When former University Registrar John Q. Pierce (CAS ’72) first came to Georgetown in 1968 as a “day hop,” or a commuting student, Healy Hall — now an administrative and academic building — was the center of student life. Campus served as refuge for Vietnam War protestors and course registration was a grueling process that involved computer punch cards in a sweltering McDonough Arena.
After 46 years at the university, during which time he has both witnessed and helped shape a changing Georgetown, Pierce announced in a campus-wide email Jan. 8 that he would retire from his position as registrar effective immediately and would retire from his position as assistant provost in June, transitioning into a part-time role. Dr. Walter Rankin has been appointed as interim registrar.
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Pierce became acting registrar in November 1983, and was appointed Registrar in May 1984. In the early 2000s he was made assistant provost in addition to university registrar.
President John J. DeGioia’s Chief of Staff Joseph Ferrara emphasized Pierce’s significant contributions to the university in his variety of roles.
“For nearly five decades, John Pierce has enriched life at Georgetown — as a student and parent, a colleague and a university leader,” Ferrara wrote in an email to The Hoya. “The President’s Office is grateful for his dedication and the many ways he has contributed to our community.”
Pierce was also recently recognized with the Georgetown Alumni Admissions Program Board of Advisor’s Award for his long-standing contributions to the university.
Though he is retiring, Pierce said he hopes to stay on at Georgetown in a part-time capacity.
“The Provost just invited me to stay for another two years in a part-time job, no more than half time, but to continue to be involved in the planning and execution of academic ceremonies,” Pierce said.
His post-retirement plans also include taking care of his twin granddaughters, who will be entering kindergarten in the fall.
“They can come home and Grandma will try to make things be the way they’re supposed to be and Grandpa will spoil them,” Pierce said.
He would also like to audit a Latin class at Georgetown.
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Pierce said when he was a student at Georgetown, student life was markedly different than it is today. Unsatisfied with the space in Riggs Library, students spilled over into other parts of Healy as the university grew. After the construction of Lauinger Library, students not only had a new study area, but a repurposed space to call their own in the Healy basement.
“After Lauinger opened, the students had a student center in the basement of Healy, and that was very successful,” Pierce said. “And then they opened Leavey and somehow Leavey didn’t provide the same kind of experience as Healy basement did. And so now I think we’ve come full circle with the opening of the Healey Family Center.”
Pierce attended Georgetown at a tumultuous time in both the university and nation’s history, as demonstrations in D.C. against the Vietnam War grew violent.
“We had National Guard Troops with their bayonets fixed on the Key Bridge and demonstrators starting fires on the streets of Georgetown,” Pierce said.
Pierce recounted how protestors sought refuge in Georgetown’s dorms as they fled law enforcement one Sunday night. At about 5 a.m. the next morning, law enforcement helicopters dropped tear gas on the dorms, affecting protestors, students and Jesuits alike. This was followed by news the National Guard would come on campus to remove demonstrators.
“[Then-Academic Vice President Fr. Kevin Fitzgerald, S.J.] got his Jesuit confreres to put on their Roman collars and they all went down to the main gate, and Father Fitzgerald said, ‘You may not come on my campus.’ And he stopped what would have been a horrible situation. So he’s always been my hero since then,” Pierce said.
After graduation, Pierce began work in the registrar’s office in November 1973, and was promoted to assistant registrar in June 1976. The raise that came with this promotion allowed him to propose to his then-girlfriend; now his wife of 40 years.
“I went from here to the apartment of my girlfriend of the time, Mary Fran Chalmers, with my letter of appointment from Father Kelly. And she said, ‘Oh, that’s nice.’ And I said, ‘So now that I have the money, will you marry me?’ And she said yes, forgetting to tell me I should get down on my knee,” Pierce said.
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Much has changed in the Registrar’s office over the course of Pierce’s tenure. Before the automation of course registration, students registered in person in McDonough Arena. Registration consisted of a system involving computer punch cards corresponding to seats in a given class, which were then input into a computer along with a student’s ID number.
“Two-thirds of the way through the semester we would send out notes to the students saying, ‘this is what we think you’re registered for,’ and everyone would come back and say ‘no, this is what I’m supposed to be in,’” Pierce said.
The introduction of an online Degree Audit marked a major change in the process of student advising and registration.
“Before that you would just have a paper in the deans’ office to check off what you took but it was much easier to come to the end and you’d missed this requirement or that requirement,” Pierce said.
Pierce credits these advances for Georgetown’s steady four-year graduation rate. While Pierce initiated several changes in the registrar’s office, he still has a vision for the future of course registration.
“[I would like] to make the registration more of a decision support mechanism that is helping the student decide what to take, rather than a mechanism for recording what you’ve already decided on,” Pierce said.
He envisions a search engine that would allow students to discover classes in their topics of interest that also fulfill requirements. Looking forward, he also hopes there will be sufficient resources to continually upgrade the classrooms with technology to support faculty and students.
Although much has changed throughout the years, Pierce said Georgetown’s Jesuit heritage and ideals have been a constant throughout the decades.
“I would say that the essence of the place hasn’t changed. The size of the Jesuit community is much smaller, but their impact is, I think, the same or greater in many ways,” Pierce said. “I think that we’ve managed to maintain the traditions of the institution and the commitment to Jesuit education, and to education of the whole person, and to our engagement with the United States government, which was John Carroll’s vision.”
Bill Licamele (CAS ’68, MED ’72), one of Pierce’s friends and a member of the Georgetown University Board of Governors, said Pierce is a passionate member of the Georgetown community and a committed administrator.
“He’s one of the most enthusiastic Hoyas, not just on the academic side, but also on the emotional side and truly breathing blue and gray,” Licamele said. “He’s well respected by all the faculty and administrators for how efficiently he’s run the registrar’s office, and done that trying to modernize, trying to be fair to students.”
Catherine Summa (COL ’18) said Pierce had unique traits as an administrator.
“Georgetown will miss him,” Summa said. “From what I’ve seen, he has allowed Georgetown to grow by being truly receptive to the needs and voices of the students, which is a very special and rare thing to find in an administrator.”
Sarah Ciresi (COL ’18) said Pierce will be remembered for the manner in which he ran the registrar’s office and his community involvement.
“He has been such an integral part of the community, working with deans, faculty, and us students to ensure that things were always running smoothly. The whole Georgetown community will truly miss him,” Ciresi said.
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