A Q&A with President Lahey
The Chronicle’s Editor-in-Chief, Sarah Doiron, sat down with Quinnipiac President John Lahey to discuss the future of the university and events that occurred throughout this academic year
How has the university dealt with population growth on-campus?
We actually are not growing. I don’t consider 1.4 percent a lot of growth, so the goal we had set for ourselves is to get to roughly 7,000 full-time undergraduates and 3,000 graduates, and we are almost there. I would say that we probably will be there this fall. We bring in our desired class of 1,900 freshmen and 200 transfer students, and we have been almost exactly that number for the last two years. I don’t think we will see much growth at the undergraduate level, but we do want to see growth at the graduate level.
What is the update on the new dormitory on York Hill?
If we get it approved, then next year we will construct that, and the timing of that depends more on Planning and Zoning, but since relations with the town are in much better shape than they have been in the past, I’m more confident that will be approved. It’ll be a senior design with private rooms and air conditioning, but it will also accommodate fraternities and sororities. There will be very large areas where they will be able to meet. We hope to work with fraternities and sororities to designate some of the apartments to be fraternity and sorority apartments. It wouldn’t be anything like fraternity or sorority houses, but it could be a focal point for them.
What is the university doing to alleviate stresses for students trying to live on-campus?
Last year, we didn’t assign enough sophomores to the York Hill campus, and I think that created more overcrowding on (the Mount Carmel) campus. Clearly, the plan is to not have any tripling or having any students living in lounges or anything that we consider unacceptable housing. I would expect this will not take place this coming fall. This is requiring more sophomores than desired to live on the York Hill campus, but I think that is a consequence of the number of students and the demand that’s out there. We will be appropriately housing without overcrowding next year, and I think the real challenge will be getting this new dormitory up because if that were not to happen in time, then we would be forcing students to live off campus or inappropriately house them. We also committed to some housing up in North Haven, and we are open to adding more to that and the whole complex so those are also available to undergraduates.
Will this attract more students to the idea of living on-campus?
I think that depends on the quality of housing we are giving. Eastview is a senior housing option that is over-subscribed, so the building we are designing is going to be of the same type. We think it is very attractive. Freshman and sophomores are used to living in dormitory housing, so the housing we have for them is okay, but when you get to be juniors and seniors, students seem to want more amenities and more privacy. I think as long as we design the appropriate housing and price it competitively, I think more students will live on-campus.
What is the update with construction on the athletic fields?
I am very confident that these fields will be ready so we can play on them and use them in September. It’s a big project, but it’s been a mild winter, so really it has pretty much stayed on schedule.
What is the update on changing the dining services at Quinnipiac?
There will be renovations over the summer. Once completed, this will be a very significant change across all three campuses. There will be changes on the North Haven campus to make it more attractive, and the changes on the Mount Carmel and York Hill campuses will be even more radical. We have had a lot of student input on this, so we are pretty confident in the students and what they would like, and this will be a much more attractive than in the past. It relates to the servery and the types of food and when it’s served, so it’s a very substantial change than what we are doing currently. It is still with Chartwells, and they are excited about it as well and are contributing some money towards it because they think it will also be more attractive and generate more revenues for them.
What will come of the property along Whitney Avenue?
We want to have it be an attractive green space. We don’t have plans to put any buildings there right now. We think long term it would be nice to have an attractive inn located near campus, but right now we are just going to beautify the area. We plan to fill in the corner of Whitney Avenue and Mount Carmel Avenue with a big sign welcoming people to Quinnipiac because we own that land and that is much more of the welcoming area when people come to visit. We would also like to build sidewalks, especially to connect all of our offices along the street. We are going to have the two historic houses tied into the landscape as well. We are going to also tie that in with some parking to people can visit those houses. It is one thing to say we have a historic house, but it’s another to have people visit this house. We want to tie that whole area into the Quinnipiac campus and make it more attractive.
What do you think of the community’s response to the new logo and the new website?
