By Thomas Regan
President Gregory Dell’Omo entered an Alumni Gym that was adorned with ferns and palms and splashed with cranberry-colored lights. Above the crowded room, the Jumbotron proclaimed “#WelcomeGreg.”
In the back of the Broncs’ Zoo, a modest collection of students stood in silent protest against what many believe the beginning of his tenure became synonymous with — program cuts. Later, protesters would briefly interrupt the proceedings with chants of “Students before profits.”
But any dissent put little dent in the smooth-running installation of Rider’s seventh president. Westminster voices sang, Dell’Omo’s six predecessors appeared in a tight video history and the new leader laid out his agenda.
“I am excited about the opportunity to renew Rider’s vision and mission, and establish a set of institutional priorities and goals that will build upon our strengths as we seek to serve students with distinction in an increasingly competitive higher education environment,” Dell’Omo said.
For the immediate future, Dell’Omo said the university will begin to slowly work on much-needed campus renovations.
“This summer, we will embark on an upgrade to the main entrance of this campus, and Moore Library will receive an exterior facelift,” he said. “The main mall will be repaved and new directional signage will be installed. We will take Gee Hall, one of our residence halls, offline next year to complete a variety of improvements and enhancements.
“On a larger scale, we are currently exploring land development projects at both the front and back of the Lawrenceville campus. The goal is to create a campus-town environment that will feature a combination of retail, dining and housing options, which can be enjoyed by not only the Rider community, but our neighbors and visitors to campus as well.”
As Dell’Omo wrapped up his speech, he reiterated the difficulties Rider will have to confront as it moves forward.
“Rider University, like many universities today, has challenges that it must face and overcome,” Dell’Omo said. “Declining numbers of traditional-age high school graduates, changing student demographics and the high cost of college are all factors affecting colleges and universities to one degree or another, including Rider. As we’ve done for 151 years, we will adapt, and we will move forward. Just like our university motto states, ‘In omnia paratus’ – ‘in all things, go prepared.’ And we are prepared, and committed, and are ready to move forward to face the future.”
Dell’Omo’s reassurance fell on a crowd that showed its support throughout the afternoon with claps and laughter. Those who were not on board — the protesters and some of the faculty — were not in attendance. The dozen members of the Rider Students Union were unable to hear the president’s speech, as they and their signs, some of which read, “I put Rider first, why can’t Rider put my education first?” and “Dell’OH NO,” exited before listening to the president’s promises.
When Dell’Omo walked up to the podium, with the presidential medallion ornamenting his neck, the student protestors chanted, “Students before profits,” receiving a few boos from the crowd as they exited the gym.
Dell’Omo had begun his tenure cutting or downgrading 14 programs and laying off 14 faculty members, most of them tenured. He rescinded the cuts when the faculty union and administration negotiated concessions, including a two-year wage freeze.
Kenny Dillon, the Rider Students Union president and a sophomore political science and arts administration major, suggested that the protest was meant as a demonstration to continue to lobby for more student voice in university decisions.
“It was more to make a statement that any change that will happen with the university should account for both the business side and the current student body,” he said.
According to Professor of history Thomas Callahan, the protest was the first student protest he can recall since students filled the hallway of former president Frank N. Elliot’s office to push the university to add a Wednesday reading day during exam week.
Despite the negative reaction to the protest from some in the crowd, Yun Xia, professor of communication, believes the protest was important in allowing every voice to be heard and potentially opening up a discussion to move the university forward.
“We want Rider to be successful regardless of our differences,” Xia said. “I hope the protesting is also part of the procedure to make Rider healthy and successful. We need different voices. I welcome different voices.
“For the inauguration ceremony, I think the president did a good job, trying to pull everything together, and I can see that he shares the common ground with the faculty, with the community. He wants Rider to be successful. The question is, how do we make it successful? We can discuss that. We can sit down and have a much more civil discussion, not necessarily demonstration. Everybody has to keep in mind that we share that common ground, ‘Make Rider successful.’”
Some students took to Twitter to express their eagerness for Dell’Omo’s tenure.
“It was great hearing President Dell’Omo speak today,” sophomore marketing and sports management double major Brandon Ferris said in a tweet. “He’s bringing great things to Rider #WelcomeGreg.”