O’Donovan to Step Down In June 2001

President to Resign After 12 Years

By David J. Wong Hoya Staff Writer

Rev. Leo J. O’Donovan, S.J., Georgetown University’s 47th president, announced yesterday that he will be retiring after the 2000-01 school year, introducing the final chapter of an 11-year tenure marked by dramatic growth and turbulence.

O’Donovan, 65, said his decision to officially step down as university president on June 30, 2001, was made after consulting with colleagues and members of Georgetown’s board of directors and was appropriate given this year’s finalization of the Medical Center’s merger with MedStar Health and the beginning of construction on the Southwest Quadrangle. O’Donovan’s retirement date coincides with the conclusion of Georgetown’s Third Century Campaign fundraising initiative next year.

“The university has never been stronger academically, and the building projects are well underway, so it is a very good time for a transition in leadership,” O’Donovan said. “I wanted to provide the university an opportunity to find a great president. Announcing now makes it easier for the board to look for a president expeditiously but without haste.

“It is a good time for the university and for me. By June of next year I will have served 12 years. I never wanted to serve indefinitely. I ran track as a boy. I know how important in a relay it is to pass along the baton well if you want to win the race.”

O’Donovan informed the university’s board of directors of his intention to retire during a meeting last month but did not disclose the news to the public until yesterday.

“The board has been very supportive of my decision,” O’Donovan said.

University Spokesman Daniel Wackerman said that O’Donovan decided to inform the Hilltop community first before addressing local and national media later this week. In a letter to the student body, O’Donovan said that “In my heart, I know that [June of 2001] will be the right time to pass the torch.”

O’Donovan succeeded Rev. Timothy Healy, S.J., as president of Georgetown in the fall of 1989 when Healy resigned from the post after 13 years to become president of the New York Public Library. O’Donovan, who graduated summa cum laude from Georgetown as an English and theology major in 1956, was a member of the Georgetown’s board of directors and a theology professor at the Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass., at the time.

In his 11 years as Georgetown’s president, O’Donovan has directed much of his efforts at increasing the university’s endowment and finishing the campus development that began under his predecessor. The university’s endowment has nearly tripled from $240 million when he took over to its current level of $740 million. Construction of the Southwest Quadrangle, which includes a 780-bed residence hall, a dining hall, a parking garage and a new Jesuit residence, began this semester.

O’Donovan has done much to stabilize Georgetown’s financial position during his tenure.

Rev. Howard J. Gray, S.J., director of the Center for Ignatian Spirituality at Boston College and a member of Georgetown University’s board of directors, said that O’Donovan has done much to stabilize Georgetown’s financial position during his tenure.

“[O’Donovan] is an extraordinary fundraiser for Georgetown,” Gray said. “He has solicited a great respect for and, more importantly, a great response to Georgetown. What he has done financially is remarkable. He worked at a difficult time and has charted the change quite well.”

Recently, however, O’Donovan has presided over a tumultuous period at Georgetown. Operating losses by the Med Center have hamstrung the university over the past five years, culminating in a clinical partnership with MedStar Health whose terms was finalized last month. He received much criticism for not returning to campus from a business trip when students staged a sit-in in his office to protest the university’s affiliation with apparel companies accused of unfair labor practices last spring.

And in the last five months, the university has come under national scrutiny for its treatment of underage drinking after the death of a student. The desecration of a menorah on campus last December left critics questioning Georgetown’s attitude toward diversity.

Asked whether these recent incidents were a factor in his decision to retire or if he was urged to step down by the university’s board of directors, O’Donovan said, “Not at all.”

Georgetown’s board of directors is charged with selecting O’Donovan’s successor. In a letter released to the Georgetown community yesterday, Chairman of the Board John R. Kennedy (CAS ’52) said he would announce the formation of a search committee comprised of faculty, students, staff, alumni, Jesuits and the board of directors later this semester. Hans P. Ziegler (SFS ’63) will chair the committee and Edmond D. Villani (CAS ’68) will serve as vice-chair. Both are university board members.

In his statement, Kennedy thanked O’Donovan for “his outstanding leadership. With unwavering dedication, Fr. O’Donovan has sustained and advanced Georgetown’s traditions of scholarship, faith and service in countless ways.”

Gray, a member of Georgetown’s board of directors, said he would prefer a Jesuit to succeed O’Donovan but that the reality is that there is a shrinking talent pool.

“It’s crucial to have someone who is knowledgeable of the Ignation and Jesuit traditions. It does not have to be Jesuit, but it does have to someone who has a profound knowledge of the Jesuit tradition. The candidate would need to have that intangible quality of inspiration that makes people want to continue this tradition.

“The board has to set up a hierarchy of criteria and then look to see who the best candidate is,” Gray said. “I would rather it be a Jesuit. But [the board] must find someone authentic to the values rather than placing a person in the job.”

In an interview with campus media yesterday, O’Donovan said he held many fond memories of his tenure at Georgetown. “Meeting our Rhodes [Scholarship] finalists and winners when they won and after they came back from Oxford. Each time we were able to raise money for a new professorship or new chair. Being able to tell the dean of that school or the department where the new chair would be housed that we could add a distinguished professor.

“You can’t imagine what a thrill that is. It’s not about raising $2 million; it’s about being able to say to the department that people believe in your department enough that they want to support forever a very distinguished faculty member.”

O’Donovan also said other moments will also be dear to him. “I’ll remember sad things like Dave [Shick’s] death. I’ll remember the memorial mass we celebrated for him. I’ll remember the memorial mass for Robert Henle, my predecessor, who served Georgetown so well.

“I’ll remember the countless heads of state, the presidents, who came to Georgetown. I’ll remember the freshman convocations.”

The announcement surprised many of O’Donovan’s colleagues.

“It came to me quite suddenly. My immediate action was surprise,” said Christopher Puto, dean of the McDonough School of Business. “Fr. O’Donovan’s leadership has put this university in one of its strongest positions in history. You can go anywhere in the world and mention Georgetown University, and people will appreciate its strength as an academic institution. He is one of the warmest and most sincere leaders I’ve ever worked for and I’ve been in university and corporate settings for a long time.”

“My reaction was personal and professional sadness.” College Dean Jane D. McAuliffe said. “I have great admiration for Fr. O’Donovan’s leadership and I was looking forward to working with him for a much longer time. I think he’s been a wonderful president and I’d like to see the university take advantage of his leadership for as long as we possibly could.”

University Provost Dorothy Brown, who has known O’Donovan since his tenure began in 1989, said that O’Donovan’s contribution to Georgetown has been remarkable.

“Fr. O’Donovan has presided over an extraordinary period of growth at Georgetown,” Brown said. “He has been committed in everything he has done to make this a great American, Catholic, Jesuit university.”

Related Links

 47th President: A Scholar and Administrator

 Fr. O’Donovan, S.J. Photo Gallery

 Georgetown University Presidents

Comments are closed.