ROGERS PARK — Loyola University announced Monday it had chosen its newest president: Jo Ann Rooney, the former president of Spalding University in Louisville, Ky.
Rooney will take charge of the private Catholic college Aug. 1, simultaneously filling the role as the university's first woman president as well.
"Dr. Rooney is a lifelong educator with an impressive and diverse array of experiences that will enable her to build on the university's tremendous success of the last decade," Robert L. Parkinson Jr., chairman of Loyola's Board of Trustees, said in a statement. "The outstanding leadership skills she gained from her roles in education, public service, and health care will position Loyola well to address today's emerging higher educational challenges."
Rooney thanked Parkinson, as well as interim President John P. Pelissero and Father Michael Garanzini, among others, for their support and diligence during the presidential search.
When it came to choosing Loyola, Rooney said there was "no question in my mind."
"You've opened my eyes and my heart in many different ways about how we can make education even more transformative," Rooney said to a full house auditorium. "You can hopefully pick up on how proud I am to be welcomed into this Loyola University of Chicago community."
Rooney succeeds longtime president Garanzini, who stepped down in March 2015 and into a new role as chancellor of the university.
Garanzini led the school for 14 years. Since July 1, 2015, the university has been helmed by John Pelissero, previously the university's provost and chief academic officer, who has served as interim president and will continue to lead until Rooney takes over Aug. 1.
Interim President John P. Pelissero (l.) and Chancellor Michael Garanzini applaud new President Jo Ann Rooney. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
Parkinson described Rooney as a "no-nonsense, direct" person of "tremendous integrity" who brought ample "energy and commitment" to the table.
In addition to her role at Spaulding University, Rooney, an attorney, currently serves as the managing director at Huron Consulting Group and previously worked for the federal government's Department of Defense, was president at Mount Ida College in Massachusetts and worked as an adjunct faculty member at Emmanuel College in Boston.
In 2013, she was nominated by President Barack Obama for the Department of the Navy's undersecretary position, but received criticism for her views on how sexual assault cases should be tried in the military.
During her speech Monday, Rooney mentioned she'd recently come on campus disguised in jeans and a sweatshirt to interact "incognito" with staff, parents and students.
She also asked search committee members why they felt compelled to be a part of the selection process.
What she found again and again, she said, was a deep love for the school and community.
"I consistently heard about how it is about more than just the work, it's a passion, it's a calling, it's about making sure that this a community that respects reach other — but that challenges each other to be the best possible people we can be no matter what," Rooney said.
We know our communities are only as strong as its educational institutions."
The auditorium was a full house Monday when new President Jo Ann Rooney was announced to the university campus. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
Rooney called education the "backbone ... behind vibrant, thriving communities."
She also spoke about her philosophy on social justice, diversity, inclusion and demonstrations at the school.
In November, four students who had organized a rally in solidarity with racial protests at the University of Missouri were accused of failing to register and reserve a location for the protest and initially faced potential punishment, though accusations were rescinded shortly thereafter.
Then in January, the school's entire student government faced sanctions (ultimately only four students faced charges) also for allegedly violating the school's demonstration policies following a November protest against Aramark, who contracts with Loyola.
Rooney said she was still too "new" to fully comment on how specifically she may change or review policies, but said it was about creating a "forum for those views, those passions" to be expressed "in a thoughtful, respectful way."
"I think what have to do is make sure there are many opportunities for those forums, it shouldn't be just a one-time demonstration," Rooney said. "Diversity and inclusion are a key part of the strategic plan here and we're already having conversations ... about how do you put those successful measures in place and make that part of the university?"
Rooney said she looked forward to getting to know the community and students, and would continue to "evolve" as she comes on board at the university.
"The role of higher education is evolving, Loyola University is evolving, I as your leader will continue to evolve," Rooney said. "The time is really now.
In order, James Prehn, Michael Garanzini, Jo Ann Rooney, Robert Parkinson Jr. and John P. Pelissero pose for a photo after announcing Rooney as the university's next president. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
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