Bryan Coker installed as Maryville College’s 12th president
On Feb. 13, Dr. Bryan Coker stood before the Maryville College campus community and officially accepted the invitation to become the College’s next president.
On Oct. 16, during his installation as Maryville College’s 12th president, Coker extended an invitation to the Maryville College community.
“I accepted that [Feb. 13] invitation with much excitement, pride and gratitude – and today, I remain so glad that I did – I’m hoping you all feel the same,” said Coker during an installation ceremony that was pre-recorded and available online. “I accepted your invitation to serve, and now it’s my turn to extend an invitation to all of you.
“I invite you to join me in reaffirming Maryville College’s commitment to making a difference in the world, by using all that differentiates us, as a college,” Coker continued. “I invite you to join me in reaffirming our commitment to, as founder Isaac Anderson urged, ‘do good on the largest possible scale.’ I invite you to join me, in equipping our students to navigate both the everyday and the unexpected.”
In his installation address, titled “The Invitation,” Coker, who officially began his tenure at Maryville College on July 1, Coker emphasized that he is the president, not the presidency.
“As I’ve said before, I see this event not as the installation or inauguration of a president, but instead as the beginning of the College’s 12th presidency,” he said. “The time during which I serve as president cannot and will not be about me – it must be about us. … The presidency is about all of us, working together collaboratively and collectively, to advance this incredible college.”
Coker outlined four strategic and broad areas of focus for the 200-year-old institution as it moves into the foreseeable future: “future-proofing” the College; embracing the College’s opportune location; becoming a more diverse, equitable and inclusive community; and capitalizing upon the liberal arts.
“Since my first interview with the presidential search committee, I have shared the goal of ‘future-proofing’ the College – in other words, working to advance the College amidst the many challenges and opportunities facing higher education,” Coker said. “To effectively advance the College, we must be flexible, creative, adaptable and resilient – just as we teach our students to be.”
Coker talked about Maryville College’s “incredibly opportune” location – one that provides the College with “immense advantages” that must be embraced now more than ever before.
“We are at the doorstep of the one of the world’s greatest natural laboratories for student learning – one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems, ripe with opportunities for all of us to make a difference, to play a role in preserving this amazing environment for generations to come,” Coker said. “My hope and goal are that we will be the college of – and for – the Great Smoky Mountains – that we will be the college of and for this region.”
The president referenced the need for new and improved science facilities at the College, adding that “personally, I think – as do a number of others – that ‘The Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Maryville College’ has a nice ring to it.”
“Stay tuned on that front,” he said.
Coker talked about diversity, equity and inclusivity, stressing that all MC community members should feel and be affirmed, valued and supported in expressing their unique identities.
“But, we must acknowledge that the playing field has so often not been equal – and in so many ways, remains unequal today,” he said, adding that he will soon convene a President’s Advisory Board on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to address key areas. “We must acknowledge that very few, if any, colleges were built for the diverse student populations we seek to serve today. Valuing diversity, equity and inclusivity is undoubtedly consistent with our identity as a college of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and now is the time for us to move forward, and to truly do better.
He referenced Maryville College’s history of providing opportunities to all; however, he said, the College cannot rest on its history and legacy alone.
“We can and we must do better,” Coker said. “The #BlackLivesMatter movement has highlighted the serious inequities which remain in our society today, and we must work tirelessly, every day, toward a more just and equitable future for all. And we will do all of this recognizing the full range of diversity within our college community.”
Citing his passion for the liberal arts, Coker said he believes strongly “that when you study everything, you are prepared for anything.”
“But, what do the liberal arts mean for our next 200 years?” Coker asked. “How do we ensure their continued relevance to our students and the world beyond our campus, while staying true to who we are? We have definitely evolved in our academic offerings and instructional modalities since 1819 – so, how will we continue to strategically and carefully evolve? These are the questions we must ask and explore in the coming months.
“At a time of so much uncertainty, I believe the liberal arts hold the keys to addressing many of the most critical issues facing our nation and our world,” the president continued. “Now, more than ever, our nation and world need graduates who can think differently, can deal with ambiguity, and are prepared for the unexpected. We will continue to integrate career preparation with such an education, and also provide opportunities for students to engage in self-exploration and to find their voices.”
Participants in the virtual installation included board members, faculty and staff, students, alumni and friends. Coker received the College’s robe and medal of office from leaders of the College’s Board of Directors, Cole Piper ’68 and Dr. Mary Kay Sullivan. Coker’s family members and former colleagues provided congratulatory video messages. President Emeritus Dr. Gerald W. Gibson, who retired from the College in 2010 after 17 years of service, began the “Passing of the Medal of Office” portion of the ceremony, which marked the official installation of Coker as president.
John Rose of the Knoxville Pipes and Drums performed the processional, “Scotland the Brave,” on bagpipes. Members of the Maryville College Concert Choir sang the Maryville College Alma Mater, as well as the anthem “Unclouded Day.” The Maryville College Homecoming Choir performed “People Are the Key” by John Rudoi – a piece that was commissioned for the College’s Bicentennial in 2019.
The installation ceremony, held during Maryville College’s Homecoming Weekend, was coupled with Founder’s Day, an annual tradition that celebrates the College’s rich history, annual successes and generosity of MC friends and alumni. Coker presented, virtually, three alumni, Dr. Valerie Malyvanh Jansen ’01, Mr. Jeffrey Coghill ’70 and Dr. Carey Cox Coghill ’72, with alumni awards, and he also recognized donors whose cumulative giving has placed them into new levels of the Isaac Anderson Society. With the campus still closed to the public, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all Homecoming Weekend events are virtual.
Those who attended the virtual Founder’s Day event had the opportunity to view the installation ceremony first on Oct. 16. The video is available at https://youtu.be/MwPzFxjJsGo.
“I believe in Maryville College – I believe in the future of this storied and notable institution. I believe in those who have come before us, those of us here now, and those who will ultimately follow us. To be clear, I believe in all of you,” Coker concluded. “I accepted your invitation to lead – I now ask all of you to hear and receive my invitation to all of you – an invitation to be part of the 12th presidency of Maryville College, which officially begins now. I hope you will accept this most sincere invitation – I hope you will join me in creating the bright future which lies ahead for Maryville College.”