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Christopher Callahan inaugurated as Pacific’s 26th president

President Callahan speaks at his investiture

President Christopher Callahan speaks at his investiture ceremony on Oct. 20.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have delayed the timing of President Christopher Callahan’s inauguration, but it did not dash the spirit.

On the afternoon of October 20, 2021, First Lady Jean Callahan gave the presidential medallion to Board of Regents Chair Norman Allen, who placed it on Callahan as he officially became University of the Pacific’s 26th president.

Hundreds of students, faculty, staff, alumni, regents, donors, community members and guests watched under the canopy of majestic trees on the picturesque Knoles Lawn in the shadow of the iconic Burns Tower on the Stockton Campus.

It was a long-awaited moment for the president of California’s first university.

“To the entire community who make up this amazing university—our students, faculty, staff, alumni and community leaders across all three of our campuses—you have made Jean and me feel so welcome. University of the Pacific has truly felt like home since we first arrived,” Callahan said. “You all responded to the global pandemic with grace, empathy, creativity and fierce determination. I am more confident than ever in our future.”

That confidence was evident near the conclusion of his inaugural address, when Callahan reiterated his goal to make Pacific the nation’s best student-centric, comprehensive university in the nation within 10 years.

“I often hear that Pacific is a hidden gem. It is time to retire that phrase,” Callahan said. “We are ranked in the Top 100 in the country and the Top 20 in the western United States by the Wall Street Journal and Times Higher Ed. Our strengths lie with you, our people.”

View inauguration week photos, videos and more.

Callahan’s first official day as president was July 1, 2020. He recently said even a delayed investiture ceremony was important for Pacific because of its historic nature. Investitures have been rare at Pacific, which has had only nine presidents in the last century. 

“This is a momentous occasion and one for which we have waited more than a year to celebrate,” said Allen ’88, ’94. “I think you’ll all agree with me that it was worth the wait.”

Maria Pallavicini, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and interim president before Callahan’s arrival, recalled how he stepped in to help before his arrival on campus. 

“During May (2020) Chris willingly and eagerly stepped in to assist in what I call ‘all things COVID,’ which included considering enrollment, budget scenarios and the university’s health and safety. Chris provided his perspective and guidance as the university prepared for the upcoming year. I am immensely grateful to Chris for helping to manage the university during those early COVID times.”

Two students acknowledged the president’s focus on being an accessible and visible leader.

Randi Holguin ’21 was president of Associated Students of University of the Pacific (ASuop) at the height of the pandemic. “President Callahan and I were both pandemic presidents. I kind of like that title,” Holguin said. “The president and I would have virtual meetings, socially distanced lunches and walks around campus. He was always very intentional and purposeful about our meetings, which as a student leader was very valuable.”

Added Scout Cooper-Wilson ’22, current ASuop president, “President Callahan hit the ground running, making tough choices to keep our community safe. I am grateful for his dedication and passion for this university.”

Other speakers expounded on Callahan’s passion for Pacific.

LaNor Miller Smith ’86, ’87, President of the Pacific Alumni Association: “We stand ready as volunteers, donors, recruiters and friends to collaborate with you to advance this incredible university.”

Denise Fitzgerald, Chair of the Staff Advisory Council: “You have already included staff leadership in your decision-making and continue to recognize staff for its contributions to this great institution.”

Paul Subar, Chair of the Academic Council: “The faculty of our three campuses are excited about the future … We are ready to be part of the continuous growth and opportunities that lie ahead.”

Kevin Lincoln, Stockton Mayor: “Three of the largest 13 cities throughout California call themselves home to the University of Pacific. On behalf of Mayor (London) Breed from San Francisco, Mayor (Darrell) Steinberg from Sacramento and myself, welcome to the university and welcome to each and every one of our cities.”

The ceremony was attended by representatives from the University of Tennessee, University of Maryland, Arizona State University and Montclair State in New Jersey, where one of Callahan’s best friends, Jonathan Koppell, is now president. Both were deans at Arizona State University before becoming university presidents.

Koppell wrote on Twitter: “This tweet makes it official! Congratulations to my friend, co-conspirator and sensei Chris Callahan on his official investiture as @UOPacific President. Chris will always put students first while building a dynamic community of learners and do-ers.”

Celebratory week on three campuses

The investiture ceremony was part of inauguration week with events tailored to President Callahan’s top priorities. The Sacramento Campus held a luncheon to open the week, the San Francisco Campus had a closing event and, in-between, five symposia and other gatherings were held in Stockton.

The five symposia focused on students, student-athletes, faculty and diversity equity and inclusion:

The Master Teacher: Four professors from diverse disciplines shared their expertise on a number of topics, including building lifelong relationships with students. “You need to bring 150% of you into the classroom,” said Sacha Joseph-Matthews (Business). “You can’t expect them to give 150% if you are not going to do the same.” The other panelists were Derek Isetti (Speech-Language Pathology), Sharmila King (Economics) and Courtney Lehmann (English). Jeffrey Hole (English) moderated. 

The College Student Experience in the 2020s: Four students or recent alumni took the stage at the Lair in the DeRosa University Center to discuss the college experience for the current generation. On the panel were Christian Cardona ’19, ’21 (English and Business); Rene Jesse (RJ) Bagus ’21 (Music Industry Studies), Tierra Smithson ’22 (Political Science) and Samantha Reed ’22 (Sociology). Vice President for Student Life Maria Blandizzi moderated. “As a first-generation student, you sometimes feel as if you are going to college for someone else. Students are people, not robots,” Reed said.

Public Service through Experiential Education: Four professors who have excelled in providing their students with learning environments in the community discussed how those opportunities add deep layers to the educational experience. Sharing the dais were Veronica Bandy (Pharmacy), Melissa C. Brown (Law), Elisa M. Chavez (Dentistry) and Dari Sylvester Tran (Political Science). Vice President for University Development and Alumni Relations Scott Biedermann moderated.

Bandy gave a moving account about being a Latina whose parents had limited education, but she still attended Pacific, now teaches at the university and makes it her mission to create experiential opportunities for students.

Diversity and American Higher Education: Professor Qingwen Dong (Communications), Senior Assistant Dean Tracy L. Simmons (Law), Christian Cardona ’19, ’21 (English and Business) and Gavin Henderson ’21, a former Community Involvement Program scholar, delved into DEI topics. Mary Wardell-Ghirarduzzi, inaugural Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer, was the moderator. “There are three skill sets that are essential (for DEI work),” Dong said. “They are intercultural sensitivity, social emotional competence and active listening.”

The Future of Intercollegiate Athletics: Gloria Nevarez, the trailblazing commissioner of the West Coast Conference, was interviewed by student athletes Elijah Birdsong (baseball) and Jenae Packard (soccer). Nevarez is the first Latina to be commissioner of an NCAA Division 1 conference. “What makes athletics the front door for many universities is the affinity it builds,” Nevarez said. “Athletics are the touchpoint to so many aspects of university life.”