President Brian O. Hemphill, Ph.D., delivers his inaugural address.
By Amber Kennedy
Old Dominion University commemorated the inauguration of President Brian O. Hemphill, Ph.D., during Homecoming weekend with a historic investiture ceremony, the launch of a capital campaign and the kickoff of "Monarchs Give Back," an annual community service project.
President Hemphill was installed as the ninth president of Old Dominion University by Bruce Bradley '78, rector of the Board of Visitors, during an investiture ceremony Friday morning in Chartway Arena.
Before an audience of students, faculty, staff and representatives from across higher education and the community, Bradley bestowed the presidential medallion, and Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Austin Agho, Ph.D., presented the academic mace.
"Brian is perfect for these times because we are at an inflection point and entering a time of great opportunity," Bradley said, later adding, "The future of Old Dominion is very bright indeed."
Reflecting on his first year at the University, President Hemphill said, "When we began this journey together on July 1, 2021, we made a commitment to excellence, accountability, transparency and student-centeredness. Without question, Old Dominion University's longstanding reputation and proven success in providing access and opportunity are the cornerstone of our efforts and will continue to guide us as we move forward together."
President Hemphill noted higher education is changing.
"Now, we can allow skyrocketing tuition, growing student debt, the enrollment cliff, the value proposition, or the challenging post-COVID environment to define us and limit our possibilities, or we can embrace innovation and opportunity," he said. "And, in turn, we will be a forward-focused institution in our research, forward-focused in our teaching and forward-focused in our service.
"The universities that engage in innovative approaches and visionary changes will remain at the forefront during these challenging times. I commit that Old Dominion University will be one of those leading institutions."
Over the course of his career in higher education, President Hemphill has steered profound change at campuses striving for distinction, with each experience preparing him to lead at ODU. President Hemphill's service in higher education began with administrative roles in student affairs at the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville and Northern Illinois University, before he assumed the presidency at West Virginia State University. Before coming to ODU, he served as the seventh president of Radford University.
Colleagues from throughout President Hemphill's career in higher education described his energy, courage and transformational leadership.
President Hemphill shared his intention to become a university president over 20 years ago when he met friend and colleague Derrick Gragg, Ph.D.
Gragg, the Combe Family Vice President for Athletics and Recreation at Northwestern University, shared memories of his time working with President Hemphill at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. "I loved his energy immediately," he said. "I admired his determination and tenacity, and I could tell by the look in his eyes that this guy really meant business."
President Hemphill's inaugural address introduced the theme of his era of leadership: "Forward Focused: Inspiring Innovation." In his first year on campus, that theme was put into practice. President Hemphill has led hundreds of constituents across campus through a strategic planning process producing a road map for the next five years. At the Distinguished Alumni Honors Dinner on Oct. 20, President Hemphill unveiled a capital campaign aiming to raise $500 million for scholarships, research, faculty recruitment, campus facilities and more.
In late 2021, the University was designated a Research 1 institution by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education for the Advancement of Teaching, placing ODU among the highest level of research institutions in the United States. The prestigious designation creates opportunities for the University to attract students, faculty and funding.
President Hemphill has forged partnerships to benefit the community, including two projects targeting health disparities in Hampton Roads. In August 2021, President Hemphill joined Eastern Virginia Medical School President Alfred Abuhamad, M.D., and Norfolk State University President Javaune Adams-Gaston, Ph.D., to sign a memorandum of understanding to partner on the future ONE School of Public Health. In December 2021, President Hemphill and Dr. Abuhamad committed to explore the potential integration of EVMS and ODU to form an academic health sciences center.
Over the next five years, ODU will continue to address workforce development needs by adding the School of Supply Chain, Logistics and Maritime Operations and leading the 757 Regional Internship Collaborative. Campus will continue to evolve; a five-story, 160,000-square-foot Biology Building is planned to open in 2026, and President Hemphill recently announced construction of an expanded baseball facility known as the Ellmer Family Baseball Complex.
In athletics, President Hemphill championed a shift to the Sun Belt conference, expanding opportunities for student-athletes to compete against regional rivals.
To mark the occasion of the inauguration, President Hemphill and First Lady Marisela Rosas Hemphill, Ph.D., launched "Monarchs Give Back," an annual effort to highlight the University's commitment to partner with the Hampton Roads community. This year, the Monarch community collected donations of nonperishable food items to benefit children experiencing food insecurity, especially those in Norfolk City Public Schools.
During the ceremony, President Hemphill was joined by colleagues from 35 institutions of higher education across Virginia and the nation. The procession of faculty members, dressed in full regalia, was led by University Marshal Helen Crompton, Ph.D.
In his keynote address, West Virginia University President Gordon Gee, Ed.D., who has led five universities, reflected on the role of a university president.
"You have the responsibility to set the tone from the top on campus and to make sure that the University's vision and values are not just words on a page, but something every community member lives every day," he said. "I learned that our role as leaders is to make things right before they go wrong.
"Leading means engaging your whole campuses in asking the important question: for what purpose are we here?"
Under his leadership, President Hemphill said ODU will "serve the commonwealth as a model for creativity, discovery, excellence and progress with a keen eye toward research, teaching and service."
"In doing so, something special will happen on this campus. We will transform Old Dominion University," he said. "Together, we will propel ODU to national and international prominence."