There are still six weeks before Patrick Leahy is officially named the sixth president of Wilkes University. Yet, even though his job hasn’t started, Leahy has been making visits to the university in his goals to absorb the culture, history and values of Wilkes.
Leahy was announced as current President Joseph (Tim) Gilmour’s successor in March. He will begin the position on July 1, and he said until then he will be working to build valuable relationships on campus and to learn everything he can about the school.
Leahy, whose experience includes being executive vice president of the University of Scranton and 13 years in the private sector, said he looks forward to introducing his wife Amy and his four children to the Wilkes community.
“I’ll thrilled about the feasibility of being the new president at Wilkes and my family and I are delighted about this opportunity,” Leahy said.
Leahy promised to start his position by visiting every department and administrative unit within his first 60 days to get to know the community.
Along with business and fundraising experience, Leahy will bring an appreciation of humanities to Wilkes. He said this area is important to him, as he studied English as an undergraduate at Georgetown University, and he will ensure it will be cultivated along with sciences.
“I believe wholeheartedly in strength of the liberal arts, in particular because of the skills and the critical thinking and the communication skills that it creates in our students irrespective of what field they choose to go into,” Leahy said. “So I’ll look hard to make sure we properly fund the humanities while we’re making this big investment in the sciences.”
Sitting down with The Beacon for an exclusive interview, Leahy told us what he’s learned about Wilkes so far and gave a preview of his presidential plans.
Feedback from the Wilkes community
“I’m trying to demonstrate an openness to new ideas and candid conversation, and I think if I can establish that early that will serve me well when I become the president.”
“The most important constituencies that we have at a university is the students. I intend to be very present to them. You’ll see me quite frequently in the SUB … as well as be present around campus.
I don’t know if there are specific things so much as just being present to the campus and the student and just delighting in the interactions that I have with them. I think that alone will demonstrate to the students my commitment to them.”
“The candid conversations that we’re having I think are going to be extremely constructive when I become the president in July.”
“I think the primary feedback, my primary understanding is people love this place. They care deeply about it, in particular improving to the extent we can – continually improving the student experience here at Wilkes. That’s a very comforting thing for an incoming president to feel when talking to people.”
Challenges anticipated for next year
“I think we have our challenges as a university, which are consistent with challenges faced by universities all across the high education community. I don’t think we’re alone in that. But I sense in the people I’m meeting a sincerity in addressing these challenges and turning into opportunities in the future.
“With a new president there’s always some concern about whether that person will bring a new culture to the place. I think some people see that positively and other people like to keep things the way they are, so I think there’s a little bit of anxiety about that.
But I tried to assure them that we’re all in this together and that my style, my design is quite collaborative. I believe those challenges I mentioned are going to be the responsibility of all of us.”
“It’s a new job for me, I fully expect there to be a learning curve. I’ll try to move up that curve as quickly as possible for the benefit of Wilkes.”
“What I won’t have the benefit of our personal relationships with donors, and I do believe that big gifts can some times originate from personal relationship, and I won’t have that because of how new I’ll be.
“And our hope is to sort of complete this campaign in the next couple of years, sort of consistent with the opening of the building, so it won’t give me a lot of time to develop those relationships.
“So that might be a bit of a challenge in the early years, but I do think that one of my strengths is the ability to develop relationships with people.”
Budget cuts and possible solutions
“I’ll take a fresh look at everything in a smart way. I do think certain programs are ripe for growing enrollment, and I think I’ll focus to the extent possible first on growing our resource base so we don’t have to rely on balancing our budget simply by cutting.”
“I do think we ought to look at growing resources hopefully by growing headcounts and enrollments where it makes sense to grow enrollments, and of course trying hard to raise a lot more money for the faculty and students here at Wilkes University.
I think that’s the way, ultimately, we will address any budget challenges, is to be really smart about our budgeting and to generate more resources, both of which I intend to do as president.”
Wilkes’ areas of strength
“One of the most exciting things about coming to Wilkes is … we have an incredible exciting university, replete with all kinds of different things going on, so there’s no shortage of compelling projects to introduce to donors, No. 1. The science center is just one of them, I believe.
“And secondly what I’ve discovered in my time both as a candidate and now as the incoming president is there’s no shortage of people who love Wilkes University. And when you put together compelling projects and a compelling future with people who really care and have resources, that’s where great philanthropy happens.
“I think that we’ve just began to scratch the surface on the philanthropic support this university can get. I’m really enthusiastic about that part of the job.”
“I’m incredibly impressed by the care in which our faculty members pursue their work. It’s been very moving to be to see how committed they are to the students here.
The single most important thing is how engaged are the faculty in the work that they do day in and day out, and ours is incredibly engaged in that. And what a luxury for an incoming president to have that already available to have that to him or her. I feel very lucky joining a community like that.”