A Q&A with new Le Moyne president Dr. Fred Pestello
by luke eggleston
sun staff writer
You’ve had some time to adjust to life at Le Moyne College, has anything surprised you?
During the interview process I got familiar with all the greater Syracuse region as well as Le Moyne College. I was impressed with the vision of the college, which I think is appropriate, and I think its mission is compelling. I was impressed with this region and its leaders and their optimism. Since coming to the college, I’ve been even more impressed with the student body. I think the faculty and staff at Le Moyne College have a deep care and concern for each other and for the mission of the institution. They really are sincerely committed to the students. I’ve heard story after story from the students and alumni about how the faculty and staff have really bent over backwards for their development and I’ve been very taken with the Le Moyne students. They are very bright and creative and very supportive of one another. They form lifelong friendships here. I’ve been impressed with how deeply the leadership in this community is to bettering the area and how committed Le Moyne and its staff are to the students.
What type of life skills and attitude do you think can be imparted by an educational experience at Le Moyne?
That’s a good question. Clearly, a student at Le Moyne College should be supremely prepared with all the skills necessary to be successful in his or her chosen career. That’s just a given. But I would hope that, more than that, a Le Moyne graduate would truly be distinctive because of our commitment to educating the whole person. We take the search for meaning and values in education seriously. We don’t shy away from the tough questions. I think our strong grounding in the humanities, the social sciences and the sciences, in the liberal arts and sciences, forms a core that allows our alumni to really deal with the issues they’ll face both in life and in work. So I would hope that they’re prepared to ask the tough questions and to grapple with them and to answer them, to face the challenges that life will inevitably present.
What do you believe are Le Moyne’s most pressing concerns and how do you anticipate approaching them?
For Le Moyne, as well as for other colleges and universities like us, I think the critical concerns are maintaining a high quality education, in our case in the Catholic and Jesuit traditions, and all the investment that requires, [and at the same time] keeping a Le Moyne education affordable and accessible. So how do we make sure that those students who would most benefit from a Le Moyne education or are interested in our approach to education are prepared for it and can afford it? That comes through doing all that we can to be responsible in our resource management. It requires us to fundraise to offset some of the costs for education, which are high, and to work from our financial aid office to do what we can to make it as affordable as we can for those students interested in an education here. I think the public sometimes misunderstands the actual net cost of higher education. It’s no doubt that there’s a sacrifice and there’s no doubt it’s expensive but working with financial aid offices it becomes more affordable and more possible for more people to attend.
How would you describe the relationship between the Syracuse Diocese and Le Moyne?
I’m relatively new to the community obviously, but I’ve found that my relationships are very positive. I met with Bishop James Moynihan as I was going through the search process and I felt that we had a very positive meeting. I hope to be able to meet with him again soon and I know that others, such as John Smarelli, have kept in close touch with him. Father Cliff Auth is a member of the board of trustees at Le Moyne and we’ve worked together on a number of issues already. I think we have a good relationship. Father Bob Yeazel chaired the search committee. He’s a good friend and also a member of our board of trustees. I have been and will continue to work closely with Father Bob. Mike Colabufo and Father Chuck Vavonese and I met just a couple of weeks ago and talked about how we might have greater collaboration between Le Moyne and the regional Catholic high schools and I think we all felt very good about that meeting and some of the ideas we’ve put together. We’ve now formed two sub-committees to explore critical strategic and financial issues to closely link the Catholic high schools in the greater Syracuse region and Le Moyne College. I intend to closely collaborate with the diocese — particularly in the areas where we can be of mutual benefit to each other. That said, Le Moyne is of course an independent college in the Catholic and Jesuit traditions but we intend to be a good partner of the Syracuse Diocese.
What are some of the new things you’re hoping to see happen during your tenure at Le Moyne, both in terms of facilities and quality of education?
I think it’s absolutely essential and very much in the Jesuit tradition that we continue our formal commitment to provide high quality education, keep a strong focus on academic excellence and absolute and deep commitment to the liberal arts and sciences at the core of an education with very strong professional and pre-professional programs. I am hoping to initiate a process to involve all stakeholders, starting with our internal faculty staff and students, to think about Le Moyne and its future, to consider the question of where we’re headed and where should we be headed. I’m hoping that over the course of the next year we can have those conversations both on campus and with our stakeholders off campus to chart a trajectory for our common future. I’m very much committed to preserving what makes us distinctive as a Catholic and Jesuit institution with Le Moyne’s special culture as a relatively young and very vibrant Jesuit institution, the first that was founded as a co-educational institution.
You are the first lay president of this Jesuit institution. What do you feel that means for Le Moyne?
It’s clear in Catholic higher education that the number of religious is declining and that is unfortunate. The only logical response to that is that lay leaders need to be developed and committed to continuing the mission of our organizations, which are in the Catholic tradition, be they higher education or other institutions such as Catholic hospitals or social service agencies or even our parishes. Lay leadership is becoming increasingly important as the number of religious [and priests] declines. At Catholic colleges and universities — there are just over 230 — over half of those are now led by lay people. I believe what I’ve witnessed and what I’ve seen in my own research on Catholic higher education is that with the decline of the vowed religious, the lay people are stepping up and taking greater responsibility for the mission of the institution. They’re not just assuming, as they have in the past, that the vowed religious will step up and take care of that for us. We’re seeing the lay members of the faculty, staff, and administration take greater ownership of, getting a deeper understanding of and making a more public commitment to the mission of each institution.