University of the South installs 18th vice-chancellor

By Shireen Korkzan
Posted Oct 30, 2023

Robert Pearigen was formally installed the 18th vice-chancellor of the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, on Oct. 19. Photo: University of the South/Facebook

[Episcopal News Service] The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, installed its 18th vice-chancellor Oct. 19 during an on-campus service in All Saints’ Chapel.

Robert Pearigen was named vice-chancellor in January following a national search that started in March 2022. Pearigen was president of Millsap College in Mississippi at the time he was elected vice-chancellor. Prior to that, he served the University of the South in various academic and executive positions.

Pearigen began his duties as vice-chancellor on July 1. The installation ceremony included 60 delegates from institutions entering All Saints’ Chapel, followed by a procession, which included Episcopal bishops of constituent dioceses, current and retired Sewanee faculty, former vice-chancellors and members of the university’s governing boards.

A Sewanee alumnus, Pearigen replaces former vice-chancellor Reuben E. Brigety II, who resigned from his positions as vice-chancellor and president of the university in 2021 to become the U.S. ambassador to South Africa under President Joe Biden. In June 2020, Brigety became the first Black vice-chancellor in Sewanee’s history. Brigety had previously served as the U.S. ambassador to the African Union from 2013 to 2015 under President Barack Obama.

Brigety’s short tenure as president and vice-chancellor was marked by racism and vandalism. In February 2021, vandals had repeatedly attacked the on-campus home where Brigety and his family lived – from liquor bottles and other trash left on his lawn to threatening signs posted by his door. Shortly after, some students shouted racist epithets at an opposing team during a lacrosse match hosted by the university. Both incidents attracted attention from national news outlets.

The chancellor, Western Louisiana Bishop Jacob W. Owensby, presented Pearigen for installation. Pearigen was then vested in the ceremonial robe of office by former Vice-Chancellors Sam Williamson and Joel Cunningham, under whom Pearigen served.

During the ceremony, faculty and student trustees of the school of theology, as well as other alumni representatives and members of various university boards and councils, addressed Pearigen with remarks of their expectations, hopes and ways they would work in partnership during his tenure as vice-chancellor.

“Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart and a humble mind,” Pearigen, quoting I Peter, said during his installation address.

Pearigen concluded his address by saying, “Our history, with its vices and its virtues, can be a source of strength and of instruction as we move forward … We must know who we have been in order to understand what we want to be.”

The ceremony concluded with faculty, bishops, former vice-chancellors and members of the University’s governing boards processing through the All Saints’ Chapel to the singing of the Sewanee Hymn, followed by cheering for Pearigen and his family as the university’s carillon rang.

-Shireen Korkzan is a reporter and assistant editor for Episcopal News Service. She can be reached at