COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — Friday morning, Dr. Stuart Rayfield officially took the mantle as president of Columbus State University at an investiture ceremony on campus.
Dr. Rayfield, who has been on the job since June, becomes CSU’s sixth president.
Rayfield talked about the future and what the university needs to do to meet the challenges. But she made it clear the only way to walk into that future is to embrace the past.
“We have punched above our weight time and time again,” she said in her speech. “And in order for us to punch above our weight, we must stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us.”
One of those shoulders is former Columbus State President Frank Brown, he spent 21 years driving the institution from a college to a university, developing a downtown campus and pouring his heart and soul into the place.
Since his retirement 15 years ago, he has been in the background. Friday, he was front and center.
“The deal I made with each of the two previous presidents who came after I left was, I am going to be in the community; I am going to be doing my own business,” Brown said. “I will not get in your business. I won’t talk about you behind your back. I won’t second-guess you to the media. If you want to talk to me about an issue, if you have questions, or if you want my thoughts on how to proceed on issues – I have been here 40 years and I know a little something about the place – I will be delighted to respond to your call. But you have to call me. I am not going to call you.”
Rayfield did not have to make a cold call to Brown. He was already on speed dial.
“I knew I needed to talk to him, but the great thing is I have never really stopped talking to Frank Brown since I have known him,” Rayfield said. “It wasn’t that we rekindled a relationship and conversations and a dialog about higher education, about leadership, about this community. It has been an ongoing conversation since 2006 when I joined Columbus State.”
University System of Georgia Chancellor Sonny Perdue says Rayfield’s knowledge and love of Columbus State and the community will serve her well.
“I am convinced that Stuart Rayfield will do a magnificent job of understanding the needs of the community,” the chancellor said. “Obviously, she feels like she’s coming home, which she is. And that’s always good when someone can come home and lead an institution where they have a fond affection for the community.”
She does have an affection for CSU, where she taught for 10 years before joining the University System staff seven years ago.
“It feels like I am continuing the journey,” she said when asked if this was the start or end of a journey. “Especially coming back to an institution where I had the privilege of teaching for 10 years. It feels like the continuance of a journey. The start of the administration as a president for my love and affection of this university is just a continuance of that.”
Brown says she is the right person to lead the university.
“I like her a lot as a person,” Brown said. “I like the way she deals with people. She’s a good listener. She’s exactly the type of person I think we need at our institution at this moment. A leader who listens and is willing to take action on things that need to be done. She is a rare find. And I am delighted to see her installed today.”
She has also been embraced by the community that has supported Columbus State University for 65 years. Just ask Steve Butler, retired chairman of the W.C. Bradley Company.
“Stuart Rayfield is one of us,” Butler said. “She lives here. She loves this community. She understands how important the relationship between the community and the university is and she is all in about making that better.”
Dr. Rayfield and her husband, Columbus attorney David Rayfield, have called Columbus home for nearly two decades. They have two daughters, Vivian, a freshman at Georgia Tech, and Celia, a junior at Columbus High School.