Some would call him Superman.
At least that’s how John Ferraro, vice chair of the Marquette University board of trustees and chair of the presidential search committee, introduced Marquette’s 24th president, Dr. Michael Lovell, at a press conference on Wednesday.
“I’m convinced, I’m really convinced, we have the closest thing in Mike Lovell to Superman as possible,” Ferraro said, referring to Lovell’s optimal physical health and athleticism as a marathon runner.
In another sense, that comparison was drawn more subtly as other behind-the-scenes leaders at Marquette sung Lovell’s academic praises.
“I could go on and list a long line of qualifications, but let me just maybe summarize it for you,” said Charles Swoboda, chair of the Marquette board. “If you told us when we started this search six months ago that we would find someone who was a chief executive, a researcher, a scholar, a teacher and a leader all in one person, I didn’t think that’d necessarily be possible, but we did. And I am proud to say that I am confident and the board is confident that we have found the person to lead Marquette into its next chapter of its storied history.”
Marquette might be seeking a Superman-like leader as it sets out to fill vacancies in several high-ranking positions across departments – vacancies that in some instances have been staffed by interim leaders for months. Those positions include university provost, admissions director, dean of business administration, athletic director and men’s basketball coach.
As Lovell, who has been chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee since 2011, prepares to take the helm of Marquette as its first lay president, stabilizing leadership will be among the most pressing of his priorities, he said on Wednesday.
“Looking forward, I think it’s a good thing I like to work hard because I think there’s still a lot of work to do here,” said Lovell, whose official start date is Aug. 1. “And first and foremost, the task at hand is beginning to fill several senior leadership positions on campus.”
The completion of that task will largely be driven by collaborative efforts between Lovell and the campus community as they decide which positions to tackle first, Lovell said.
“That’s a conversation that will have a shared governance (of) what we think is most important,” he said.
Lovell indicated that finding a new men’s basketball head coach to take over for Buzz Williams, following Williams’ move to Virginia Tech (View BizTimes article here) is “first on the agenda.”
While Lovell has not been involved with the search for a new coach, he said he will dive into learning about potential candidates. As eager as the Marquette community is to secure a coach who will excel on the court, Lovell is equally eager to appoint a coach who aligns with the Jesuit institution’s core mission. That mission is grounded in the search for truth, the discovery of knowledge, the fostering of personal and professional excellence, the promotion of a life of faith and the development of leadership expressed in service to others.
“I also want to get someone who fits the values and the traditions of Marquette,” Lovell said.
Other priorities upon Lovell’s entrance include ensuring a Marquette education is accessible and affordable “to all” and enriching the student experience on campus.
“I’m also looking to help improve and enhance the already strong student experience at Marquette,” Lovell said. “I think we need to look at constructing new facilities and developing more programming on campus for the students.”
Beyond the walls of Marquette, Lovell plans to fasten stronger ties between the university and greater Milwaukee so that students continue to play an active role in addressing social problems plaguing the community.
“Given my strong existing relationships with the Milwaukee community, I really want to plan on strengthening Marquette’s involvement within Milwaukee, particularly with strong focus on leadership expressed in service to others,” Lovell said. “Marquette is already nationally known for service and learning and community engagement, and I plan to increase those efforts to help solve many of the social problems right here in Milwaukee.”
Both the university’s affinity for service and its commitment to promoting a life of faith have resonated with Lovell and piqued his interest in the presidency, he said.
“My faith has always served as a cornerstone of my life, and having the ability to openly practice my beliefs in my professional career is something that I’ve always wanted to do,” Lovell said. “Likewise, servant leadership is at the fundamental core of what I believe in and practice.”
The opportunity to blend his personal faith with his professional career was the force that transplanted him across town to Marquette, he said.
“There was nothing (at UWM) that drove me here,” Lovell said.
As Lovell gradually transitions between universities, the close of his tenure at UWM will largely focus on finalizing the university’s strategic plan and academic planning and preparing its budget for a new budgeting cycle, according to Thomas Luljak, vice chancellor of university relations and communications at UWM.
Luljak acknowledged that UWM’s campus community and even Lovell, himself, was surprised by his decision to move the five miles to Marquette. But as they bid farewell to their chancellor, UWM faculty, staff and students are determined to build upon Lovell’s “good work,” particularly his initiatives related to campus innovation and collaboration with industry, Luljak said.
“One of the great things that we have in place that we know will continue are the many, many partnerships with Wisconsin businesses,” Luljak said, citing General Electric, Johnson Controls Inc. and Wisconsin Energy Corp. as examples. “The work that Mike and others have done in terms of opening up our research laboratories and creating a synergy between our faculty and industry is really quite remarkable.”
Erica Breunlin is a staff reporter at BizTimes Milwaukee.