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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Few specifics given in Pilarz resignation

Photo by Rebecca Rebholz/
Photo by Rebecca Rebholz/[email protected]

University President the Rev. Scott Pilarz’s resignation announcement Friday came as a surprise to students and faculty, and the university has not readdressed the issue in the days following. Pilarz’s announcement came just more than two years after he was inaugurated as the 23rd president of Marquette.

Pilarz canceled his lone class, Playing God: Divinity and Plays, Monday and has not yet talked to the media, including the Tribune, about his decision to leave. Some faculty members declined to comment on the news, while others gave well-wishes to the outgoing president.

“Father Pilarz’s commitment to Catholic, Jesuit education is both steadfast and inspiring, and that has been an important part of his work here at Marquette the past couple of years,” said the Rev. Daniel Hendrickson, associate vice president in the Office of the Executive Vice President, in an emailed statement. “As brother Jesuits, as well as members together on the Board of Trustees at another Jesuit institution (Boston College) and in his administration, I have learned much from him. I also respect his decision to move to new apostolic opportunities in December, but I hope after ten years of presidential work that he gets the rest he deserves.”

According to Friday’s emailed statement, Pilarz told the Board of Trustees, “I believe the time has come to consider other apostolic opportunities for me as a Jesuit priest. I have made this decision after much prayer, discernment and conversation with religious superiors, my spiritual director and others whose counsel I have sought over the past three years.”

He made the announcement to the board while they were meeting in Washington D.C. for the Les Aspin 25th Anniversary Celebration, which also marked the first ever full Board of Trustees meeting outside of Milwaukee. Despite being in D.C. during the anniversary and making the announcement to the board, multiple event attendees confirmed that Pilarz did not attend the 25th anniversary ceremony.

Pilarz will remain university president until Dec. 14, the end of the semester, but the university is beginning the search process for a new, permanent president immediately.

Charles Swoboda, chair of the Board of Trustees, is leading the search for a new president. Swoboda, a 1989 alumnus of the College of Engineering, is also CEO of North Carolina-based Cree Inc., a manufacturer of LED devices and materials.

“We thank Father Pilarz for his accomplishments and dedication to Marquette, its faculty and most of all, its students,” Swoboda said in the emailed statement Friday. “I take immense pride and responsibility for ensuring the mission and innovative spirit of our Catholic, Jesuit tradition continues well into the future. As chair of our board, I assure you that I will work closely with our Board of Trustees and university leadership to map out a transition plan for our future success.”

Unlike prior searches for university presidents, the successor to Pilarz can be a layperson, according to the university bylaws that were amended in 2011 after Pilarz was hired.

All previous Marquette presidents were Jesuits, but in 2006 then-university president the Rev. Robert Wild said he expected a layperson to eventually be president of the university. In 1995, when Marquette was searching for a new president following the resignation of university president the Rev. Albert Diulio, Father James Carter, the then-interim president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities in Washington D.C. told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he expected Jesuit universities to have laypersons as presidents within “the next 10 years.”

Marquette timeline

Before arriving at Marquette, Pilarz served as president of the University of Scranton for eight years starting in 2003.

Chelsea Casey, a graduate student in the College of Education, studied at the University of Scranton for undergrad before coming to Marquette and said she is disappointed to see Pilarz leave.

“I am sad that Father Pilarz is leaving Marquette after such a short period of time because I was blessed to witness the incredible impact he had on the Scranton community,” Casey said. “Father Pilarz not only transformed Scranton’s physical campus, but he also enriched the Scranton community through his dedication to education and to the people who make up the community.”

Pilarz joined the Marquette Board of Trustees in 2009, and upon succeeding Wild in 2011, hired Tom Kiely and Tom MacKinnon to serve as director for the Institute for Catholic Leadership and chief of staff to the president, respectively. MacKinnon also served as Pilarz’s chief of staff at Scranton.

Pilarz made more new hires once he arrived on campus. Pilarz’s first major hire came in January 2012, with the introduction of new athletic director Larry Williams. Hendrickson was hired as associate vice president in the Office of the Executive Vice President in August 2012, and Mary Distanislao was hired as executive vice president later that year. Pilarz also hired Richard Holz as dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, a seat that had been occupied by interim deans for the previous five years.

The university also saw some key positions emptied during the Pilarz term. Kate Venne, former director of University Communication, left in 2012, and former Provost John Pauly left his post in May. Tricia Geraghty, former vice president for Marketing and Communication, parted ways with Marquette in October 2012 and Julie Tolan, former vice president for university advancement, said goodbye in June 2012.

Among his notable achievements, Pilarz oversaw Marquette joining the newly formed Big East Conference, an expansion of the School of Dentistry and the unveiling of a strategic plan for the university last fall.

Pilarz, though, also had to handle the aftermath of a sexual assault case involving student athletes once he arrived, and during the following summer, sexual assault cases involving study abroad programs in Italy and South Africa. In March, he and Pauly, then still provost, answered questions concerning the revoked sponsorship of the FemSex workshop, which came to light again this semester when the Honors Program planned to bring the workshop back.

Historical precedents

The last Marquette president to resign mid-year was Diulio. Diulio’s tenure as Marquette president, which lasted from 1990-1996, saw a $6 million budget deficit and decreasing student enrollment, all while managing the highly publicized university nickname change and from “Warriors” to “Golden Eagles.”

Turbulence in Diulio’s presidency heightened when he planned to close Wisconsin Avenue from 11th Street to 16th Street to non-university traffic, the length of Marquette’s campus at the time. Opponents of the plan took their grievances up to the Milwaukee Common Council, The Milwaukee Journal reported in October, 1994, and Diulio announced his resignation abruptly in December, 1995, only to be replaced by Wild just six months later.

Diulio later went on sabbatical in Spain, Los Angeles and San Antonio, Tex. before becoming President of the Vatican Observatory Foundation on Jan. 1, 2012.

Wild retired after leaving his post as president and continues to live on campus in the Jesuit Residence.

Pilarz said he wanted to pursue “other apostolic opportunities” in the emailed statement Friday, but did not give specifics on what he may do next.

When he was hired by Marquette he mentioned a trend for Jesuits to strive for fresh starts.

“Jesuits move. That’s part of who we are,” Pilarz told the Tribune in 2011, upon taking the job at Marquette. “One of the earliest Jesuits said, ‘Our home is the road.’ So it’s good for us to pick up stakes and move and start fresh.”

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