For Urban and Regional Studies Prof. Kumar Kangayappan, it was a memorable commencement.
He had the honor of carrying the ceremonial mace and escorting Chancellor Thomas K. Harden to and from the stage as UW-Green Bay celebrated mid-year commencement Dec. 17 at the Weidner Center.
The honor of carrying the ceremonial mace is bestowed upon the faculty member with the most years of service. Kangayappan, who has been with UW-Green Bay since September 1968, earned the distinction when Prof. Ismail Shariff retired earlier this year. It’s a role he’s pleased to inherit.
“I’m truly honored to be the bearer of the mace — happy to be a part of this tradition,” Kangayappan said. “I’ve grown up with this University and feel very much a part of it. I feel one with it. Our own graduates have gone on to become notable and key members of the community in the area and larger community, regionally and nationwide. To serve our students is sheer joy.”
Kangayappan takes pride that he and his predecessors as mace bearers, Shariff and Prof. Emeritus Bill Laatsch, all hail from the same academic area. Each joined UW-Green Bay in the mid- to late-1960s as the institution transitioned from a two-year center to a full-fledged institution, and were able to contribute to its development.
In 42-plus years at UW-Green Bay, Kangayappan can recall his share of commencements. Among the particularly memorable, he says, are 1971 — when the ceremony was first held at the Brown County Arena, founding Chancellor Edward Weidner presiding — and 2008 — when the 25,000th UW-Green Bay grad crossed the stage.
The mace-bearing tradition dates to medieval times, when a mace-bearer would walk ahead to ensure safe passage for the leader of a kingdom, cathedral or university. Just the threat of the heavy, spiked club usually kept potential challengers at bay.
Of course, UW-Green Bay’s mace is a kinder, gentler — and much more aesthetically pleasing — version of the type preferred in days of yore. At the top of the large staff stands a Phoenix, perched upon a representation of an ancient astronomical instrument, in this case bearing images of the Milky Way and the double helix of DNA. The piece was created in 2001 by acclaimed metals artist Prof. Emeritus David Damkoehler of the UW-Green Bay faculty.
Kangayappan hails from Coimbatore, in the state of Tamil Nadu in Southern India. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Madras (Madras, India); master’s degrees from Annamalai University (Chidambaram, India) and UW- Madison; and his Ph.D. from UW-Madison. He has been widely published in national and international journals, and is past chair of programs in regional analysis and economics. Kangayappan and his wife, Dr. Sivu Kangayappan, in 1984 established the Albert Einstein/Mahatma Gandhi Scholarship at UW-Green Bay, and two other scholarships in Manitowoc, where they reside.
It’s been a long, distinguished career for the new mace-bearer, who is often cited as a favorite faculty member among students, alumni and colleagues. Yet he still remembers a prophetic entreaty from founding Chancellor Weidner, more than four decades ago.
“(When) I met Edward Weidner in his farmhouse office at the end of my interview on campus in August 1968,” Kangayappan recalls, “he remarked that he hoped I will stay with UW-Green Bay. Here I am — I have stayed 42 years.”