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OPINION: Lovell sets MU direction before inauguration

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Joe Kaiser

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University President Michael Lovell’s inauguration Friday is an important marker. It is representative of an official change in leadership and also marks nearly one full year since Marquette became a university of interims.

Former University President the Rev. Scott Pilarz announced he was leaving Marquette Sept. 20 of last year in a vaguely-worded email. His departure led to a domino effect—directly or not—when, one by one, high-ranking administrators bolted abruptly, including Executive Vice President Mary DiStanislao and Director of Athletics Larry Williams.

The Marquette community familiarized itself with the “interim” label and temporary leadership was the uncomfortable norm, with voids at provost, business dean and DPS Chief. Even if interim leadership was doing its placeholder job, it gave the impression of uneasiness and turmoil. As my colleague Rebecca Rebholz pointed out in her column last week, even Deadspin once called the university a “rudderless ship” for its lack of permanent leadership. “Interim” is not exactly synonymous with strength, regardless of how well former University President the Rev. Robert A. Wild or others may have done in their roles.

Then, in the spring, Lovell came from across town. On the day his hire was announced, he took selfies with students, shook as many hands as possible and gave his first media availability to the Marquette Tribune—he was engaged.

The university community will see how his governance plays out over time, but what look like symbolic gestures of transparency really do matter, and are something that, thanks to the prior administration and fumbled messages crafted by the Office of Marketing and Communication, the university sorely needed. It is unfair to judge Lovell’s big-picture decision-making as president at this point, especially considering he is still awaiting his official inauguration, but it is worthwhile to recognize the efforts he is making to appear transparent and engaged with the Marquette community.

It sounds trivial to compliment someone for taking selfies, eating hot cookies and dancing (I’ve done all of those things in the last week, too), but in a year of leadership turmoil at Marquette, it means something. Sept. 20, 2013 was the day the appearance of university leadership started to unravel, and Sept. 20, 2014 will be Lovell’s first full day inaugurated, working toward change.

Joe McAdams mcadams color

In less than a month’s time, President Lovell became the biggest campus celebrity at Marquette. Through email correspondences, participation at campus events and the creation of his new running group, Lovell established lasting relationships with scores of students on campus. Just this week, he met with students for dinner at Cobeen and McCormick, mastered the Cupid Shuffle at the Inaugural Ball, blew off steam at the Residence Hall Association Carnival on Westowne Square and attended mass with students Tuesday night at the St. Joan of Arc Chapel.

Lovell’s active, energetic approach to interacting with students is motivating not only to students who have the privilege to see their university president at work, but also to faculty and administrators. His actions in the past month set an extraordinarily high standard for administrators, as few in recent years have taken such a vested interest in the personal lives of students. That endearing level of attention reflects the “cura personalis” motif in a practical way, and the campus culture that follows is one I am certainly proud to support.

Jasmine Gonzalez jasmune color sided

You can imagine my surprise when I saw among my Twitter notifications @PresLovell followed me back. With this simple act, the idea that Marquette’s administration floats detachedly above the student body began to dissolve, and suddenly, President Lovell himself was accessible, a visible part of the rest of my Marquette network. For the first time, I feel like I am attending a school whose president might actually get to know my name, if at least from catching glimpses of my tweets on his Twitter feed.

Without a doubt, President Lovell embraces the “We Are Marquette” philosophy, and runs with it—literally. This is a president who gladly posed for selfies at the Brew the very day that his presidency was announced. This is a president who invites students to join him on weekly runs or for a hot cookie in the dining halls. This is a president who seems truly invested in the school he is about to lead.

I am excited to see how President Lovell’s first year in office plays out, and I hope the level of engagement he has displayed thus far continues through the rest of his presidency. If this is the kind of leadership we can expect for many years to come, we have put our school in some truly awesome hands.

Elena Fransen elena color sided

President Michael Lovell has been on campus since July and in the following three months, many at Marquette felt his presence. The last week is a testament to his willingness to be with students and spend time with them in their fields of interest. Lovell attended dances, carnivals and sporting events to become part of the community. He also shares his own interests, running twice a week with a group of Marquette students and staff.

It is great that his personal presence is felt in these scenarios and it gives us a good indication of how he will continue to interact with his new community. Knowing that he is just as involved with the Marquette experience as we are is refreshing, but now the real work begins.

While the honeymoon will assuredly last a few months, the rubber is going to have to hit the road. There are still many leadership vacancies at the university to fill and the fundraising state of the university is always up for discussion. These issues will need to be addressed going into the future and hopefully Lovell will be just as much a part of the solution as he is a part of Marquette.

Lovell is an active and involved member of our community; while it is great that he is so prominent with student interaction, going into his presidency he must be as proactive as he is interactive.

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