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Mooney completes first year at helm of Saint Mary’s

Megan O'Neil | Friday, May 13, 2005

In a year that included a sharp drop in enrollment numbers, an inauguration weekend and the opening of a new $17 million Student Center, Saint Mary’s President Carol Mooney proved herself a capable administrator during her first year at the helm of the College.

Transition to Saint Mary’s

A 1972 Saint Mary’s graduate, Mooney never strayed far from her alma mater. She attended Notre Dame law school, where she eventually became a faculty member, assistant dean and finally, associate dean. In 1996, Mooney was named vice president and associate provost at Notre Dame.

In March 2003, then-Saint Mary’s president Marilou Eldred announced her retirement, initiating a nine-month search process that brought four candidates to campus to meet students and faculty. On Dec. 26, 2003, the Saint Mary’s Board of Trustees named Mooney as Eldred’s successor and the 11th president of the College.

Although Mooney did not officially take over until June 1, 2004, she faced fulfilling her duties at Notre Dame while simultaneously looking toward her future at Saint Mary’s. Once in office, Mooney traveled extensively to meet with individuals connected to the College. She also visited every dorm on campus for meet-and-greet sessions, where she answer students’ questions about her four years as an undergraduate and her vision for the College.

Enrollment numbers

One of the most immediate problems Mooney faced in her first year as president was inconsistent student enrollment. Saint Mary’s opened its doors in August with a 12.7 percent drop in enrollment, the result of an unusually small first year class, and found itself with empty dorm rooms and a $1.5 million budget deficit for the 2005 fiscal year.

In response, Mooney made changes in the structure of the Office of Admissions, creating the new position of Vice President for Enrollment Management to oversee college enrollment numbers.

“The search for the Vice President for Enrollment Management is about to move into the interview stage,” Mooney said. “I am told that we have a strong pool of candidates, and we hope to have the position filled before the start of fall semester.”

Mooney also expressed the intent to as much as double the College endowment fund in order to reduce dependence on enrollment for financial stability.

Inauguration ceremony

In what was the biggest event on campus in years, Mooney was sworn in as president of Saint Mary’s during an official inauguration ceremony on Saturday, Jan. 15. The ceremony was part of a weekend-long inaugural celebration that brought hundreds of alumnae and academic representatives from all over the country.

“The College community extended great hospitality to the many guests who were with us for the events of the weekend,” Mooney said. “I was very pleased with the opportunity we had to showcase the academic talent at the College and with the chance to share the Saint Mary’s story with multiple audiences.”

Mooney’s inauguration also included a canceling of classes and an all-day academic symposium in which faculty and staff discussed the academic focus of the College and its obligation as a liberal arts institution. In recent years there has been concern within the Saint Mary’s community about its classification as a “comprehensive college.”

“The discussion at the symposium, like all academic discussions, was part of an ongoing conversation within a community of interest,” Mooney said. “It was neither the beginning nor the end of a conversation that has been taking place at Saint Mary’s for some time one part of which is how best to balance liberal and professional education.”

SAGA granted club status

After a week delay, the Board of Governance (BOG) granted club status to the Straight and Gay Alliance (SAGA) on March 21, making the club eligible for student government funding.

The decision to officially recognize SAGA left many student government officers concerned about the group’s compatibility with the Saint Mary’s Mission and the teachings of the Catholic Church on homosexuality.

On Feb. 27, 1998, Eldred overturned a BOG vote to approve a similar group, The Alliance of Lesbian, Bisexual, Straight and Questioning Women of Saint Mary’s College (ALBSQ), for club status. Eldred’s decision resulted in near uproar on campus as students duct taped their mouths closed and sat outside the presidential office for hours at a time.

There was speculation on campus that Mooney might take similar action and intercede in the vote. According to Mooney, however, the governance manual changed between Eldred’s administration and her own.

“At the time of President Eldred’s action, the president had authority to override an action of the Board of Governance,” Mooney said. “Now, that authority resides in the Vice President for Student Affairs. Dr. Linda Timm decided that, on the basis of the group’s application, she would not take that step.”

New Student Center

The 2004-05 academic year also included the opening of the new Student Center, a $17 million building that now houses the Shaheen bookstore, a cyber café and campus offices including Multicultural Affairs, the Office of Civic and Social Engagement and the Student Government Association.

Open for business immediately following spring break and blessed in an official opening ceremony on April 21, the Student Center has quickly become the center of activity on campus.

“The opening of the new Student Center was a joyous occasion,” Mooney said. “The space is beautiful.”

Graduation 2005

Saturday, 33 years after she donned a cap and gown and received her diploma, Mooney will help officiate at the Saint Mary’s commencement ceremony.

“It has been a wonderful year,” Mooney added. “I love my job and cannot believe that a year has already passed. Although I have only known them for one year, the Class of 2005 will always be special to me. Their commencement will cap one of the happiest years of my life.”