I think it was generally positive. Obviously, people were not happy with the lowercase “u,” and we actually changed that in result of that. That is the area I heard most about, and I think in general it has been pretty well-received. The mark with the lowercase “u” turned out to be pretty visible because it was on a lot of things across campus. But it became a distraction from what we are trying to accomplish. We wanted to use the word Quinnipiac by itself and that is why the “u” was initially deemphasized. What got a lot of attention was the lowercase “u,” and I’m glad the students provided pressure and were very helpful in moving that along. But I would say that that was less than 5 percent of what we have been doing by upgrading our website and our branding. Overall, I am very pleased, but you never bat 1,000, so I think we batted about 900 and what where we fell short we quickly made a change.
Regarding the Snapchat photo incident that occurred earlier this academic year, do you think the university handled it correctly?
All of these situations are very complicated. On one hand, we have legal and moral obligations to protect the privacy of individuals, and if we are investigating something that may be wrong, it has to be done in a confidential way so innocent people are protected, and if there are guilty people, they are identified and appropriately dealt with. Given all the complexities, I think we handled it as best as it could have been handled. While we don’t always do things perfectly at Quinnipiac, we certainly strive to do them right, and I think Mark Thompson handled it very well.
What do you think about all of the peaceful protests that have occurred this academic year?
It may be a very good sign. I think young people between the ages of 18 and 22 should be very idealistic and should be more politically engaged than they have been. (The protests) obviously have to be peaceful, you have to respect other people and you can’t destroy property, but what else is college but the free expression of ideas and debates and peaceful protest? It should be a part of our culture, and I have felt for the last 20 years or so campuses have been too quiet and students have disengaged from things.
How do you interact with students on a daily basis?
My most extensive interaction with students used to be when I was teaching. I used to teach a philosophy class here, but I stopped doing it about four years ago because we added some more philosophers and I felt like I was taking classes away from them. I sort of regret it because it gave me a substantive connection with students that my normal activities don’t. Certainly as we have grown, it has been more difficult for me to have as many interactions with students. This generation loves to take pictures, and I will say I make a special effort to allow it. At hockey games after the first period, I leave the University Club and walk down to the student section and take photos with students and talk to them. I do go to a lot of student events and it varies depending on my schedule, but the selfies get the most attention because this generation loves to take photos and I am happy to do it. It is important, particularly for the president, that you have a good sense of where the student body is, and I will say I personally feel closer to the students than a lot of my colleagues are. It’s critical, because if you are too far removed and don’t interact with the students, then you will make bad decisions and you won’t make decisions that are in the best interest of the students.
What is the status of club sports and when will they be recognized by the university?
We have not finalized the dealings with the Title IX consent decree. The fields were a major piece of that, the only remaining item on the list we agreed to do is to have a rec center of sorts with a regulation-sized track. The track we have currently is not designed for collegiate indoor or outdoor track, so we have been using the track down at Yale. We have plans to put a rec center on York Hill that will be a track with a big lawn around it and have some artificial turf in the middle for intramurals. It will probably be another year or two before that happens because it has to be approved by the town and built. Once that’s completed, we are very supportive of club sports on-campus. Currently, (Director of Athletics and Recreation) Greg Amodio is looking at all our club sports that we do have and the things we might add, so the planning is going on already so when we do get from under the consent decree, we can move pretty quickly in terms of approving club sports and allowing it to flourish as they do at other universities.
Why did you not attend the Women’s Rugby Pep Rally?
It wasn’t any intentional slight. It is tough. We have 21 sports, and I go to as many sporting events as my schedule allows, and I get criticized for going to a lot of basketball and hockey games, but that is because I am usually fundraising there. I think it should give students a sense that I do as much as I can and I don’t have favorites when it comes to any sports teams. But that letter I sent out about the men’s ice hockey team, I just thought it was extraordinary for two years out of a four-year time period for them to get us that kind of exposure on a national stage, in the same away the women’s basketball team did, was extraordinary. They didn’t win, but the exposure they got us was unbelievable. (As for) the rugby team, I was very proud of them that they won. I included in a letter to the Board of Trustees and subsequently said it to the entire university community that they won the national championship. You can’t satisfy everyone, and if I were to go to all 21 sports teams’ games, I wouldn’t have time to do anything else. It is unfortunate that this team felt slighted, but I certainly didn’t intend any slight.
