Significant Change Marks Jim Towey's 1st Year as AMU President
Published on Monday, 25 June 2012 15:32
Ave Maria University President Jim Towey's first year on the job has had its share of challenges and rewards, but one aspect is particularly gratifying.
"This is the first summer in two years that there hasn't been a moving van outside the door," he said in a recent interview, explaining that the last two summers have involved moves for his family, first from Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C., and then from Washington to Ave Maria.
In many other ways, Mr. Towey said, his first year at Ave Maria was "beyond expectations at many levels, a year choked with activity."
That activity wound up reshaping significant aspects of the university. Mr. Towey cut $3.6 million from the budget, laid off dozens of employees, replaced almost the entire senior management team at the school and both cut and reoriented the Athletics department.
"Normally, all that would hamper the ability to offer a first-rate academic program." But, he said, that was not the case. "We cut no faculty positions, added new majors, an honors program, strengthened the business major and changed the language requirement in the core curriculum from Latin only to allow for modern languages."
Some of the fruits of that effort, he said, are a budget for the coming fiscal year that is far less dependent on Tom Monaghan's wallet – although the founder will still contribute $3 million for the year – and a greatly improved enrollment picture. Pictured above, Mr. Monaghan giving Mr. Towey the Chain of Office at his inauguration in October.
Mr. Towey said he expects about 100 more undergraduate students on campus this fall, with close to 400 freshmen and transfer students bringing total undergraduate enrollment to 850. "Plus," he said, "students will be paying a larger share of the costs than they have before."
Longer term, Mr. Towey has laid out a strategy in a five-year plan just approved by the board of trustees to rely increasingly on tuition and fees for the university's operating budget and focus fundraising efforts on building an endowment.
"Fundraising was up last year," he said. "We had a big year, and the fact is we needed a big year."
About 42 percent of the school's operating budget came from Institutional Advancement, Mr. Towey said, adding that for most universities it's about five percent. For the 2012-13 academic year he said he's hoping to see it at 30 percent.
The strategic plan, which was a year-long effort by the school's staff and faculty, sets goals of financial independence from Mr. Monaghan in the 2014-15 academic year, and an enrollment of 1,300 by 2017. If the school is on track to hit those numbers, it also would necessitate new construction for classrooms and other space by 2015-16.
A number of short-term and longer-term challenges remain, he acknowledged.
Staff and faculty "have not seen a raise in many years, and their pension contributions are suspended."
"We have to look at morale," he said. "People are exhausted. They are very dedicated, and very tired."
AMU also has several immediate personnel needs. The school is searching for a replacement for its long-time Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students, Dan Dentino, who has resigned effective Aug. 1 for what he said were personal reasons. Two highly-regarded professors, Classics Professor Daniel Nodes and Theology Professor Marc Guerra are leaving to assume department chairmanships at Baylor University and Assumption College in Worcester.
In filling openings, Mr. Towey said that he is hoping to diversify the leadership the university which, with the departure of former fundraising chief Carole Carpenter, is now "all white male."
One management move Mr. Towey made that garnered perhaps the most attention was his decision to revamp the school's football program in the wake of dismal academic performance by the team members. Head Coach Barry Fagan was let go and now, "football is like any other student activity," Mr. Towey said.
"One fourth to one-third of our students compete in intercollegiate athletics," he said. "But we can't kid ourselves. We're not going to be an NCAA Division 1 school. Our goal is for kids to get a degree. We fail if kids come to play sports and flunk out."
Now, Mr. Towey said, "word is getting out about the quality of the education at Ave Maria and the low debt load our students are graduating with." He also drew significant national attention when Ave Maria University became one of the first Catholic institutions to file suit against the federal Department of Health and Human Services over its directive that health insurance include coverage for many services that are morally offensive to Catholics.
And the school now boasts official designation from the Diocese of Venice as a "Catholic" university.
In the end, Mr. Towey said, he wants AMU to be regarded at some point as the nation's "top Catholic liberal arts college."
"But you can't start out like that. You have to earn it."
Personally, Mr. Towey was also able earlier in the summer to make his 13th trip to Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity in India, where, with his three sons, he worked in the missions. Mr. Towey said he continues to perform pro-bono legal work for the order, as he did for Mother Teresa when she was alive. Right, Mr. Towey with Mother Teresa.
And as the summer heat descends on Southwest Florida and the town of Ave Maria thins out, Mr. Towey seems content both with the challenges of the job and his new life in the community.
"I want to stay a while. My family loves this community."