St. John’s Looks Forward – Members of University Community Talk New President

When Donald J. Harrington, C.M announced last Friday that he is retiring as President of the University, people immediately began speculating about who would replace him. Although the who and the when are still up in the air, students and faculty do know what qualities they would like to see in his successor.

“The qualities I would like to see with the new president of St. John’s University are honesty, attentiveness to the needs of the student body,” Irma Khawaja, a sophomore, said. “Commitment towards the St. John’s goals and acceptance of every belief and culture. I feel as though having these qualities set a good foundation for any leader.”

Many faculty members and students acknowledged the accomplishments of Harrington such as educational improvements and expanding the University. They expressed that they would like to see these qualities translate into the next presidency, but with other significant improvements.

“I think that it is imperative that the successor to the Reverend Harrington be an academic leader,” Dr. Gregory Maertz, a professor of English, said. “Who is committed to the process of higher education.”

Harrington, who took over the presidency in 1989 as St. John’s 15th president, was previously president of Niagara University. Rev. Joseph T. Cahill, Harrington’s predecessor, was President of Niagara University as well, before serving as president of St. John’s, like Harrington, for nearly 25 years, according to Cahill’s obituary from the New York Times.

The streak of presidents coming from the same position at Niagara University will likely be broken this time around. Rev. James J. Maher, C.M. will become Niagara University’s 26th president beginning August 1. Maher served St. John’s for over 20 years and most recently as executive vice president for mission and student services, according to the St. John’s University website.

When asked for information regarding the selection process for a new president, a University spokeswoman referred to the letter sent from Board of Trustees chair Peter D’Angelo following Harrington’s retirement announcement that said that an announcement would be made in the coming weeks regarding a transition to new leadership.

Khawaja, who is the President of the Muslim Students Association, said she hopes the next president is attentive to the concerns of students while noting the recent University decision to have Peter King speak at commencement.

“What I hope this new president will do is keep St. John’s values in mind when making decisions, “ she said. “As well as keeping the requests of students in mind when there is a problem presented by the general student body.”

Qualities that faculty members articulated were similar to those of students, some qualities generalized and others more specific.

“Willingness to work together with faculty,” Dr. Dolores Augustine, a professor of history, said. “That would be a wonderful thing.”

The majority of faculty members communicated they would like to see a president dedicated to academics.

Dr. Jeffrey Kinkley, a professor of history, being one of them. He said he would like to see a president who has strong academic leadership.

“So I think we need somebody who will bring us a blast of fresh air from the outside,” he said. “And a whole lot of sunlight to warm things up a little bit.”

Maertz reiterated his hope is for a president who is committed to higher education.

“And, who does not simply see himself as some kind of CEO,” he said.

Additional Reporting by Mitchell Petit-Frere, Managing Editor