When Fairfield announced that there would be a search for the University’s next president, speculation began as to whether the president would be a Jesuit or layperson. The question was answered on April 25 when Chairman of the Board of Trustees Frank Carroll ‘89 sent a campus-wide email announcing that President Mark Nemec, PhD was formally appointed to the position. I was studying abroad when Nemec was elected as our ninth president, so I was slightly removed when the initial announcement occurred and somewhat unbothered by any discourse regarding Nemec’s appointment as the first layperson to lead our school. I firmly believe that any skeptics should embrace our new president and give him the opportunity to run the University in the way that he deems most effective.
Nemec’s effect on the University does not directly correlate to his status as a layperson. Being a layperson does not preclude him from being an effective leader, just as being a Jesuit does not ensure effective leadership. Since the University’s founding in 1942, Fairfield was blessed with Jesuit leaders who many considered to be excellent. However, our past presidents’ successes were not wholly contingent upon their titles as Jesuits. Some people are natural leaders, others grow into leadership and then there are those who are not suited for a position of power. As far as I am concerned, as long as Nemec preserves Fairfield’s long-held practice of “Men and women for others,” then there is no reason for concern over how he will run the University.
Whenever there is change, with it comes fresh ideas and energy. Likely, Nemec will bring both. There will be changes that Nemec considers implementing, but it is unlikely that they will threaten the values that Fairfield has prided itself on providing its students for the past 75 years. Additionally, the fact that the administration was confident enough to choose someone that they considered a strong leader, regardless of their religious title, means that they truly want someone who they feel will put the interests of the University first.
There may also be some people, though, who think that the new change goes further than simply not narrowing the search. As the first lay president, Nemec is bringing one thing to the community that no past president has brought: a family. As a result, his role as a father could provide him with a different relationship with our student body; he may connect with us differently. However, there is no guarantee that being a layperson will have that, or any other, effect. Personally, I think that it will be nice to have a president who is joined by his family, but I do not think that it will change our relationship to him. The family does not necessarily make the man and I think that if we will connect with Nemec, it will be because of his leadership.
Every president, whether they are a layperson or a Jesuit, will do things that some people like and others do not. The fact that our school is confident in Nemec’s leadership should tell us that Jesuit or not, they believe he will maintain the values that the University cherishes most. As long as he, and any future leader, keeps with the school’s Jesuit values, they should have our full support.