Students arrived on the University of La Verne campus Monday toting backpacks and hot coffee, some still sleepy-eyed from months of summer relaxation and others raring to go for the first day of t...
The La Verne Campus Community gets an up-close and personal look at Devorah Lieberman, who is introduced as the 18th president of the University of La Verne
Devorah Lieberman stood at the Ludwick Conference Center podium — all 5-foot-4 of her — and she towered.
The introduction of the next president of the University of La Verne drew a standing ovation, getting administrators, faculty, staff and students on their feet. Then, her words knocked them off their feet.
Afterward, many observers agreed that the search committee and the Board of Trustees succeeded in finding, attracting and selecting one of the few capable of taking the baton from retiring president Steve Morgan and running with it.
“I look at this as a tarmac; our wheels are off the ground, the back wheels are on the ground, and we’re lifting off,” Lieberman said. “We have the strength, we have the quality, we have the backbone and we have the commitment to raise this plane off the ground. We have what it takes to be a local, a regional, a national and an international presence.”
By the time the 18th president of the University of La Verne finished, clouds of uncertainty dissipated, doubt gave way to hope, and the fuse of anticipation and excitement was lit. Lieberman may have begun her remarks before a curious throng 20 minutes earlier, but she concluded them before a room full of believers.
Devorah Lieberman was a hit.
While the university’s official announcement Tuesday of Lieberman as its next president was text, with a focus on qualifications and achievement, Wednesday was Lieberman live, in person, her warmth, sincerity, humility and passion right here, on campus, up close.
“She’s the kind of person who lights up a room when she walks into a room,” Steve Morgan said. “She has a passion, and passion is the driver for success. How fortunate we are that the search committee has tapped Devorah to be our next leader.”
After concluding her remarks and then being whisked over to Hanawalt House for a video Q & A session, Lieberman, her husband, Roger Auerbach, and their younger of two daughters, Emery Lieberman-Auerbach, sat down to lunch with students in Davenport Dining Hall. For the better part of an hour, La Verne’s next president asked specific questions of current La Verne students, and listened carefully to their answers.
The students watched her listen, watched her care, watched her reach out. Six more believers thanked her for the time, bused their lunch trays and headed off to class, uplifted.
“I think she is really amazing,” said junior Michael Phillips one of Lieberman’s fellow diners. “I felt like she was very student-centered and she really cared about what we thought. She was interested in our lives as well. She wanted to help better our education here and make La Verne more recognized for the great things it does. I thought that was very important. I really liked her. I think she’s going to be great for the university.”
Phillips wasn’t the only one.
“She was very friendly, very nice, easy to talk to. She was personable. I wasn’t intimidated at all, which was very important to me,” said Ava Jahanvash, a sophomore with a seat at the same table. “I didn’t feel like I was inferior to her. We engaged in conversation and she actually seemed like she cared about what I had to say.”
“I absolutely loved her,” Jocelyn Bravo said. “She was amazing with students. She wanted to know everything about us. I can definitely feel she has a passion for us, so I’m excited.”
Jennifer Juhasz made it unanimous.
“I think she’s wonderful. She’s much different than I expected,” Juhasz said. “She was very personable, which is nice. I think that she’ll be able to connect really well with the students, and make them feel immediately that she belongs here. It felt like I had known her for years, rather than just meeting her for the first time.”
If Lieberman came across as passionate and caring, it may be because she has found a home, after a long search, one that started while she was still Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Wagner College in New York.
“So here I am, a year ago, looking at what’s next, and I receive a call from the search committee for the University of La Verne,” Lieberman said. “They begin to tell me about the mission, the values, the goals of the University of La Verne. I began to think about this and thought, ‘Here is an institution that speaks to my heart, that values what I value — diversity, quality of life for the students, quality of life for the faculty, quality of life for the staff and administration.”
But that didn’t sell Lieberman, not quite.
“During my interviews, what I was listening for was the voice of the individuals that truly reflected what I saw in the literature,” she said. “Reading something on the website is one thing, but hearing it embodied by everybody you meet, that’s another thing.
“When I was talking to Peggy Redman, and she talked to me about her years here at La Verne and her love for La Verne, her love for this community and her dedication and commitment, I said, ‘That seals the deal for me.”
When a male voice in the audience said, “No one says ‘no’ to Peggy,” it brought a huge laugh from the audience, one that was now definitely in the mood to laugh.
Afterward, Lieberman was mobbed by faculty, staff, deans and administrators, all eager to welcome her and offer their congratulations. Then, she made her exit, out the same side door through which she entered, though she seemed taller.