At her introductory ceremony, Loyola’s new president Dr. Jo Ann Rooney said the time had come for her to make the jump and take her new position at Loyola’s helm.
After an 11-month wait, the time had certainly come for Loyola to have a president once again.
Rooney, a two-time small college president and former member of the United States Department of Defense, will become the 24th president of Loyola. Starting Aug. 1, she will replace John Pelissero, who served as the interim president since the Rev. Michael Garanzini, S.J., stepped down from the position in June 2015.
Led by chairman of the Board of Trustees Robert Parkinson Jr., Loyola’s 11-member presidential search committee announced the decision in a ceremony on Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus on May 23.
Following the announcement, Rooney and Parkinson sat down with The PHOENIX for an exclusive interview about Rooney’s transition to Loyola and the challenges she will face on her first day as president.
Rooney has seemingly come into her new role with her priorities set, but she hasn’t yet said how she plans to tackle certain issues.
But as Rooney and Parkinson acknowledged, Rooney is still under-informed or simply unaware of certain challenges facing the university. That’s natural, given the little amount of time she’s spent at Loyola thus far. As Parkinson said, Loyola’s search firm Isaacson, Miller, first made contact with Rooney just four months ago, and her first meeting with the firm was about a month and a half ago.
But Rooney explained that, even at this early stage, she knows she has “several opportunities” to focus on as she gets her Loyola career started. Chief among those “opportunities” is advancing the work of the Diversity and Inclusion Executive Council, which was founded during the last school year.
However, keeping college education accessible to students is another one of her main concerns.
“How do we continue to make the education affordable for students so that they don’t come out with a lot of debt?” said Rooney. “So that’s the kind of things you’re hearing about from endowments, to research grants, to partnerships.”
Another issue she plans to address is safety on and around the Loyola campuses.
In the past year and a half, there have been two students shot, one fatally, just off Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus (LSC). As The PHOENIX reported in April, Loyola’s Campus Safety police logs recorded 104 incidents of violent crime from August 2014 to March 2016 on LSC, Water Tower Campus and off campus in Rogers Park.
Some members of the Loyola community have suggested Campus Safety lacks resources. Although Rooney said enlarging Campus Safety may be a possibility, she said she isn’t yet sure of the best way to solve Loyola’s crime problem.
“There’s no one easy answer,” said Rooney. “In order to fulfill the mission … we have got to make sure people are in a safe environment.”
Parkinson said the Board of Trustees places the highest importance on safety.
“There is no responsibility more important to the Board of Trustees and the leadership of this university than to provide a safe environment for our students and our faculty and our staff,” said Parkinson. “ As important as [providing a valuable education] is, safety is the paramount responsibility. I know you have Dr. Rooney’s full commitment to doing everything possible to ensure a safe environment.”
Rooney and Parkinson both talked about an affordable education system, with Loyola’s Arrupe College — a two-year community college founded in 2015 that provides an opportunity for financially restricted inner-city students to receive associate degrees — serving as the model for that plan.
Amid Illinois’ state budget crisis, funding for colleges across the state has been slowed or halted. Part of that funding is Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants, which are given to students who demonstrate financial need.
With that money not provided to universities in Illinois for the 2015-16 academic year, Loyola spent $10 million to cover student grants, according to Pelissero.
Parkinson said although Rooney and the Board of Trustees are expecting to receive state funding for the grants in the next academic year, the university has plans in place not only to survive another year of dry funding, but potentially permanently supplant state funds.
“Higher education has, historically, been so dependent upon financial support from the federal government [and] from the states,” said Parkinson. “But the reality is many states, Illinois being high on the list, face economic crises. So it requires us, then, to look for other sources of revenue. Dr. Rooney mentioned earlier the high priority need of building our endowment, so that we can augment the inevitable reduction of public funding going forward.”
Despite previous concern about the future of Arrupe College, Rooney said the downtown Chicago college is critical to Loyola’s mission, and it’s not only safe from any funding concerns, but it may even be expanded.
“We need to find the ways … to make sure that we’ve got the financial resources and support that aren’t put in flux because of difficulties, whether it’s with federal or state budgets,” said Rooney. “I would see no reason that Arrupe College [would fail], and especially expanding [the college]. I think it’s even just not keeping it insular, but really expanding that because it does get to the issues of the access, and the completion and all of those pieces on the education have to be at the heart of it.”
Rooney and Parkinson both discussed Loyola’s mission as a key player in any decisions on Arrupe College. That mission may lead Loyola to take on more “experiments” like Arrupe in the near future.
“Arrupe is a wonderful… I’ll still call it an experiment at this stage, but it’s one we’re committed to,” said Parkinson. “We’re committed to expanding [Arrupe], and based on what I think will be the inevitable success of Arrupe, [that model] will work for other similar kinds of initiatives and programs that we can come back [to] and more fully fulfill our mission.”
Two months sit between Rooney and the president’s office. Now that she has her priorities set, the next order of business is to figure out how to solve the challenges she outlined. To use her words, the time has come.