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Latest with Lahey
The Chronicle sat down with President John Lahey for an interview on the future of the university and the issues it has faced this year. While the university has focused on growing its campus, programs and enrollment in the past, Lahey said Quinnipiac will now work to improve the quality of education and increase its prestige.
Growth under Lahey
“I wouldn’t say I had a perfect crystal ball that I knew we had to do all those things back in 1987 but the growth and development has clearly been part of the vision to really transform Quinnipiac from a small college, a local college, a commuter college here in Connecticut to a major national university and as you can see most of that has happened and we will continue to expand on a national basis and get better known even.”
Lahey wants QU to be ranked among the top 100 universities in the nation
“I think the next 10 years will be much more focused almost exclusively on quality and moving the academic reputation of Quinnipiac University up to higher and higher levels, so that we’re seen not only among the top 100 universities in America, but that in certain areas at least that we can be very well the top, the top five or the top 10.”
What is one way Lahey plans to do this?
His goal is to raise the endowment from $400 million to $1 billion by 2029, in time for QU’s 100th anniversary. This will allow the university to endow faculty chairs, which will attract better faculty, and provide more scholarships, which will attract better students.
“I hope [raising the endowment] will reduce the costs to the students. I mean the cost of higher education is expensive….I’d like to be able to tell you the cost in higher education is not going to be going up. I think it will continue to go up, primarily driven by personnel and the need to continue to upgrade the quality of equipment and facilities. But the cost to the students doesn’t have to go up. The idea about raising endowment money for student scholarships, if we can raise more funds that we can give to students for scholarships, the cost to them hopefully will not be going up.”
How is QU going to raise $600 million by 2029?
Lahey will ask Board of Trustees members and alumni to donate to QU. He says it will be easier to raise $600 million by 2029, than it was to raise $397 million from 1987 to 2016.
“I must say I’m so optimistic about it. It’s so much easier now to attract a board member, and a board member who is both successful in their own life and who has acquired wealth and who wants to be part of Quinnipiac University. Twenty-five years ago it was not as easy to sell, to become part of. We were a small institution, we were local, we weren’t that well known, quite honestly, and we didn’t have the academic standing that we have today. But I think what we have here now is a gem of an asset and I think people will want to come on the board of Quinnipiac because of the prestige associated with it….Getting from $3 million to $400 million I think was a much more challenging task than it will be for us to go from $400 million to $1 billion. I think that’s very much achievable and I think we’ll exceed it, frankly.”
DEALING WITH STUDENT SIZE
Lahey says the undergraduate size will stay at about 7,000, but the graduate enrollment (currently about 3,000) could increase by a little bit. But how does the university plan to handle the number of students it has now?
“[The average class size] has gone up a little bit, I would say. But it’s in the low 20s….You go to large universities, any state university, you have classes with 500, 1,000 students and the course will be taught by a graduate assistant, not a full professor, so we don’t even come close to that. So on the margins, maybe it’s gone up a little bit, but in terms of the quality of instruction it hasn’t been affected at all. The [longer] lines in the dining halls, I think it depends on the peaks of when you go. Everyone wants to eat at the same time, it’s like building St. Patrick’s Cathedral for Easter Sunday.
What are the plans for alleviating the housing issues the Class of 2019 has faced this year on the Mount Carmel campus?
“Now [the students in the Class of 2019 who don’t have housing yet] may not be exactly where they want…but I think we’ll be able to accommodate all of them. I can’t guarantee that every sophomore who wants housing on the Mount Carmel campus is going to be accommodated, but I think the number that [won’t be] will be smaller. The town will not allow us to build anymore residence halls on this campus. They told us that years ago and that’s one of the reasons we built York Hill….It’s unfortunate because we do have space on this [Mount Carmel] campus and maybe we can revisit it as relations improve with the town of Hamden.”
RELATIONSHIP WITH HAMDEN
How does Lahey describe the relationship with Hamden?
“I think it’s very good right now. I meet regularly with the mayor, Curt Leng. I’ve met with him in his office several times, we’ve met here with him on this campus….He has my cell phone number and I have his, and it’s a very cordial, mutually supportive role, and I think certainly given the last several years, I think the town-gown relations with Hamden are very much on the upswing.”
How does Lahey describe the relationship between Quinnipiac students and Hamden residents?
“Obviously I love Quinnipiac and I love Quinnipiac students, I’m not objective. I mean look, you have 18 to 22 year olds, who are away from home and working hard to get the degrees they have and during that time they’re going to have to have some social life events go on. And the incidents that we have had, they’re few and far between. I mean, 99.9 percent of students that come to Quinnipiac are some of the best young people. As I’ve said on a number of occasions, I would be proud to have every one of them as my son or daughter. And they’re very respectful, and you know, they work hard, play hard to some degree, and they cross the boundaries of both our rules and laws and so on from time to time, but it’s a rare exception…. That’s not to say for the neighbors where the students have acted up and have been loud at night and so on, yeah, I certainly have great sympathy for them. My solution, which I’ve communicated to the mayor, is I don’t believe students should be living in those neighborhoods that are overwhelmingly residential, where you’ve got young kids and families and elderly people.”
What does Lahey think about the struggles the university has had getting Hamden to approve its plans to upgrade the athletic fields?
“[The approval process has] just taken forever. The town has not been frankly cooperative with us. But the mayor has committed to me that he’s going to make sure our projects get considered on their merits and in a much more timely fashion than they have in the past and if that happens I think we’ll certainly look to working with the town of Hamden and helping them in some areas that they would like our help….I’m very optimistic that we’ll get these projects approved, get these fields done for September 2017.”
EXPANSION INTO NORTH HAVEN
QU worked with developers to secure 60 beds for students on Washington Avenue in North Haven, and the university is working to have another 100 to 150 beds for students in the area. The university does not own these apartments, but worked with developers to make them available for those who take classes on the North Haven campus.
“Mike Freda, the first selectman [in North Haven], couldn’t be more supportive. We sit down with his people, we don’t ask for any special favors, we know there are rules and laws and we want to obey them and the needs that the town has and the needs that we have. And we sit down in North Haven and talk about them, the residence hall was a good example. They were very supportive of our students living along Washington Avenue and the only request that we made was that we don’t build them ourselves and therefore not have them on the tax roll, that we work with developers to do that.”
What did Lahey think of QU being in the Frozen Four?
“God knows how many people saw us on TV and pronounced Quinnipiac correctly and what it did to the school spirit, watching the game…It’s hard to quantify the value of that….We’re at the stage now where athletics is bringing us some national recognition. But for me, the opportunity is not to talk about athletics, or at least just about athletics, but to talk about the quality of the institution.”
The rugby team posted on social media, upset that Lahey had emailed the student body about Quinnipiac making the Frozen Four when he did not send an email when rugby won its national championship. What would Lahey say to these rugby athletes?
“We have 21 sports and rugby is still an emerging sport, actually, but I love them all. When they win a national championship, I think that’s great, but I would say, again, the amount of media coverage–it’s not a question of my recognizing a team, I recognize all our teams that do well and I call coaches after games and talk with them–so the point that I really was communicating about the men’s hockey is the amount of national coverage that they gave the university….I try to look at not just the team’s athletics in terms of their success on the field, or on the ice or on the court, or wherever it is, but what it is doing to extend the good name of Quinnipiac far and wide. And I think if you use that as the standard and that’s what I was really thanking the team for and congratulating them.”