May 3, 2013

 

    Dear University Community: I write to inform you that I have today advised the University’s Board of Trustees of my intention to retire as President of St. John’s, effective July 31, 2013. This month marks the 40th anniversary of my ordination as a Vincentian priest. As I look back on my priesthood, I am struck by the fact that I have spent 29 of those years as a university president, 5 at Niagara University and then 24 here at St. John’s. The challenges, satisfaction, and responsibilities of this position have always been considerable for me; what we have been able to accomplish together, as a University community, has given this work meaning and value. And the spirit of collegiality and collaboration that is the hallmark of St. John’s has made our progress possible. Nonetheless, for quite a while, I have been thinking about when would be the best time to relinquish the leadership role to younger, perhaps more energetic, individuals. The urgings of many members of the Board of Trustees and others persuaded me to remain longer than I had originally planned. But the difficulties for everyone during the past year have convinced me, after much prayer and reflection, that the time to leave the presidency has now come. I do this with the firm conviction that the vision I held for this institution has largely been fulfilled. The University has, indeed, been transformed into a “new” St. John’s, with enhanced facilities, expanded academic initiatives, and an increasing global presence. The transition to residence life for what had been, for 129 years, an exclusively commuter institution has been achieved. Construction or renovation of more than twenty buildings on both the Queens and Staten Island campuses, including not only residence halls but other major academic and recreational facilities, has enriched the collegiate experience of all students. New academic programs, many of them designed to provide preparation for emerging professional opportunities, have been launched; distance learning has been successfully implemented; and the core curriculum was revised. Acquisition of the Manhattan campus, with its distinguished School of Risk Management, and the Oakdale facility, which has become a vibrant center for graduate study, has increased the University’s presence and stature within the New York Metropolitan area. The campus in Rome and the study abroad site in Paris, along with faculty leadership in internationalizing the curriculum, have enhanced the University’s ability to prepare students for the 21st century. For me, programs and projects to deepen and strengthen our mission as a Catholic and Vincentian university have had special significance. St. Thomas More Church, opened in 2005, stands as the physical and spiritual center of the Queens campus. The creation of the Mission Office and development of a broad array of formation programs, including the Vincentian Institute for Social Action (VISA) and the Ozanam Scholars program, have all served to embed our Catholic and Vincentian mission—with its concern for faith-based values, social justice, and service to the poor—ever deeper into the fabric of the institution. The pervasiveness of academic service learning, University sponsorship of Bread and Life, and establishment of the Institute for Catholic Schools have helped St. John’s to expand its mission within the broader community.

Enhancing our fiscal profile has assured that we have had the resources needed to accomplish our goals. I am pleased that during each of the last 24 years St. John’s has enjoyed a surplus in its operating budget. In March 2013, the University’s investment portfolio reached $411 million, highest in our history. As a result of the extraordinary generosity of our supporters, especially alumni, our Institutional Advancement successes have been nothing short of remarkable. Two successful capital campaigns, including the first in the University’s history, have raised more than $300 million, and the Annual Fund has grown exponentially. Cash donations to St. John’s have averaged in excess of $18 million during each of the past five years. I will leave the presidency cherishing many memories, none more significant than those associated with the professional and personal relationships that I have enjoyed. My interactions with faculty colleagues have been warm and collegial. My own Cabinet, the deans, the broader university administration, and the staff have provided support and inspiration through their competence and dedication. Trustees, alumni, and friends have shared not only their financial resources, but their time, talent, and wise counsel. And our students, the alumni of tomorrow, are the best! I end this message as I have ended so many others—by voicing my deepest appreciation to all of the many members of our University community who have worked with me during these many years to make St. John’s stronger and better. Let me also take this opportunity to offer my very best wishes to those who will remain to take the institution on the next phase of its journey. Sincerely,

Rev. Donald J. Harrington, C.M.