President Fred Pestello discusses changes to campus, classrooms
By Jennika Baines
Sun Associate Editor
Times are tough for colleges across the country: budget cuts are decimating faculties, tuition rates are rising and many students are hesitant to take on hefty student loans only to graduate into a dire job market.
But apparently no one has told this to Le Moyne College.
For the second year in a row, the college has had record-breaking student enrollment. New faculty positions are being created and filled. Construction has begun on a 48,000-square-foot science building. A fundraising campaign recently earned nearly double its $50 million goal. There is a crisp new turf field and the finishing touches are being put on a sleek campus plaza.
Times are definitely good for Fred Pestello, the college’s first lay president. Since accepting the position in July 2008, he has overseen many of the sweeping changes that have come to the campus, including initiatives reconsidering the core curriculum and the college’s vision for its future.
Perhaps the $50 million donation Le Moyne received five months after Pestello began in the position was an indication of things to come. The donation was given to the college by the estate of Robert and Catherine McDevitt of Binghamton.
“Most of that money is yet to be allocated as we try to be really thoughtful and respectful of the donors in honoring their wishes,” Pestello said. “The endowment right now is double what it was, even while we’ve been going through this recession. And all of this has allowed us to continue to educate in line with our vision.”
To help define and adapt that vision, Pestello has introduced a new initiative considering the core courses offered at Le Moyne. “Those are the courses that every single student must complete,” he said. Currently, these courses include literature, religion, philosophy, history, natural sciences and social sciences. Pestello said this core curriculum is a defining part of the experience of students at Le Moyne because it helps them to build analytical skills grounded in the Jesuit tradition. “It’s about educating the whole person, the head and the heart.”
But he said the current initiative will propose changes to bring the curriculum up-to-date to suit the needs of students. The core curriculum won’t go away, Pestello said, “What we are debating right now is what that curriculum will look like.”
Two faculty members are currently conducting research into what these changes might entail. Pestello said six months remain of the 18-month research period. An open meeting is planned for the fall to discuss some of the findings so far, and at the end of the research period the faculty senate will vote on any changes. Pestello said the changes will probably be phased in during the fall of 2012.
For now, however, one of the most noticeable changes to Le Moyne is the construction of what’s being called “the plaza.” This building is on the corner of Salt Springs Road and Springfield Road and currently houses the new bookstore (run by Barnes & Noble), a Dunkin’ Donuts and Cam’s Pizzeria. There are also tables and chairs on an outside courtyard and leather chairs and tables inside.
The building itself is a complete renovation of what was for many years a small, rundown plaza that held a stream of businesses like liquor stores and laundromats as well as several empty storefronts. “It was a real eyesore,” Pestello said. And to compound matters, it was located on an awkward intersection of five streets.
After buying the plaza, Le Moyne also bought one of the streets from the City of Syracuse and closed it, turning the space into a grassy area with a walkway leading to the new building. “Now the neighbors are thrilled with the park-like setting, that the bookstore is there and open to all and that the intersection is much safer,” Pestello said. “It’s part of Le Moyne’s commitment to improving the region, particularly the areas contiguous to the campus.”
Next month, Le Moyne’s Dolphin Den will reopen after 10 years, restoring a community space for students, teachers and staff to talk and eat between classes. Construction is taking place on the new Den now, and it will be located on the bottom floor of Grewen Hall where the old bookstore used to be. “It’s a bigger, better Dolphin Den,” Pestello said. “It’s going to be very exciting.”
The most ambitious project for the campus, however, is still in its early stages. On June 10 ground was broken on a $20 million science facility which will connect to the Coyne Science Center. It will feature the college’s largest lecture hall, classrooms, laboratories, offices and a computer lab. The building, which will incorporate solar power and other energy-efficient practices, is scheduled to be completed by early 2012. A live web cam of the construction site is available at www.lemoyne.edu.
The groundbreaking ceremony for the new science building also marked the successful end of the “Achieving New Heights” fundraising campaign. With an original goal of $50 million, the campaign ultimately earned over $91 million. This amount includes the McDevitt donation as well as a recent anonymous donation of $4 million.
Pestello said he is grateful that Le Moyne is able to continue to meet its goals despite the tough economy.
“These are very difficult times economically. People are really struggling out there and that’s impacted a lot of higher education. I feel very fortunate that here at Le Moyne there have been no furloughs, no lay-offs,” Pestello said. “We’ve got a good momentum going and we want to build on that momentum.”