What is the update on the creation of an equestrian center?
We haven’t done anything with that. Again, that is tied up with Title IX. The reason that came up is because we own the property on Mount Carmel Avenue. People are still living there, the Papa family, and they can live there for another five years at least, and if we needed the property, we could give them 12 months notice but we don’t have any immediate plans. We also purchased the adjacent piece of land which happened to have a horse stable and they had horses there. Certainly there is a possibility, we have no hard and fast plans for that property. But in the area of athletics or as a club or recreational or intercollegiate, it would be a terrific place for (an equestrian center). It could also be a place for student retreats or activities. We could turn it into a number of things that could enhance the quality of life for our students here, but we are not going to do anything specifically in the athletics area until Title IX is settled, and we wouldn’t do much until the Papa family leaves.
What are your strategies to raise the endowment to $1 billion by 2029?
Our endowment today is roughly $440 million so we have to raise that by just under $600 million. Our plan is to raise $150 million through new gifts that we receive, and our priority for the next 10 years is just to raise money for the endowment. We are looking for support for endowed faculty chairs, so we can add some great new faculty or keep some of the great faculty we have and for student scholarships. I am confident that we will get to roughly $600 million from fundraising. The plan will be that the endowment under the direction of the Board Investment Committee will raise another $200 million over the next 10 years, and the balance we hope to be able to generate through the budget process and add it to the endowment. It’s those three areas that will help us get to $1 billion.
Do you have any plans to retire soon?
I just finished my 30th year on March 29. I wouldn’t say “soon,” but I have plans. I don’t think anyone would accuse me of not planning. I have been planning the future of Quinnipiac all these years, and I’ve also been planning my own life. I am also working with my senior staff on the transition plan, which includes the significant retirements that have happened with the past few years. I am putting in place key people who can be around and hopefully provide leadership for several decades. I won’t be here in 10 years and probably won’t be here in five years, but I have a plan in mind to complete some of the things I have been working on for many years.
Fun facts about President Lahey:
What is your best memory at Quinnipiac?
The things I appreciate the most are the people who have made Quinnipiac a great institution. Often students walk around campus and go to Buckman and Lender, Bernhard, Netter, Echlin. And I don’t know what students think, but for me those are all people. Individuals who could’ve done anything with their money or time or associations, but instead attached their name and were generous and lended their support.
What is your favorite vacation spot?
Palm Beach, where I actually have a home. Judy (Lahey) and I enjoy Florida very much; she probably enjoys it more than I do. We lived Miami when we were young for 15 years after we got married. I did my Ph.D. there, and we just fell in love with the beach and the weather and the lifestyle. My favorite cities are New York, Paris, all the cities of Ireland and Istanbul. I like spending time there. Judy doesn’t like city life as much as I do, but Florida is an area that we both really enjoy.
Do you have any pets?
No. We used to have dogs, though. Our dog Bogey, a Shih Tzu, died four years ago, we have his ashes up on our bookcase. I think my wife loved Bogey more than me. We had him for 15 years, but before that, Judy used to breed West Highland Terriers. So, we had West Highland Terriers for probably the first 20 years of our marriage. (Judy and I) have been married for 47 years.
What is your favorite late night snack?
Someone asked me not too long ago, “What is your greatest accomplishment at Quinnipiac?” and it’s funny because I’m actually almost to the pound the same weight as I was when I first came here. I don’t have a lot of late night snacks, and I don’t eat sweets. I haven’t had a hotdog or hamburger in about 20 years.
What is your favorite alcoholic beverage?
I would say Midleton Irish Whiskey. I’ve visited the distillery in Ireland.
What is your favorite restaurant near Quinnipiac?
Luce. But Blessings To Go is my favorite take out place.
Have you ever been to Toad’s Place?
Yes. I went a few years ago during Senior Week because the students invited me. The place is packed, and it’s not that impressive of a place, so I’m assuming it’s the crowd that makes it attractive. It was a huge crowd of Quinnipiac seniors, so I got to hang out and talk with everyone, but that was it.