Emerson students, faculty, and staff got an introduction to Emerson’s next president, Dr. Jay Bernhardt, when the health communication scholar and University of Texas dean spoke about his excitement to lead an “extraordinary place with fascinating people” at the Cutler Majestic Theater on January 25.
Bernhardt, Dean of the Moody College of Communication at the University of Texas at Austin, was announced as Emerson’s 13th president on January 12. He begins his new role on June 1.
Following high praise and introductions from Interim President Bill Gilligan, Board of Trustees Chair and Presidential Search Committee Chair Eric Alexander ’78, and Journalism major Irka Gonzalez Perez ’23, student representative on the search committee, Bernhardt spoke to the crowd at the Cutler Majestic about his educational philosophy, his family, and his pledge to listen, learn, and advance Emerson’s values in the coming years.
Here’s what we learned:
Thirteen might be his lucky number:
When he learned he was going to be president #13, Bernhardt said, he was a little wary.
“Some … consider the number 13 unlucky and I began to ponder that issue, but before I could get too freaked out about it, … both of my daughters reminded me that the number 13 is quite auspicious for them. My 23-year old daughter, Lila, reminded me that 13 is actually her favorite number. And my 15-year old daughter, Olivia, reminded me 13 is the number she wears on her volleyball jersey. They both let me know that, apparently, it’s quite a meaningful number for Taylor Swift as well, … and she often references it in her music. Not to mention that there are actually many cultures around the world that consider 13 to be a lucky number.”
He may be new to Emerson, but he’s here because he’s one of us:
“I share your priorities, and I share your values, and I strongly believe in my head and in my heart that the fields of communication and the arts, coupled with a solid foundation in the liberal arts, are more essential than ever for our society.
“Even though we have more and more ways to connect with each other, we live in a world that’s increasingly disconnected. We must leverage the power and the potential of communication and the arts to reach people, to bring people together, and to do so for the betterment of society. I’m excited to lead an institution that’s overflowing with artists and communicators, creators and makers, and especially doers focused on the most vibrant and impactful academic disciplines of our times.”
Emerson has been “on his radar” for a long time, through colleagues and friends Scott Ratzen, MA ’86, a global communication leader, and the late Tim Edgar, an associate professor of health communication.
“I learned from these leaders and scholars that at its best, Emerson supports innovation, rewards imagination, and is a place where bold ideas should be celebrated and tested. I certainly hope that my leadership will honor their legacy and Tim’s memory in a manner that would make them proud.”
His grandfather, an immigrant and shopkeeper in New Jersey, was foundational to his educational values:
“He literally worked all day, every day, 365 days a year, well in to his 80s. No excuses or distractions, he was committed to building a better life for his family and his hard work would help me make that happen. And although he didn’t get to experience it himself, like most immigrants, my grandfather was a big believer in the power of education to change lives. He told us countless times that getting an education was the most important thing that I could do, that my brother could do, that my cousins could do to lead happy and successful lives. So I share this memory today because the lessons and commitments that I’ve learned through a lifetime of experiences, personal and professional, are what I bring with me to Emerson.”
He shares the College’s priorities:
“As president of Emerson, I will be an outspoken advocate for our students, faculty, staff, and alumni, and the values that Emerson proudly stands for. I will work with you to expand our reach and impact, along with the recognition and power of our brand, in Boston, Los Angeles, the Netherlands, and throughout the world. And I will honor and advance our commitments to diversity, equity, inclusivity, accessibility, and social justice, which includes our commitments to supporting communities right here in Boston.”
He’s all ears:
“I will speak with Emerson students to learn about their experience and how we can better meet their needs. I’ll listen to faculty about their teaching and scholarship and what they need to thrive now and in the future. I’ll talk with staff about their dedication to the College and explore how we can create and explore opportunities for them to have long and fulfilling careers here. And I’ll engage with our alumni, families, and friends to see how we can deepen their involvement and their participation.”
A plan is coming:
“I’ll also support and be involved in with the work underway on the Future of Emerson, and I am grateful to everyone across campus who’s involved in that process. Findings from that effort will help inform our strategic plan, which we’ll start working on during my first year as president. At this point, it will be a top priority for me, and we will build it in collaboration with you – your ideas, goals, and aspirations will give it life, and I’m excited to get the process started in the fall.”
He can (kind of) relate to alum Jennifer Coolidge ’85, who recently won a Golden Globe for her acting on The White Lotus: “After her award, she gave an incredible speech. She was hilarious, and vulnerable, and most of all, authentic. In thanking her director that night, she said to him, quote, ‘You’ve given me a new beginning.’ She said a lot of other things as well, most of which I can’t repeat here, but the new beginning she spoke of is exactly how I feel about joining the Emerson community. I could not be more honored or proud of the opportunity to lead this incredible institution.”