New Heights

Just days before Le Moyne College welcomed to the Heights the largest incoming class in its history, the college’s new president — history-making in her own right — welcomed the Sun to her office in Grewen Hall.

   It’s the same office Dr. Linda LeMura used during her tenure as the college’s provost. In 2003, after spending 15 years at Bloomberg University of Pennsylvania, Dr. LeMura returned to her hometown to serve as Le Moyne’s dean of arts and sciences. She held that post for four years, going on to become the college’s provost and vice president for academic affairs. On April 4 of this year, she was introduced as Le Moyne’s 14th president — becoming the first laywoman to lead the college and the first laywoman to lead a Jesuit college or university in the world.

   Dr. LeMura remembers being stunned by the size of the crowd that assembled in the Panasci Family Chapel for the formal announcement of her election, and feeling overwhelmed with emotion.

   “It was a moving time for me, and it was an important moment in the history of the school,” she said.

   Dr. LeMura is proud that Le Moyne — the second youngest Jesuit college in the nation — was the first to elect a laywoman as its president. More than half of the students in this year’s incoming class are women, she noted, “and I am gratified that they will see a female president of a Jesuit institution and think, ‘She must be qualified.’” Because, she said, her election is a sign — to male and female students alike — that “talent is not driven by gender. Talent transcends those labels.”

   Dr. LeMura very nearly became the first laywoman to lead another institution, however. Last spring, La Salle University in Philadelphia offered her the presidency, and she was ready to accept. But at almost the same time, Le Moyne’s then-president, Dr. Fred Pestello, was offered the presidency of Saint Louis University in Missouri. Faced with the prospect of losing its senior leaders at the same time, Le Moyne’s Board of Trustees urged Dr. LeMura to stay. She did, and the board unanimously elected her president in April.

   For the daughter of parents who emigrated from Sicily and raised six children on Syracuse’s North side, the reasons for remaining at Le Moyne were deeply personal.

   “When I see students walking this campus, I see myself, I see the history of this school: hard-working students from hard-working families who want an exceptional Jesuit education. And I am moved by our faculty’s commitment to providing our students with an exceptional learning experience,” Dr. LeMura said. “Le Moyne is not just a job for me.”

Dr. LeMura says her first priority as president is ensuring that Le Moyne continues to deliver a strong education that prepares students for life beyond the classroom. As provost, she was key in revising and implementing the college’s core curriculum, which includes foundational studies in the liberal arts, math and science; extensive writing experience across all areas of study; and interdisciplinary capstone courses. Such a broad education will ready students, regardless of their majors, for the career world after graduation, LeMura noted.

   Expanding Le Moyne’s graduate-level offerings and opportunities is also high on Dr. LeMura’s agenda. Le Moyne’s graduate programs in the health care field — including nursing and physician assistant programs — are “some of the best in the Northeast, and the need and demand [for health care professionals] is only growing,” she said. In addition to growing the current programs, Dr. LeMura wants to establish nurse practitioner and occupational therapy graduate programs as well.

   She is also continuing to build partnerships that allow Le Moyne undergrads to begin earning graduate-level degrees from other academic institutions while still at Le Moyne. For instance, in Le Moyne’s “3+3” Law School Program, students complete three years of study at Le Moyne as an undergraduate, simultaneously complete their senior years at Le Moyne as first year law students of Syracuse University or Fordham University, and then go on to finish the law program in two additional years; Dr. LeMura said she’s exploring agreements with the law schools at Georgetown University and Boston College as well. Le Moyne also has similar transfer programs with SU’s Maxwell School and the College of Engineering and Computer Science and Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration.

   Dr. LeMura sees these agreements as “a gateway, a pipeline to potential careers” and an option that can make higher education more affordable for families. “I am mindful of the burden families take on when they elect a private Jesuit education,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons why collaborations like these are so important.”

Collaboration is a watchword for the new president — she is eager to eliminate silos, forge new partnerships and find new ways for Le Moyne to engage with the wider community.

   Dr. LeMura says she’s been working with Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner and Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney to “explore potential partnerships,” including ones that may allow Le Moyne to “share resources and ideas for urban revitalization,” an interest furthered by a recent trip to Detroit to visit a Le Moyne alum who is now a vice president with General Motors.

   “Le Moyne is willing to do new things in the community, all the while being intelligent with our resources and without losing our identity,” she said.

   Dr. LeMura is also connecting with other local academic leaders, including SU Chancellor Kent Syverud, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry President Dr. Quentin Wheeler and Onondaga Community College President Dr. Casey Crabill. The group of four will meet once or twice each semester “to discuss challenges, possibilities, new ways of doing things,” Dr. LeMura said. “Together, these institutions cover the full spectrum of what’s possible in higher education.”

   Even Dr. LeMura’s office space won’t be exempt from collaboration: She will eventually move to the suite previously occupied by President Pestello, but she’ll be bringing several campus leaders with her, including the provost and the president of the faculty senate. “Silos don’t work anymore,” she said. “We need to look at possibilities for collaboration that have been untapped in the past.”

Along with students and stakeholders, family and faculty, there’s another person who has been key in shaping Dr. LeMura’s presidency so far: Pope Francis.

   “It’s incredibly meaningful to be president of a Jesuit college when there is a Jesuit pope,” she said. She takes time to read something about the pope every morning, usually surfing Catholic news sites, she said; a copy of Pope Francis: Why He Leads the Way He Leads by Chris Lowney sits on the coffee table in her office. What has she learned from the pope’s leadership example?

   “I would say the Jesuit way of proceeding: Dialogue, a multitude of voices, not shying away from the hard, tough call when it would be easier to stay silent, not being afraid of dissent,” she said. Listening to the “panoply of voices” can sometimes be messy, she admitted, but it often leads to great things.

   And Dr. LeMura knows great things are in store for the college on the Heights.

   “I’m excited about the future,” she said. “I know this place, I know its heart and soul. It is an honor to lead.”

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