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Paul J. Fitzgerald, S.J. Named President of the University of San Francisco

April 09, 2014

Paul J. Fitzgerald, S.J. has been named the next president of the University of San Francisco, the 28th in its 159-year history. The USF Board of Trustees voted unanimously in a special session April 8 to appoint Fr. Fitzgerald, said Thomas E. Malloy ’61, board chair. Fr. Fitzgerald will take office Aug. 1.

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USF President-elect Paul J. Fitzgerald, S.J. will start work Aug. 1.

'I was elated'

"When I received word I was selected as president, I was absolutely elated," Fr. Fitzgerald said.  

This will be a homecoming for Fr. Fitzgerald, who grew up in Los Gatos, Calif. His mother and two sisters live in the South Bay, and his brother lives in the California's Central Valley. As a teenager, he visited the USF campus many times on road trips from Los Gatos to the city.

USF is where he became a priest

"For a long time, I've had my eye on USF, as a school I really like and respect," Fr. Fitzgerald said. In fact, USF was the site of one of the most important moments in his life — St. Ignatius Church was where he was ordained to the priesthood in 1992.

Fr. Fitzgerald has worked in higher education for more than 20 years and is currently the senior vice president for academic affairs at Fairfield University in Connecticut, where he oversees the recruitment and retention of faculty, develops curriculum, and works with deans to direct academic programs. Previously, he worked at Santa Clara University as associate dean and senior associate dean for the College of Arts and Sciences. He has served on the boards of trustees at Loyola University Chicago and Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

Impressive experience

The national search for USF’s new president began in October 2013 when the USF Board of Trustees appointed a Presidential Search Committee (PSC). It included current and former trustees and was led by Chuck Smith, the board's vice chairman and retired president and CEO of AT&T West. A second committee, the Search Advisory Committee (SAC), advised the PSC, and its members included faculty, staff, students, and alumni. Teresa Win '85, chaired the SAC, and she also served as vice chair of the PSC. Isaacson Miller, a highly regarded national search firm, helped guide the search.

"The Presidential Search Committee was united in finding the very best leader for the university, and after discussions with more than 300 contacts, it recommended Fr. Fitzgerald to the board," said Smith. "He brings impressive experience in connecting with the business community, in fundraising, and in strategic planning. He has a sound working knowledge of the mechanics of higher education and the use of technology to complement the transformative one-on-one interaction between faculty and students."  

Thanks to USF community

Win said she is grateful to the hundreds of people from USF who participated in the listening sessions and completed the online survey. "This high level of involvement enabled the search committee to define, very clearly, the qualifications we were looking for in USF's new leader," she said.

Fr. Fitzgerald thinks he already has a head start. "There is strong leadership across the university, from the deans and vice presidents to the board of trustees," he said. "There's also a real affection for the university and a genuine dedication to its mission."

Listening and learning

When asked if the first months of his presidency would be characterized by "listening and learning," he answered, without skipping a beat, "My entire presidency will be characterized by listening and learning." Fr. Fitzgerald said he'll hold a number of structured meetings, and lots of unstructured ones, to learn about the hopes, dreams, and expectations of USF's students, faculty, and staff, and its alumni and donors.

This is how he described his leadership style: "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 decisions-making."

Engaging tech leaders

Fr. Fitzgerald also says he'll practice "budgetary restraint, fiscal discipline, and modest discounting in order to fund plant renewal, invest in new degree programs, and grow the endowment. In the long run, he said, a larger endowment will moderate costs to students and their families and afford USF the capacity to seize opportunities as they arise.

The tech industry's growing presence in the city is a strong opportunity for USF, Fr. Fitzgerald said, and he'll spend time and energy engaging its leaders. "The City of San Francisco is becoming a vibrant center for startups and venture capital. USF can be at the heart of this story, helping to steer the direction of change in the city for good. USF can align academic programs to educate the knowledge workers for these new industries. We can 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.”

A global perspective

Claudio M. Chiuchiarelli '79, chair emeritus of the board of trustees, said Fr. Fitzgerald’s global perspective will benefit the university. "Fr. Fitzgerald's true global perspective and academic rigor will certainly engage Bay Area technology leaders and entrepreneurs.”

Fr. Fitzgerald has lived, taught, and studied overseas, helping him develop that global perspective. He is fluent in German and French and is conversational in Spanish. He earned a D.E.A. (diplôme des études approfondies) and a Docteur ès Lettres (PhD) in the Sociology of Religion at the University of Paris — La Sorbonne and an S.T.D. (Pontifical Doctorate) in ecclesiology from the Institut Catholique de Paris. He also taught as a visiting lecturer In China in 1992 and in Kenya in 2004.

Breaking bread

"My research and scholarship has slowed but not ended since I took on full-time administrative work a decade ago," he said. "I continue to work at the intersection of sociology and theology, the disciplines of my two doctorates and remain fascinated by the ways in which people of faith and religious commitment bring their personal belief into fruitful dialogue with their professional engagement in the gritty reality of the world."

One more thing to know about Fr. Fitzgerald: "I'm a good cook," he said. "I never met a national cuisine I didn't appreciate." What does he love most about cooking? "When the food comes out, the conversation takes off. Sharing a meal is an amazing opportunity to share life," he said. "It's not for nothing that Jesus's most important conversations took place over meals."

Another USF connection

This is the second time USF has offered Fr. Fitzgerald a job: the first was in 1992, as a teacher in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies. His Jesuit superior had other plans for him, however, and sent him instead to Santa Clara University. His boss there was current USF President Stephen A. Privett, S.J.

"I have known and respected and liked Steve for many, many years," Fr. Fitzgerald said. "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."

A smooth presidential transfer

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's inauguration. 

"We are deeply grateful to the Rev. Stephen A. Privett, S.J. for his inspired, dynamic, and collaborative leadership these past 14 years," said Malloy. "I am pleased that Steve will spend the summer helping to ensure a smooth transition in leadership. The board is looking forward to welcoming Fr. Fitzgerald to USF in the fall."

Still a teacher at heart

For many years, the President-elect has taught at least one course per year to keep in touch with students, and Fr. Fitzgerald hopes to continue that at USF. "There is no more joyful place for me than being in the classroom. Watching the light go on in the eyes of a student as he or she 'gets it;' seeing a student develop an argument logically, rationally, and with consistency and depth; that, finally, is what we are all about as a university."