47th President: A Scholar And Administrator

By Tim Haggerty Hoya Staff Writer

A scholar and an administrator. From the time that University President Leo J. O’Donovan, S.J., took his Healy office, he has focused his attention on Georgetown’s two-fold community – as a school and a business.

Thirty-three years after he graduated from Georgetown, O’Donovan came back to the university from the Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass. A professor of systematic theology, he knew about the “community of scholars” that he was charged to lead.

But, he quickly found himself besieged by administrative tasks and fundraising missions, heading a unique type of business with thousands of employees and a budget in the billions.

Over his tenure, which will end in June of 2001, O’Donovan has carved a unique legacy as he has blurred the lines between administrator and educator – demonstrating the dual role of a university as a school and as a business.

When O’Donovan stepped back onto the campus in 1989, he found himself following in the footsteps of one the university’s most distinguished leaders.

Rev. Timothy Healy, S.J., left the university with a legacy of his own – a man of renowned charm whose 13 years as university president were spent carrying Georgetown into the national spotlight as a top institution. During Healy’s tenure, admissions doubled and the university endowment expanded from $36 million to $216 million. Even as he left at the tail end of a five-year capital raising campaign after increasing the endowment by 600 percent, Healy said that the endowment was “not anywhere near where it should be.”

More than anything else, Healy left O’Donovan with a greatly improved physical plant. Between dormitories, like Village C, and campus spaces, such as Leavey Center and Yates Field House, Healy worked to expand campus facilities to reflect the university’s rising academic prestige.

When he accepted the position in 1989, O’Donovan put a new emphasis on what went on inside the buildings, “We can be fooled, I think, by what is external. A university community in search of truth with the hope of wisdom – that can’t be emphasized,” he said.

Since he took office, the university has been listed among the top 25 universities in U.S. News & World Report while becoming a research institution in 1994. Research has increased, students have earned prestigious scholarships and academic programs have consistently expanded. Undergraduate admissions have remained among the most selective of all colleges and universities. O’Donovan saw the Main Campus reorganize its academic programs, as the College absorbed the Faculty of Languages and Linguistics.

O’Donovan came to the university looking to improve Georgetown’s curriculum, particularly in the fields of undergraduate science and the fine arts while staying at the forefront of modern studies. Over the last 11 years, the university has implemented new programs in bioethics at the Medical Center, Latin American legal studies at the Law Center, along with a group of programs aimed at undergraduates.

Himself a noted scholar in his field, O’Donovan received a Fulbright Scholarship and a Danforth Fellowship. He graduated summa cum laude from Georgetown and earned degrees in theology and philosophy from Fordham University and Woodstock College. O’Donovan earned his doctorate at the University of Munster in 1971 and served at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago as a post-doctoral scholar.

O’Donovan promised an increased focus on Catholic issues when he took over in 1989. Most recently, O’Donovan has formed committees to address the development of a mission statement for the university and the development of ideas for additional faculty chairs in Catholic social thought.

Like Rev. Brian E. Daley, S.J., one of O’Donovan’s former colleagues at Weston, O’Donovan had little administrative experience before becoming president, although he was a member of the university board of directors. Daley, rumored to be one of the top candidates for Healy’s position, said at the time, “The people who would be the best candidates are those with administrative experience. I do not have that experience.”

Since then, he has gained plenty of administrative experience. He has served on a number of higher education boards, including the Consortium on Financing Higher Education, the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, the Consortium of Universities in the Washington Metropolitan Area and the Council on Health Sciences and the University. Besides these boards, he has served as a member of the National Council on the Arts of the National Endowment for the Arts and the board of directors of the Walt Disney Company.

O’Donovan has not ignored the physical plant at the university. The Southwest Quadrangle is ready to begin construction, and the master plan for the university calls for new business, science and performing arts buildings. At the Law Center, additions include a new student center with upgraded technology and student space, and the Med Center added a wing to the hospital and a new research building. In the meantime, $76 million has been spent on renovations to student housing.

O’Donovan will leave as the Third Century Campaign comes to a close, a six-year project originally planned to raise $500 million and now looking for $750 million.

Not all of O’Donovan’s administrative tasks have gone so smoothly. At the Med Center, financial losses over the last years forced the university to look for an outside solution. Last year, the Med Center lost over $80 million, the third consecutive year that losses topped $50 million. Last month, the university announced a partnership with MedStar Health, a non-profit medical provider who will operate the clinical enterprises of the Med Center.

Last year, debates ensued over reductions in the Protestant ministry staff and the university’s relationship with factories that manufacture Georgetown apparel in sweatshop conditions. embers of the Georgetown Solidarity Committee staged a sit-in in O’Donovan’s office last February to protest the university’s inaction on the issue.

Now, O’Donovan leaves the university with a decision to make. His successor can be a scholar or an administrator. Or, as O’Donovan worked to demonstrate, the next president can be both.

Related Links

 O’Donovan to Step Down In June 2001

 Fr. O’Donovan, S.J. Photo Gallery

 Georgetown University Presidents

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