An investiture is defined as “the act or formal ceremony of conferring the authority and symbols of a high office.” It is a practice that dates back to the Middle Ages. Sometimes referred to as an “inauguration” or “installation,” the investiture is an academic ceremony held to confer the official power of the office upon a new university president. Such as ceremony is usually held within the president’s first year in office. An investiture reflects academic traditions, celebrates institutional history, and symbolizes a new era in the life of the institution.
The investiture ceremony begins with a formal procession, much like a commencement. The procession includes the individuals in the platform party participating in the ceremony, delegates from other colleges and universities, and university faculty. Participants wear full academic regalia during the investiture procession and ceremony that follows.
The pageantry and color of an academic processional come to us from the early Middle Ages when academic robes and regalia were worn daily in the European universities to lend academic rank and distinction to the wearer. They also lent warmth, an important feature since most halls of medieval buildings were damp and drafty with no heat.
American universities of the late 19th century developed a uniform scheme of academic garb based on the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge in England. The regalia which you see today serve as a visible reminder of these antecedents of intellectual pursuits. Fortunately (for the faculty, at least) the faculty at universities no longer wear the academic robes except for academic convocations and commencements. Generally, the gown is black, but may be of any color according to the individual school. The doctoral gown normally is adorned with velveteen stripes on the sleeves and down the front. The master’s gown frequently is only elbow length, exposing more of the arm or coat sleeve. The bachelor’s gown, while long sleeved, contains no velveteen adornment.
The hood – designed to be worn around the neck and draping down the back – is the most symbolic part of the academic regalia and is basically black. While the hood varies somewhat in size in relation to the degree it symbolizes, it is lined with the colors of the university or college awarding the degree. The edging on the hood shows the subject field in which the degree was taken.
The square cap, or mortarboard, dates to the 13th century at the University of Paris. It came to England in Tudor times, was more rounded, and sometimes was called the Oxford cap. Those who possess a doctor’s degree may wear an eight-sided tam, provided that the institution granting the degree is more than 100 years old. The tassel is black or may be colored according to the subject field, with gold also used for doctoral degrees. The tassel is worn on the left once the degree is conferred.
The presidential medallion is an ancient symbol of authority. The chain of office worn by the head of a university signifies the institution’s charter and right to confer honors. The University of North Alabama commissioned the creation of a presidential medallion in 2005 as a symbol of office upon the arrival of Dr. William G. Cale, Jr. The medallion itself bears the seal of the institution, and the links on the adjoining chain are engraved individually with the names of the twenty presidents of this institution (dating back to 1830) and the names of the four academic colleges within the University. The medallion is worn on academic and ceremonial occasions by those who serve the University of North Alabama as president and is passed on to each new president to symbolize the transfer of office.
Originally a medieval weapon and later carried by Sergeants at Arms guarding kings and high church officials, the mace – essentially a staff with a carved head – has gradually assumed a purely ceremonial character symbolizing authority. The University of North Alabama mace was first used in 1991, and has been carried at the head of the procession at each commencement and convocation thereafter. The honor of carrying the ceremonial mace is given to the President of the Faculty Senate or another senior faculty member.
The impetus for the creation of UNA’s ceremonial mace came from Dr. Tom Osborne, Professor Emeritus of History, and Dr. Tom Murray, Professor Emeritus of Chemistry. Dr. Murray’s father crafted the shaft and head of the mace from cherry wood. Mr. Al Hausmann, Professor Emeritus of Art, carved the design of the head of the mace, which depicts the University’s seal.
The University seal is intended for official functions of the University, and is reserved for specific formal and academic use by the University’s executive offices. It is a registered trademark only to be used in matters or context by the authority of the President. The seal displays the University’s 1830 year of origin and contains the Latin motto Veritas Lux Orbis Terrarum, meaning “Truth is the Light of the World.”