Introducing USF’s New President

The Six-Month National Search is Over

Written by Gary McDonald
Fr. FitzPhotography by Barbara Ries.

“I am absolutely elated‚” says Paul J. Fitzgerald‚ S.J.‚ after hearing he will be USF’s next president. “For a long time‚ I’ve had my eye on USF as a school I really respect.”

The Board’s vote was unanimous. “He rose to the top in a crowded field of exceptional candidates‚” said Thomas E. Malloy‚ Chair of the USF Board of Trustees.

Fr. Fitzgerald starts his new job August 1. Born and raised in the Golden State‚ he’ll be returning to his roots. The University of San Francisco is bringing Fr. Fitzgerald home.

International Scholar

Fr. Fitzgerald’s qualifications‚ including his sterling academic experience‚ global perspective‚ and strong ties to the Bay Area‚ prepare him to lead the next generation of USF students to change the world from here.

Fr. Fitzgerald is the senior vice president for academic affairs at Fairfield University in Connecticut‚ and for the past five years‚ he has been responsible for recruiting faculty and developing curriculum. He’s created programs in Latin American Studies; Arabic‚ Islamic‚ and Middle Eastern studies; and also Cinema Studies. Previously‚ he was associate dean and then senior associate dean at Santa Clara University’s College of Arts and Sciences‚ where he earned a bachelor’s degree in history in 1980.


Fr. Fitzgerald speaks German‚ is conversational in Spanish‚ and perfected his French living in Paris‚ where he earned two PhDs: one in the sociology of religion from the University of Paris – La Sorbonne‚ and one in ecclesiology from the Institut Catholique de Paris. “I continue to work at the intersection of sociology and theology‚” Fr. Fitzgerald says‚ fascinated by the ways people of faith engage “the gritty reality of the world.”

His love of teaching led him to diverse locations across the globe. First to Mexico in 1983‚ where he taught English to squatters living in the city dump in Guaymas‚ then to China in the summer of 1992 and to Kenya in 2004. Each of these unique experiences helped him develop his perspective on the world.

Fr. Fitzgerald joins a line of Jesuit leaders that stretches back to San Francisco’s founding. He describes his leadership style this way: “I have developed a style of academic leadership that rests upon habits of deep listening‚ inductive reasoning‚ data collection‚ analysis and sharing‚ benchmarking‚ best practices‚ and collaborative decision making.”

He goes on to emphasize that his presidency will be characterized by listening. “Every part of my presidency‚ from beginning to end‚ will be a time of listening and learning.”



Tech and the City

“It seems as if USF and San Francisco are each at a moment in their history where some amazing things are possible‚” Fr. Fitzgerald says.

The tech industry’s growing presence in the city offers some of those possibilities‚ and Fr. Fitzgerald plans to engage its leaders.

Fitz with studentsPresident-Elect talks to Damon Williams‚
president of the Graduate Student Senate

“The city of San Francisco is becoming a vibrant center for startups and venture capital‚ and USF can be at the heart of this story‚ helping to steer the direction of change in the city‚” he says. “We can align academic programs to educate the knowledge work-ers for these new industries‚ and provide continuing and executive education for the city’s evolving population. And USF can form research partnerships and joint ventures built on collaborations between faculty and firms in the city.”


Fr. Fitzgerald believes USF should be a university “for” San Francisco‚ and not simply “of” San Francisco‚ and a place “where folks from different constituencies come together to talk through the changes the city is experiencing. Whether the issue is housing‚ or jobs‚ or healthcare‚ I don’t think there is another organization in the city that has a better capacity to host that sort of a conversation.” He paused and added‚ “In some ways‚ it’s our biggest duty.”

“Fr. Fitz”

After he was announced as president‚ local media wanted to talk to the man who will be leading the city’s first university: The San Francisco Chronicle‚ the San Jose Mercury News‚ and of course‚ USF’s student newspaper‚ the San Francisco Foghorn‚ all came knocking.

In speaking with Tanya Dzekon‚ the Foghorn’s managing editor during a 20-minute phone call‚ she asked Fr. Fitzgerald about everything from his morning routine (yoga for about 25 minutes‚ then prayer‚ breakfast‚ and reading a newspaper)‚ to his thoughts on Pope Francis (“I love the new Pope. He is just so genuine‚ so warm‚ so loving” ).

She also asked him point-blank while she had the chance: “Will you ever censor the student newspaper?”

“I promise I will never censor the newspaper‚” Fr. Fitzgerald responded. “Student media is educational. Students are learning how to be journalists‚ but they serve a really important function of building community‚ and that also involves presenting difficult questions and brokering difficult conversations.”

Dzekon was thrilled with Fr. Fitzgerald’s clear support for student journalists‚ because they both know that Foghorn stories can be controversial and hard-hitting.

Even before print‚ Dzekon enthusiastically tweeted: He is officially okay with being called “Fr. Fitz.”

Coming Home

handshakeUSF President Stephen A. Privett‚ S.J.‚
welcomes the President-Elect on April 9

Fr. Fitzgerald has deep ties in the Bay Area‚ and he’s excited to return‚ having grown up in Los Gatos‚ after his family moved there from Southern California when he was 5. His mother and both sisters live in the South Bay‚ and his brother lives a few hours away in California’s Central Valley.

He first started visiting San Francisco as a boy‚ and he fondly remembers family pilgrimages to the city‚ “grand adventures” that made a big impression on a young kid. “I can remember driving up to the city‚ I think it was 1968‚” he recalls. “My grandfather got a little lost and we ended up in the Haight-Ashbury. I was 10 years old‚ and my grandmother suddenly made my older sister and me lie down in the back seat of the car‚ so we couldn’t look out the windows. She didn’t want us to see the hippies and beatniks.”

