Official delegates from more than 70 universities attended the ceremony.
Dr. Christopher Howard was formally installed as the eighth president of Robert Morris University in a ceremony in Sewall Center on the Moon Township campus on Friday, Oct. 7.
Presidents and other official delegates from more than 70 colleges and universities attended, including Oxford, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and the three major military service academies. Lt. General Michelle Johnson, superintendent of the Air Force Academy and a former academic advisor and mentor of Howard's, delivered the keynote address.
"I may be biased, but I think RMU could not have picked a more qualified individual to lead this institution at this time," said Gen. Johnson, who praised Howard for his personal and professional achievements and his skills as a communicator — then chided him for what she called a "glaring lack of hockey prowess." (Air Force and RMU are rivals in the NCAA Div. I Atlantic Hockey Conference.)
Gen. Johnson went on to express the hope that RMU "can help shape the dreams, aspirations and identity of not only its students but all those you touch." President Howard presented Gen. Johnson with an honorary doctorate of humane letters at the ceremony.
In his inaugural address, RMU's eighth president drew parallels between two American stories of growth and potential: the university's rise from its beginnings as the Pittsburgh School of Accountancy to a nationally ranked, doctoral degree-granting institution, and the Howard family history stretching from slavery and sharecroppers to middle class strivers and eventually a university president.
"Opportunity and excellence — that’s the trade-off we’ve always faced in higher education," President Howard said. "Do we serve students with potential, but who come from backgrounds with fewer resources? The first-generation college students, the students who have to work 20 hours or more a week to pay for school? The veteran who served his or her country and left pieces of themselves on the battlefield? … Or do we serve the merit scholars, the kids with perfect and near-perfect SATs, the kids that admissions counselors fall all over themselves trying to enroll?"
"We shouldn’t have to choose, and we won’t … " he continued. "That’s not to say we are going to be all things to all people, which is a recipe for failure. We will always be Robert Morris University, and we will remain true to the values and character that brought us here today. But we will strive to ensure that there is a place for the student who is the first in their family to go to college, a place for that student who aced their AP tests, a place for the single mother who can only earn a degree if she can take classes online."
Student government president Aveenash Kumar, who came to RMU from Pakistan in 2015 to enroll in the university's top-ranked actuarial sciences degree program, welcomed President Howard on behalf of the student body.
"We are sure that the very same things that drew us to Robert Morris — an academic excellence, rich heritage, and strong community — are what drew you to RMU as well. And like you, we plan to make an impact, because that’s what Colonials do," Kumar said.
Dr. Christopher B. Howard became the eighth president of Robert Morris University in suburban Pittsburgh on February 1, 2016. RMU combines academic excellence with a professional focus in 49 undergraduate and 35 graduate degree programs across five academic schools. More than 5,000 undergraduate and graduate, nontraditional and online students from 45 states and 41 nations are enrolled at RMU, which sits on 230 scenic acres just 20 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh.
Dr. Howard is a distinguished graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, where he earned a B.S. in political science in 1991. A Rhodes scholar, he earned his doctorate in politics at the University of Oxford and an M.B.A. with distinction from the Harvard Business School. He received the Campbell Trophy, the highest academic award in the country presented to a senior college football player, and was inducted into the Verizon Academic All-America Hall of Fame. Recently he received the NCAA Silver Anniversary Award, which recognizes distinguished individuals on the 25th anniversary of the conclusion of their college athletic careers.
A retired Air Force reserve lieutenant colonel, Dr. Howard served as a helicopter pilot after earning his doctorate, and then became an intelligence officer for the elite Joint Special Operations Command. Defense Secretary William Cohen asked Dr. Howard to accompany a 1999 U.S. delegation to South Africa as a political-military advisor. He was called back to active duty during 2003 in Afghanistan, and was awarded the Bronze Star for his service. Dr. Howard also served as the reserve air attaché to Liberia.
Prior to his appointment as president of RMU, Dr. Howard for six years was the president of Hampden-Sydney College, a private, liberal arts college near Richmond, Va. In 2011-12, Hampden-Sydney improved 17 spots in the U.S. News & World Report rankings, the largest such jump of any of the top 100 liberal arts colleges. During Dr. Howard’s tenure as president, enrollment, retention, and alumni giving all increased at Hampden-Sydney, and the college produced its first Truman and Goldwater scholars in 20 years.
Dr. Howard previously served as vice president for leadership and strategic initiatives at the University of Oklahoma, where he also served as the director of the Honors College Leadership Center and a President’s Associates Presidential Professor. Dr. Howard also enjoyed a successful career in the corporate world, working in General Electric’s corporate initiatives group as well as Bristol-Myers Squibb’s corporate associates program. At both companies, Dr. Howard’s responsibilities included sales, marketing, international project management, strategic planning, internal consulting, and business development.
He has been featured in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, and NPR’s “All Things Considered” and “On Being” as well as being interviewed on CNN, PBS, and PRI’s “The Tavis Smiley Show.”
Dr. Howard is married to Barbara Noble Howard from Johannesburg, South Africa. Barbara is a Temple University graduate, director of the Impact Young Lives Foundation, a member of the Virginia War Memorial Board of Directors, and a trustee of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The Howards have two sons, Cohen and Joshua. Cohen is a 2016 graduate of Sewanee: The University of the South, and Joshua is a sophomore at Middlebury College.