POMONA >> For only the second time in its 40-year history, Western University of Health Sciences inaugurated a new president Saturday.
The pomp and circumstance marked a ceremonial fresh start for Daniel R. Wilson — who assumed the duties of president in July 2016 — and for nearly 1,000 incoming students.
Students and their families filled Fairplex Exposition Hall to honor the start of a new school year, with speeches by alumni, faculty, friends of Wilson and state Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino.
Wilson began his speech by honoring the university’s accomplishments since Philip Pumerantz founded it in 1977 with an inaugural class of 36 students.
Pumerantz led the university until 2015,
“Four decades ago, Phil said there are two ways to get to the top of an oak tree,” Wilson said. “One is to sit on top of an acorn and wait. The other is to start climbing. And climb he did, and climb.”
Western University is now home to 3,800 students, with a second campus in Lebanon, Oregon.
Wilson’s undergraduate degree is in anthropology, an unusual choice for an aspiring doctor, and he went on to earn both a master’s from the University of Iowa College of Medicine and a doctorate in biological anthropology from Cambridge University.
He celebrated the impact Western Univeresity has made over the last 40 years, noting that there are 1,000 graduates in the area who will each see patients 100,000 times over their careers. But Wilson and other speakers who knew him from his previous positions emphasized the importance of a humanistic education.
He quoted from a 1959 lecture by C.P. Snow that bemoaned the split between science and the humanities, before listing technological initiatives the university will continue.
“Our main mission remains three priorities,” Wilson said. “Education, education and education.”
Prior to his stint as president, Wilson was most recently vice president for Health Affairs and dean of medicine at the University of Florida Health Science Center - Jacksonville, where he oversaw the academic, clinical and research activities, according to a biography included with convocation materials.
Before that, he was chairman of psychiatry at Creighton University in Nebraska. Over his decade there, he expanded the full-time psychiatric faculty from three to 30, raised clinical service and revenue six-fold in 10 years, and grew the research portfolio from zero dollars to $17 million, said Dr. Roy Wilson, president of Wayne State University, in an introductory speech.
“In Dr. Wilson, you will find a man with the utmost commitment and passion who serves with care every day,” said the Wayne State president, who is not related. “How fitting you’re getting a leader who is equally trained in humanities and medicine.”
In his 22-minute speech, the new president of Western University said he didn’t know what the future would hold for the school, but he was optimistic.
He ticked off the number of years that the universities he attended — Yale, Cambridge and Harvard, among them — had been in operation.
“That is 419 years on average,” Wilson said. “In our 40th year, Western University is just getting started.”