But Fr. Fitzgerald did see a city landmark towering skyward just a few blocks away‚ USF’s majestic St. Ignatius Church. It would later be the site of two of the most important moments in his life: it is where he was ordained into the priesthood in 1992‚ and its where he’ll be inaugurated as USF’s president this fall.

Second Time’s a Charm

This is the second time USF has offered Fr. Fitzgerald a job: the first was in 1992‚ as an assistant professor in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies. But his Jesuit superior had other plans and sent him instead to Santa Clara University‚ where he reported to then Provost Stephen A. Privett‚ S.J.‚ who is now USF’s president.

quote2“I have known and respected and liked Steve for many‚ many years‚” Fr. Fitzgerald says. “Of all his accomplishments‚ his ability to animate the conversation around USF’s mission so that it is deeply shared and widely owned is his most lasting and most impressive accomplishment. I don’t know of another Jesuit university in the country that is more mission focused‚ or where the mission is more deeply shared across the university than the University of San Francisco.”


The national search for President-elect Paul J. Fitzgerald‚ S.J.‚ began last October‚ when the USF Board of Trustees appointed two committees: a Presidential Search Committee‚ composed of current and former trustees‚ chaired by Chuck Smith‚ board vice chairman; and a Search Advisory Committee‚ composed of USF faculty‚ staff‚ students‚ and alumni‚ and chaired by Teresa Win '85‚ trustee emerita. Isaacson Miller‚ a highly regarded national recruit- ment firm‚ helped guide the search.

In Their Words

Fr. Fitzgerald is an accomplished scholar and professor‚ an adept‚ seasoned administrator and an ideal fit for the university. The board looks forward to welcoming Fr. Fitzgerald to USF in the fall. At the same time‚ we are deeply grateful to the USF President Stephen A. Privett‚ S.J.‚ for his inspired‚ dynamic‚ and collaborative leadership these last 14 years.
Thomas E. Malloy '61‚ Chair‚ Board of Trustees; President‚ Trench Shoring Company (retired)

First and foremost‚ we know he will sustain and advance the university's Jesuit mission and identity. He also brings impressive experience in connecting with the business community‚ in fundraising‚ and in strategic planning.
Charles H. Smith‚ Chair‚ Presidential Search Committee; Vice Chair‚ Board of Trustees; President and CEO‚ AT&T West (retired)

He possesses characteristics of a strong business executive: high standard for excellence‚ deep listening‚ collaboration‚ financial acumen‚ data driven‚ and inductive reasoning that are finely balanced with traits of an inspirational Jesuit leader‚ including profound care of individuals‚ constancy to faith and justice‚ inclusiveness‚ and masterful story telling.
Teresa Win '85‚ Chair‚ Search Advisory Committee; Vice Chair‚ Presidential Search Committee; Trustee Emerita; Investment Consultant (retired)

Fr. Paulbs true global perspective‚ balance of academic rigor and relevance will certainly engage Bay Area technology leaders and entrepreneurs.
Claudio M. Chiuchiarelli '79‚ Trustee Chair Emeritus; Managing Partner‚ Banyan Securities Company LLC

Fr. Fitzgerald is a true renaissance man with a command of several languages and a stellar academic record. He has a real appreciation for academic excellence in the Ignation tradition.
Dr. Margaret A. Tempero‚ Vice Chair‚ Trustee Academic Affairs Committee; Director‚ UCSF Pancreas Center

He will build on the strong leadership of Fr. Privett in staying focused on our mission for the good of education and the formation of USF students‚ who are our best hope to make our world a better place for all.
John P. McGarry‚ S.J.‚ M.A. '93‚ Trustee Academic Affairs Committee; Rector‚ Jesuit Community‚ Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley

Although I had gone into the search with a bit of a bias toward a lay president‚ listening to Fr. Fitzgerald talk about the Jesuit mission and core values changed my mind. He made me re-evaluate and re-value the importance of having a Jesuit president at USF.
Maria L. Ontiveros‚ Professor‚ USF School of Law

Cooking up Conversation

Fr. Privett has served as USF’s president since 2000‚ making him the third-longest serving president in university history. He will remain in office until Fr. Fitzgerald arrives to help ensure a smooth transition.

Through his extensive travels and living abroad‚ Fr. Fitzgerald has cultivated an appreciation for the foods of the world. “I never met a national cuisine I didn’t appreciate‚” he says‚ and starts ticking them off: Kenyan‚ Chinese‚ Japanese‚ French‚ Thai‚ and the list goes on. But his passion isn’t eating‚ it’s cooking‚ and he used to prepare 500 meals at a time as a sous chef at the Hilton Hotel in Sunnyvale before he became a Jesuit. “Industrial cooking‚” he calls it‚ for big events like reunions and weddings.

These days‚ he prefers cooking for smaller groups of six to eight people. “Sharing a meal is an amazing opportunity to share life‚” he says “When the food comes out‚ the conversation takes off. It’s not for nothing that some of Jesus’ most important conversations came during dinner.”


The president-elect says part of his job is to be the storyteller-in-chief. To help him tell USF’s story‚ he wants to hear about the extraordinary lives that alumni are leading. “The story I want them to tell me the most is how USF set them up for their professional and personal lives. I want to see how their education has led to a life well lived.”
To hear the stories of USF’s students and employees‚ he’s planning lots of structured meetings‚ lots of unstructured ones‚ and‚ sometimes‚ just walks across campus.

“We’re never done with the conversation about who we are‚ what our values are‚ what our identity is‚ what our mission is‚” he says. “We’ll want to move forward‚ and we’ll do so with our eyes open‚ with our arms open‚ and with our hearts open.”

    « Back