New LU President wants a stronger university

Despite the falling rain the spirit was up beat as the Lincoln University Marching Band kept beats flowing as they marched on East McCarty Street on Saturday during the annual Lincoln Homecoming parade. It's the first LU homecoming event for Kevin Rome, the school's new president, who says his first goal is to focus on students' experience at the university.

Despite the falling rain the spirit was up beat as the Lincoln University Marching Band kept beats flowing as they marched on East McCarty Street on Saturday during the annual Lincoln Homecoming parade. It's the first LU homecoming event for Kevin Rome, the school's new president, who says his first goal is to focus on students' experience at the university. Photo by Deborah Cote.

“It’s not about Kevin Rome,” Lincoln University’s new president said in an interview last week. “It’s about Lincoln University and the students and the alumni and the faculty and the staff.

“That’s what the focus needs to be.”

Rome, 47, formally was installed Friday as LU’s 19th president and the 30th person to lead Lincoln since its founding in 1866 (including principals and acting or interim presidents).

Using a sports metaphor, Rome said the change represented by an inaugural ceremony is like the transfer of the baton from one runner to the next.

“I’ve had 18 other (president) predecessors, and they’ve all contributed in their own way,” he explained. “(Carolyn Mahoney) was the last person to carry the baton as president, and it was handed off to me.

“And what I want to do is, make (Lincoln) better than I found it.”

During Friday’s ceremonies, state Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City — who served on the committee that screened applicants and recommended Rome and two others to the Board of Curators for the final selection — noted Mahoney’s eight years of service with a different sports metaphor.

“My good friend Dr. Mahoney has teed the ball up for you,” Kehoe told Rome.

“She has brought us to this point.

“We are ready to go, and it’s your turn to take a swing.”

In the interview last Thursday, Rome said: “It’s all relative, in a sense.”

Since he started working at LU on June 1, a number of people have talked with him about Mahoney’s years of service.

“The interesting thing about being the new president is, you benefit from all the good things — in the perception of people — that were done (by the last president),” Rome said, “and then people provide things about what they think you could be doing, based on your predecessor.

“And I take it all with a grain of salt ... because when you’re in a position like this, you’re always going to have those who appreciate what you do and those who oppose what you do.”

Again, he emphasized, “It’s not about Kevin Rome. ... I want what’s best for Lincoln University, and I hope that resonates with people, and that they see that I’m sincere, that I work hard, and I’m invested and I’m going to give my all — always with the end in mind of making Lincoln better.”

During Thursday’s interview, Rome explained that his first goal is focusing on students — and that begins with their “experience” at LU.

“I’m concerned about how students experience this environment, this community and what makes them want to come back for another year, and another year, until they graduate,” he explained. “If we don’t do anything else, we have to recruit more students and graduate more students.

“Fundraising is important. ... But what I will tell anyone is, people invest in what they believe in, so we have to create a Lincoln that people believe in enough to invest their resources.”

And the end result of that investment is “our graduates doing great things,” Rome said, “our faculty and staff doing the research that will contribute to the body of knowledge — and our faculty and staff being responsive to the needs of our constituents.”

Rome said he applied to be Lincoln’s next president, and accepted the job offer, because of the challenges the historically black university faces.

During Friday’s ceremonies, Mayor Eric Struemph told the inauguration audience: “I’ve relayed to (Rome) our city’s commitment to Lincoln University — Lincoln is OUR University.”

And that’s a relationship Rome has said from the beginning he wants to grow.

“I want to create the perception and the reality that Jefferson City loves Lincoln University as much as it’s perceived that Columbia loves Mizzou,” he said during the interview. “Because when I go to Columbia — and even in Jefferson City — I see Mizzou paraphernalia everywhere. ...

“I want to create an environment where the first thing that comes to mind in a restaurant or a business is, ‘We have to have Lincoln up, and we want to have Lincoln up — because that’s a part of us. That’s who we identify with!’”

Rome acknowledged the influence LU has had on many lives.

“I came from a single-parent household,” he noted in the interview — and publicly thanked his mother during Friday’s ceremonies for doing “a great job” in raising him and his four siblings.

“My whole life was a challenge — even getting into college and getting through college,” he said Thursday. “It was a struggle. And what speaks to me is the number of students who come to Lincoln, that it’s a struggle for them to get through college. ...

“Despite the circumstances from which I have come — I was able to be successful because someone invested in me, and they gave me the opportunity to grow and to learn and to rise above where I was.

“That’s what Lincoln has done for so many people, and will continue to do that.”

Accompanying photo: Students in the Lincoln band march

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