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The Mace Was Missed

Eagle-eyed ceremony planners no doubt noticed a traditional symbol was missing from the platform at President Biden’s inauguration. The Mace of the Republic which symbolizes the authority of the House of Representatives was not present.

On a typical inauguration day, the House of Representatives goes into session, then recesses to walk as a group to witness the ceremony. The sergeant of arms, carrying the mace, leads a procession of the members of the House and stands behind them holding it throughout the inauguration. This year, due to Covid-19 restrictions, the House did not go in to session on January 20 so the mace was not used in the ceremony.

Crafted in 1841 after the British destroyed our country’s original mace when they burned the Capitol during the War of 1812, the mace has 13 ebony rods representing the 13 original colonies. It is topped by a silver eagle perched on a silver globe. It symbolizes the authority of the House and is always present when the House is in session. It is carried in to the chamber each legislative day and posted on a green marble pedestal on the rostrum to the right of the Speaker. It is occasionally presented in front of an unruly member to restore order.

Academic Mace

The tradition of mace as symbols of authority dates to the Middle Ages when mace were used as war clubs. The roots of the practice can be traced as far back as ancient Rome. An academic mace symbolizes the authority invested in the president by a school’s governing body. Much like the Mace of the Republic and the House of Representatives, when the authority is present, the mace is present. This is why the mace is an integral part of commencement exercises, when students are invested of degrees by the lawful authority of the university, and why the mace plays an important ceremonial role in academic presidential inaugurations.

While some schools possess an ancient mace, the article can be created at any time in a school’s history. Maces are often commissioned to commemorate a milestone anniversary or presidential inauguration, frequently incorporating artifacts, precious stones, and rare wood.

When to Use the Mace

The mace is used only on formal academic occasions, such as commencement, convocations, and presidential inaugurations, when participants are in full regalia and the president is involved.

Because the mace is a symbol of presidential authority as the university’s legal representative with the right to govern, it is carried in procession immediately before the president. When the mace is present, the authority of the university is present.

More information about how to use a mace on campus is available in my book, Academic Ceremonies A Handbook of Traditions and Protocol, available from CASE at


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Presidential Change Brings Opportunity for Career Growth

August begins a new academic year and along with it, an especially big change for our school:  Our president has announced his retirement. Such a major management change always triggers both trepidation and excitement causing some people to worry about how the switch will affect their positions and others to gleefully contemplate how a new boss might see things their way, fire so-and-so person, take a liking to their pet projects, or open new opportunities. A new leader definitely brings the chance for new approaches to old challenges.

For special events planners, especially those who report directly to the president, working for a new person means being prepared to accommodate his or her tastes and preferences, quickly figuring out how to operate under a different management style, diplomatically melding school traditions with new expectations, and persevering through a period of once again proving yourself. According to the latest American College President Study conducted by the American Council on Education, the average tenure of college presidents is now 6.5 years. Over the course of my career at four different universities I have worked for nine presidents. If you have not yet experienced a presidential change, chances are you will.

Here are some tips for mastering the transition:

  1. Keep your opinions to yourself. Campus gossip will likely churn into overdrive as people speculate about why the president is leaving, who might be selected, who might be fired, and how colleges, departments, and programs might be rearranged. People who talk about these things invariably are not the ones who are privy to such information.
  2. Do your job and be loyal. Your boss is still your boss until someone tells you differently. The concept of the president as a lame duck may be in part true and you may witness some colleagues behaving as if they are third graders with a substitute teacher, but rise above. Have enough loyalty and respect for the outgoing president and pride in your own work to press on with your usual high standards.
  3. Think about your next move. Presidential selection and the subsequent staff transitions usually take many months. This period is a good time for introspection, to assess your goals and strategize your next career move. Evaluate whether or not you want to stick around or if finding a new position will better help you accomplish your desires. Refresh your professional networking contacts by reengaging with community and professional organizations. Update your LinkedIn profile and dust off your resume. Attend a conference or two. Modernize your skills. Even if you aren’t ready to move on, developing a parachute plan is smart so you are not caught flat-footed in case your position is removed from the new org chart. Don’t discuss this exercise with your colleagues or you may find yourself on the short list of people who could be expended because word is out you were thinking about leaving anyway.
  4. Be part of the solution. Reevaluate your work and take an inventory of the projects you manage. Are they helping accomplish the institution’s goals and mission? Are there some things that are stale or that could be done better? Do you have ideas for new approaches? A new leader will undoubtedly make changes and may be skeptical of the way things have been done in the past. Being ready to adapt to new directions and offer positive fresh suggestions will be easier if you have already done an honest assessment of yourself and the functions of your office.
  5. Adapt rapidly. When the new boss does arrive, no matter how fond you were of the former president and how closely you worked with him or her, immediately adapt and switch your loyalty to the new person. Do things the way he or she wants them done and resist the temptation to point out how her predecessor did them. Keep an open mind and be flexible. Give the new leader a chance and make your best effort to help him or her settle in to the campus and community. Don’t expect the same relationship you had with your former boss, you will have to earn trust.
  6. Give the transition at least a year. During this time there will be changes and rearrangements in upper administration. Reorganization is inevitable as the new leader imprints his or her vision on campus culture. You may have a temporary assignment or an interim boss. Reserve judgment until the final structure is in place. By staying positive and focusing on possibilities you may wind up with the best boss of your career and a refreshed job description that you absolutely love.