In her inaugural address on Friday afternoon, Loyola President Jo Ann Rooney delivered the hard truth about the challenges facing the university while projecting a positive outlook for the future.
A singing choir accompanied the procession of dozens of delegates from all colleges at the university into Gentile Arena to welcome the 24th president of Loyola — the first female, non-Jesuit and lay president in the school’s 146-year history.
Donning the silver president’s medallion, which is engraved with the names of the past 23 presidents, Rooney was welcomed and praised by students and faculty from all levels of the university.
Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt welcomed Rooney and asked God to bless the university president in her new role. Reverend John Fitzgibbons from Regis University, said he could “attest to [Rooney’s] passion, dedication and leadership.”
Mariana Chavez, president of Student Government of Loyola Chicago (SGLC), welcomed Rooney on behalf of the student body.
“We are honored to call [Rooney] a fellow Rambler,” said Chavez.
As the bright silver medallion shone around her neck, Rooney explained her vision to address the urgent challenges facing Loyola.
Rooney said she prioritizes the needs for Loyola to stop relying on increasing tuition to fund the university, retain African-American and Hispanic students to sustain a diverse campus and follow through with Loyola’s Plan 2020.
Rooney opened her speech with a quote by St. Ignatius of Loyola — “Go set the world on fire” — before acknowledging the many challenges facing higher education and the unique challenges confronting a Jesuit university. She said the school still has work to do, but she acknowledged the strides made by previous administrators in the past decade.
The theme of Rooney’s address was enacting change on “Monday morning,” and starting with the marginalized members of society. “Monday morning,” to Rooney, is when the first day of Loyola’s future begins — a reference to the immediate start of her administrative efforts. She explained that change begins with the peripheries, or outer edges of society, where the most vulnerable people reside.
Sophomore Norman Frazier said he was excited to experience the significant moment in Loyola’s history.
“I thought [the inauguration] was really amazing,” said the 19-year-old history major. “It was really a spectacular historic moment during my time here at Loyola.”
Refusing to sugarcoat the facts, Rooney warned of the university’s reliance on continually increasing tuition to maintain funding. While she said Loyola is in “enviable” financial stability, her current projection is that — given the current increasing rates for operating costs — expenses will outweigh revenue before the class of 2020 graduates.
Rooney said the school needs to work on increasing funding from other areas, such as donations from benefactors to the university.
Rooney also reaffirmed that the school should be proud of its effort to promote diversity, but said Loyola still lacks in that area. She said that graduation rates for African-American and Hispanic students are 68 percent and 50 percent, respectively.
Diversity, to Rooney, is Loyola’s duty as a Jesuit university.
“[Diversity is] expected of us by our students and required of us by society,” Rooney said.
Rooney said she hopes the Loyola community can continue to work to ensure that Plan 2020 — the school’s five-year plan to build new programs and address the community’s needs — is a success.
She spoke of the university creating an “innovation fund” meant to finance students’ and faculty members’ ideas to better the university. She recognized the risk involved in creating such a fund but said she saw it as an opportunity to succeed.
“We will experience wild success and abject failure,” Rooney said.
Rooney also focused on remembering Loyola’s identity as a Jesuit University. She said Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope, sets an example for refusing to settle for the status quo. To get serious about the solutions she presented, Rooney said the community must risk discomfort, embrace change and work toward social justice.
“Respect for everyone is not an option,” Rooney said.
Rooney was thankful yet firm in her agenda. In his welcoming remarks, Bob Parkinson, the chairman of Loyola’s board of trustees, said Rooney is not to be underestimated.
“Don’t mistake her kindness for weakness,” said Parkinson.
With 22 members of her family in attendance, Rooney could not contain her gratitude for their support.
“[I’m] truly at a loss to express [my gratitude] … Thank you, from the bottom of my heart,” she said, getting a bit choked up.
Gabbi Kramer, a junior history major, is excited for how Rooney will differ from her predecessors, given that she is a layperson and female.
“I’m really excited to see what [Rooney] does, coming from a different perspective,” Kramer, 21, said.
Senior MaGabriela Perez, 23, said she likes a lot of Rooney’s ideas, but worries it might be too big of a load to tackle.
“She [has] many projects, so I’m just wondering if she’s going to make it [happen] or not,” said Perez, an international business major.
Rooney reminded the audience that while the change starts “on Monday,” the crowd should pause and be mindful of the present.
“In this moment, let us be grateful,” Rooney said.
Although she’s not a Jesuit, Rooney closed her speech on a hopeful note with a quote by Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J., a former superior general of the Society of Jesus, on the importance of being good.
“What is difficult is to be good in an evil world,” Rooney quoted. “[But] evil is overcome by good … [and] egoism is overcome by generosity.”