director Finley, but it can be assumed that there were more pressing agenda items for the University to attend to as classes were set to begin on September 23.
Since the college was only a two-year branch of the university, Finley was not referred to as “President.” His title was “Director,” one that would be used at the college until it became a four-year institution in 1966. Though he was not given the fanfare of an inauguration Finley was, however, honored upon his retirement in December 1963 with a dinner. In 1972 the former North Building was renamed for him.
Robert Reid, who was Mason’s first Director at Fairfax, was hailed as Director as part of the new Fairfax Campus’ Dedication on November 12, 1964. The event was attended by U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Stuart Udall; Virginia Governor, Albertis S. Harrison, Jr.; and several hundred public figures, students, and local citizens. During the Dedication, the University of Virginia’s Chancellor of Community Colleges, Joseph L. Vaughan installed Dr. Reid as Director in a brief ceremony. Reid’s speech was about three minutes long and contained less than 300 words.
On March 1, 1966 George Mason College became a four-year degree-granting college, though still part of the University of Virginia. Its chief executive would now be called “Chancellor,” and on July 1, 1966 Dr. Lorin A. Thompson was asked by the university to serve as Chancellor of George Mason College for one year until a replacement for the departing Robert Reid could be found. Thompson was a well-respected member of the faculty in Charlottesville and Director of the university’s Bureau of Population and Economic Research there. Already sixty-four years old, he agreed to the one-year term. But finding him to be an effective leader for George Mason, the university continued, successfully, to ask him to remain for another year every year until 1972. Under Dr. Thompson’s tenure the college moved rapidly forward, increasing in student body by five-fold, acquiring over four-hundred-twenty additional acres of land, and becoming an independent institution on April 7, 1972. At the first-ever meeting of the Board of Visitors of the now-independent George Mason University on May 31, 1972 the Board unanimously appointed him Mason’s first President, and once again Thompson accepted on the condition that it would only be for one year. Dr. Thompson’s seven-year “temporary” assignment was not marked by an inaugural ceremony, though the then recently-completed Arts and Sciences Building was renamed for him in 1973.
Upon the retirement of Dr. Lorin Thompson, Dr. Vergil H. Dykstra took office as Mason’s second president. In a ten-minute ceremony on July 2, 1973 the former vice president at the State University of New York at Binghamton met with both Thompson and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Robert C. Krug in his new office in Finley Hall. There, Thompson and Krug presented Dykstra with the keys to the President’s office and a set of quill pens and inkwell that were described as replicas of the ones George Mason himself used. Eighteen Mason administrators were on hand to welcome Dr. Dykstra and say goodbye to Dr. Thompson. A university photographer captured the very brief ceremony.
End of Part One.
Please click here to read Part Two.