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Mooney well on her way

Observer Editorial Board | Friday, February 24, 2006

Slightly more than two years ago, the Saint Mary’s Board of Trustees announced Carol Mooney as the 11th president of the College, and as the trustees wrap up their meetings on campus today they have every reason to be proud of that decision.

With an English Literature degree from Saint Mary’s, a law degree from Notre Dame and a distinguished administrative career, Mooney might have seemed like the shoo-in candidate for tradition-proud Saint Mary’s, and perhaps she was. Nevertheless, Mooney walked into LeMans Hall carrying strong ideas for inspiring growth at the College and has since proved she has the leadership capabilities to see them through.

During a year with an unusually small first year class, Mooney told audiences attending her Jan. 17, 2005 inauguration weekend that increasing and stabilizing enrollment at Saint Mary’s would be a top priority. Mooney created the position of Vice President for Enrollment Management and hired Dan Meyer to head recruiting efforts. While it is much too early to declare the campaign over, the Office of Admissions has at least proven progress with a 22 percent increase in applications received thus far this year, the most at Saint Mary’s in 17 years.

Mooney also said she wanted to stabilize Saint Mary’s finances by doubling the College’s $100,000 endowment fund and therefore rendering it less dependent on tuition. As promised, Mooney has traveled extensively to meet with friends and alumnae of the College and as of Monday the endowment stood at $107.5 million. In addition, the president is close to securing the funds needed to break ground on a new academic building, scheduled for this fall.

One recurring and controversial topic of discussion at Saint Mary’s since Mooney’s arrival has been diversity, and Mooney has made it clear she is committed to diversify not only the College’s student body but also its faculty and staff. Mooney implemented a policy requiring that a member of a traditionally underrepresented ethnic group be among the final pool of candidates for any position at Saint Mary’s, and if this aim is not fulfilled then it must be explained in writing. Meyer has demonstrated he is on the same page as Mooney, attending a Student Diversity Board (SDB) forum and speaking frankly about the need for the institution to attract and retain minority students.

Furthermore, the president is highly regarded by the student body. Her Saint Mary’s diploma and her successful career earned her their respect, but her visibility at student performances and hall events earned her their affection.

Having defined herself as a driven leader, Mooney must now act on similar principles to further growth at the College.

While Saint Mary’s rejoiced this past month when two of its vice presidents were hired to head other institutions, the announcement nevertheless meant serious holes in the Saint Mary’s administration. Linda Timm, Vice President of Student Affairs and newly appointed President of Mount Mary College in Milwaukee, Wisc., has been at the College for 11 years and has built close working relationships with student government officers. Vice President and Dean of Faculty Pat White, who will take the helm at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind., brought millions of dollars in grants to the College. Mooney must hire replacements who will live up to the example set by Timm and White and who believe in the value of a liberal arts education.

In her early months, Mooney stated she would like to see the College break into the top 50 nationally-recognized liberal arts colleges. Mooney should strive to elevate the academic standards and reputation of Saint Mary’s as a liberal arts institution while respecting its burgeoning nursing and education programs.

Another aspect of the school that deserves the president’s attention is athletics. On Tuesday Saint Mary’s hosted its first-ever MIAA tournament basketball game. Belles basketball, soccer and cross country had their best seasons in the history of the programs this year. If the athletic department can produce results on a tight budget with minimal facilities, imagine what it could do with generous financial and administrative support.

The progress Mooney has initiated at Saint Mary’s is a tangible testament to her abilities as a leader. Her performance during the last two years has earned her the admiration of her colleagues and the student body. It is now up to the president to feed that momentum and drive Saint Mary’s into the future.