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FRAMINGHAM – Dr. Nancy S. Niemi made a passionate defense of public higher education and its vital importance to democracy during her inauguration speech on Friday, May 5th, after being sworn in as the 17th President of Framingham State University, the nation’s first public college founded for the education of teachers.

“Right now, we hear the roiling accusations: there is little return on investment in public education; employers do not actually need workers with degrees; college doesn’t teach students anything, or it teaches the wrong things,” Niemi said. “Why is this narrative so strong? I believe that higher education, particularly public higher education, is being challenged because it has succeeded. It has succeeded in allowing people who are working class and middle class, first generation, brown, black, and BIPOC, to learn. It has delivered on its promise to make the acquisition of knowledge, skills, and diverse perspectives a public good.”

During her speech – delivered to a large audience of students, faculty, staff, University delegates from around the region, and local and state legislators – President Niemi argued that starting in the 1970 and continuing to today, an effort has been underway to divorce intellectual curiosity from skill development and make the primary purpose of public college about simply creating a stronger capitalist society.

“Many are afraid of the power unleashed by intellectual curiosity,” said President Niemi. “They are threatened by ideas that explore new and different perspectives. They are intimidated by unfamiliar languages, lyrics, and conceptions of love and relationships. Curricular restrictions are under consideration in more than a dozen state legislatures, as communities look to limit diversity, equity and inclusion efforts across the U.S. Every time they succeed, they restrict access to knowledge for those who cannot or choose not to afford private higher education. And this is why we are here at Framingham State University – because democratic higher education cannot die. The people who come to college cannot only be the people whose families can already afford it. We need to nurture every student’s growth and learning.”

President Niemi, who officially began as President at FSU on July 1st, 2022, laid out her vision for ensuring that Framingham State University continues to thrive into the future:

• Create and market educational opportunities that few others offer;
• Nurture and support an exceptionally high quality of teaching, fed by the scholarship and research of our faculty;
• Increasingly refine the services and programs that our students need, such as robust student support; career mentorship; and significant internship opportunities for all students;
• Value and develop professional growth opportunities for all who choose to work at FSU, and
• Build increasingly deep relationships with our Framingham, MetroWest, and New England community partners – our nonprofit, corporate, and government allies, helping everyone see that fostering intellectual curiosity and knowledge development is in the interest of us all.

“Doing this will arise from our courage to embrace the educational mission that is public universities’ alone: to serve the public good,” she said. “We do not live in community as isolated units. By working with and serving others, we nurture their faith in themselves and in humanity, helping us to imagine and create a better future. A more equitable future. Prioritizing the common good restores our faith in the common good, and beautiful things grow as a result.”

President Niemi was sworn in as President by Lt. Governor Kim Driscoll. Her friend and colleague, Dr. Kristin Esterberg, Chancellor of the University of Washington Bothell, served as the special guest speaker.

Following the ceremony, Framingham State University held a day of celebratory events and activities, including the annual Student Conference for Research and Creative Practice and the outdoor Sandbox celebrations.