URI dedicates Swan building to honor long-serving provost

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KINGSTON, R.I. –May 22, 2008—The dedication ceremony of the M. Beverly Swan Hall at the University of Rhode Island on May 14 captured the essence of the long-serving provost woman. It was dignified and hilarious.

Amid uproarious laughter and heartfelt applause, the University honored Swan by renaming Independence Hall in her honor.

Built in 1961, the 18-classroom building with multiple faculty offices, a language lab, a film screening room, and much more underwent a two-year, $9 million renovation, which was completed in 2006. The makeover included major structural improvements, technology upgrades, a new enclosed lobby and landscaping.

Earlier this year, Swan announced she was stepping down as URI’s provost and vice president for academic affairs after serving 17 years in that post. Upon stepping down as provost, Swan became the Justin Smith Morrill Distinguished University Professor. Her retirement becomes official in June.

Her nearly five-decade association with the University began as a student. When Independence Hall opened, she took many of her classes in the building. Later, as a member of the English Department faculty, she maintained her office and she taught most of her courses in writing and linguistics there. Before being named provost, Swan served as assistant vice president for academic affairs and vice provost for nine years. During her years at URI, she has also been an important donor to her alma mater, creating scholarships and supporting many others.

“There were only two times in the years that we worked together that the president has left me speechless. “When the president told me about the re-naming of Independence is one of them. I never, ever thought anything like this would happen–especially with a building with which I have so much history,” says Swan.

President Carothers served as emcee at the dedication, which was held in the building’s auditorium, crowded with members of Swan’s family, colleagues, staff members, students, and admiring friends.

Frank Caprio, chair of the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education, praised Swan for her compassion. He recalled receiving a note from Swan shortly after he completed a term on the board of governors and was not reappointed to his disappointment. It was the only note he received. He said that he would never forget Swan’s kindness and thoughtfulness.

Robert Beagle, vice president of University Advancement, noted that he and Swan were President Carothers’ first hires on the president’s team. “We were hired at a time when you had to have the name of an animal to get a job,” he joked. “In this case, Swan and Beagle got the jobs.”

Beagle recalled sending Swan to an alumni gathering in Florida. She returned with a broken foot. “She hobbled over to my office and said: ‘Sorry, I put my foot in my mouth down there.’”

Beagle noted: “As I have made my way around the countryside talking with alumni over the past 17 years, I have found former students of Beverly’s, former colleagues of Beverly’s, and alumni who know her just by reputation—all saying the best of things about her.”

Emily Anderson ’06, MA ‘08, a former intern in the provost’s office, called Swan a role model and an inspiration and praised her commitment to the advancement of women.

“When I was in Green Hall, Dr. Swan would always take the time, despite her busy schedule, to ask me about my day, how my current classes were, and how my future plans were shaping up,” Anderson said.

Representative John Patrick “Pat” Shanley, deputy majority leader of the Rhode Island House of Representatives presented Swan with a House Resolution, which stated in part: WHEREAS Beverly Swan’s vision, intelligence and passion for the betterment of the University of Rhode Island community are as well known as her grace and omnipresent good humor. She has been a true champion of public higher education and is a bona fide role model for all of us.”

Bob Weisbord, a long-serving professor of history, started his often-sidesplitting roast with: “As King Henry VIII said to each of his six wives—I won’t keep you too long.”

He said the departing provost always wanted to push senior faculty into retirement to solve the budget problems.

“For example, she drives her car along Upper College Road at excessive speed trying to clip old codgers as they cross. When she misses, she can be seen smiling, making unladylike hand gestures…I’m high on her hit list.”

Weisbord praised Swan’s courage, however, for sitting with the all-male faculty members seated daily at the same table at the University Club at lunchtime.

He then turned his humorous routine into a moment of reflection. Weisbord noted that Swan never had an adversarial relationship with the faculty. “The URI Administration without Bev Swan will be like a play without Hamlet,” he said. “She is what they call in Yiddish, a mensch, a genuine human being. We are all privileged to have known her. We are all in her debt.”

Swan responded with her typical humility. “Hi! I’m Beverly from Pawtucket,” she said. She thanked everyone and emphasized that neither she, her sister, nor her brother could have been able to attend college without scholarships. She urged everyone attending the dedication to think about donating to scholarship funds, not just hers as many had done in her honor, but to give to scholarships of their choice.

She and President Carothers proceeded to walk up the aisle arm-in-arm to the tune of Pomp and Circumstance.

The reception that followed was highlighted with ice sculptures of swans and a surprise. President Carothers unveiled a sculptured metal swan, which hangs on the wall in Swan Hall lobby.

“I will miss working with the president on a daily basis–and the deans and the faculty,” she said the next day. “I will miss talking with the students. I am glad I only live around the corner.”

URI photo by Nora Lewis