Presidential search may bring big changes

Tia Teamer

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For the first time in more than a century, a non-Jesuit may lead Loyola University New Orleans.

The Rev. Kevin Wildes, S.J., announced his retirement earlier this year, sparking a nationwide search for his replacement. But, because of several factors, including an international shortage of qualified Jesuit priests, Loyola’s Board of Trustees opened that search to any qualified candidate.

Previously, the university’s charter required that the president be a Jesuit. But the Board revised the charter to remove that requirement.

Interim Provost and Chief Operating Officer David Borofsky said that including non-Jesuits into the pool of candidates means that the university can widen its search to include people with the very specific talents required to successfully and sustainably lead the university.

“They want somebody who is energetic, someone who is visible, who can build relationships,” Borofsky said.

That said, Loyola’s Board of Trustees is not ruling out a Jesuit — if the right one applies.

John Head, Loyola’s director of enrollment management, said that by saying it would only hire a Jesuit president, Loyola would be cutting out a lot of qualified people.

“This gives the search committee a lot of flexibility for the right fit and the right person for this very crucial time for Loyola University New Orleans.”

In the search for a new leader, the Board of Trustees will require a fundraising and data-driven background which they had not in the past.

The Rev. James Carter, S.J., served as Loyola’s longest serving president in the 1980s and ‘90s. He said the shortage of Jesuits has its roots going back decades.

“We knew in the ‘70s that we were going to be short Jesuits 20 or 30 years out because the number of Jesuits were going down,” Carter said.

And Loyola isn’t alone in its struggle to find a Jesuit president.

According to the association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, there are currently 15 lay people serving as presidents of Jesuit institutions out of the 28 Jesuit colleges and university across the country.

The Rev. Ted Dziak, S.J., Loyola’s chaplain and vice president of Mission and Ministry, said that even without a Jesuit at the helm, Loyola isn’t in danger of losing its unique character. He added that in general, Jesuits have become less interested in administrative work and would rather be professors and leaders in university mission and ministry.

“We’re now at a point where Jesuits are helping lay people run schools rather than being co-partners,” Dziak said.

Whoever is chosen as the next president will be charged with setting Loyola on a long-term sustainable path. That’s because in 2013, the university enrolled 200 fewer students than administrators expected, sparking a years-long budget crisis, layoffs and university restructuring.

Sam Reich, a Loyola student ambassador, said she looks forward to the change in leadership.

“Having someone different would be like, wow, and have students see themselves like they could be president, not just a white male Catholic,” Reich said.

If the next president does end up being a lay man or woman, the Association of Jesuit Universities and Colleges has created an accreditation process designed to ensure the lay person is well versed in the Jesuit mission.

Borofsky said working within the Jesuit tradition has helped him form his worldview.

“It requires you to understand things a little different in terms of why Mass is so important and why we take a day and have a Holy Mass and close the university,” Borofsky said.

But in the end, Borofsky is confident that the university’s future will include strong Jesuit ties.

“It doesn’t matter how many men in black shirts are here. What really matters is what we do to help foster it for everyone, and I think whether it’s a lay person or a Jesuit at the top that would be the ultimate decision on whether it remains a Jesuit University for everyone,” Borofskys said.

For his part, Carter said that having a qualified Jesuit president might be the best-case scenario, but he is fine with whatever outcome the search committee decides.

“Deep down inside I would like to live in a world where there are enough Jesuit candidates, but that is not the world we live in, and it may not be very comfortable,” Carter said.

The university expects to have a president chosen by May 2018.

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