Loyola President Jo Ann Rooney, whose tenure has been marked and marred by controversy, announced this year will be her last as Loyola’s president.
In an email sent to the Loyola community the morning of Aug. 23, Rooney announced she would make her exit as president at the end of the 2021-2022 school year. She cited “deep reflection,” “some personal issues” and a “desire to ensure continuity of leadership” as the university begins to implement its latest strategic plan.
Rooney wasn’t available for interview, according to university spokesperson Anna Shymanski Zach, who said the president’s emailed statement “conveys what she would like to share with the Loyola community regarding her departure.”
Rooney was the first woman and non-Jesuit to hold the position at Loyola. Her tenure began in 2016 following an 11-month-long search for president after former president Rev. Michael J. Garanzini, S.J., resigned in 2015, The Phoenix reported.
Rooney said in her email she was proud of the university’s recent accomplishments, including increasing diversity among students and faculty, bettering student retention rates and developing a new strategic plan. She also mentioned the university’s financial stability.
“I am also proud to be boosting our endowment and strengthening our financial position to provide the financial cushion we need to further our Jesuit mission of expanding “knowledge in the service of humanity through learning, justice, and faith,” Rooney said.
But Rooney was at the center of much criticism from Loyola faculty and students during her time as president. From tuition increases to action in the fight for racial justice, she was called out and called upon consistently.
In her 2016 inaugural address, Rooney said the university needed to stop relying on tuition increases for funding, instead suggesting it look for funds from donors and other means. However, during her five-year tenure, tuition has increased by more than 13% — while her salary neared $800,000 — The Phoenix reported.
Rooney’s 2016 speech also touched on diversity, saying it was “expected by students” and “required by society.” In the latest diversity report from the university — which looks at the student population of the 2019-2020 academic year — the university saw an increase in students who report they’re Hispanic or Asian while the number of students who report they’re Black has fluctuated between three and six percent of the student population, The Phoenix reported.
Loyola’s chapter for the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) called for an “intervention,” with Rooney in June 2019, The Phoenix reported. The group, representing around 200 faculty members, portrayed her as “out of touch,” and “ill-equipped” to lead the university in a letter to the Board of Trustees following the dismantling of the English Language Learning Program.
In the midst of 2020’s racial justice movement, some Loyola students took aim at the university, demanding it cut ties with the Chicago Police Department, provide better funding for Black student organizations on campus, hire more Black faculty members and a public forum with Rooney, among other demands, The Phoenix reported.
“We demand a public forum with President Rooney where we can discuss race-related issues and have an opportunity for Black students to share their frustrations, concerns, and desires,” Our Streets LUC, a student protest group, wrote in their list of demands.
Following months of protests, Rooney attended a virtual town hall hosted by Loyola’s Black Cultural Center, in which she sat and listened as attendees shared their experiences as Black students at Loyola, The Phoenix reported.
Rooney also made headlines when her administration restricted student reporters’ access to university personnel following a series of news stories about sexual assault on campus and neighborhood crime in which her administration refused to be transparent — resulting in The Phoenix’s editorial board calling out the actions taken.
“For as many times as Rooney has issued statements decrying the actions of President Donald Trump and his administration, dealing with Rooney’s administration is no better than a White House press briefing led by Sarah Huckabee Sanders,” the 2019 editorial board wrote.
In an email that followed Rooney’s resignation announcement, Susan Sher — chair of Loyola’s Board of Trustees — thanked Rooney for her leadership at the university and mentioned Rooney has offered to stay at the university longer if a replacement cannot quickly be found. It took Loyola two years to hire a permanent provost who resigned after about a year, The Phoenix reported.
“Her work on behalf of Loyola has strengthened our institution and positioned us well for the future,” Sher wrote in the email.