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Gonzaga U. ousts Glynn; board action jolts Jesuits

NCR Staff

The recent ouster of Jesuit Fr. Edward Glynn as president of Gonzaga University by the university's board of trustees raises serious questions about Jesuit identity as it relates to the management style of the school's board of trustees.

That, at least, is the perspective expressed by Michael Carey, who coordinates the university's Council for Partnership in Mission, composed of faculty, students and administrators charged with promoting the Jesuit mission at Gonzaga.

"The process seemed to me to be so closed, so political and so contrary to the interests of the university that I have to question whether the trustees are actually even taking the university's mission into account when they make decisions," said Carey, who is also associate professor of organizational leadership at the school in Spokane, Wash. "I think the Jesuits at Gonzaga have been lax about educating people on the board as to what the mission and apostolic quality of Jesuit education is all about."

Carey's reaction reflects the deep pain at the school following Glynn's widely contested departure in mid-May after only nine months as president. Glynn is a widely respected Jesuit with strong credentials in academic administration who previously served as academic vice president at Gonzaga. He also served as president of St. Peter's College in Jersey City, N.J., for 12 years and, before assuming his post at Gonzaga last September, for six years as provincial of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus in Baltimore.

He was ousted from Gonzaga on May 16, just after graduation ceremonies, despite strong, university-wide objections. A news release issued by the university said his departure resulted from "a mutual understanding" with the board. James R. Jundt, board chairman, cited "philosophical differences on governance." Jundt, a Minneapolis businessman, did not return telephone calls from NCR.

In the days leading up to that statement, as information about the board's proposed action leaked out, letters, petitions and statements poured in asking the board to reconsider. They came from Jesuits who serve on the school's board, the broader Jesuit community in Spokane, the university's deans, a strong majority of the faculty, the University Committee on Racial Equality and Cultural Understanding and the Council for Partnership in Mission.

Ironically, Gonzaga has a two-tier board that sets it apart from most of the nation's 28 Jesuit colleges and universities because Jesuits retain greater control. Most of the schools exist as independent corporations and are no longer owned by Jesuits. However, Gonzaga is owned by a corporate board of nine Jesuits, called the "board of members," which holds power to change the university's bylaws. The board of members delegates authority to the 29-member board of trustees for general oversight and hiring of a president, who must be a Jesuit.

The Jesuits on the board of members issued a statement criticizing the proposed action by the trustees as "precipitous and arbitrary" and potentially damaging to "the fragile morale" at Gonzaga. The deans expressed their "unreserved support" for Glynn.

The board of members has the power to dissolve the board of trustees, but Jesuit Fr. Stephen Kuder, who heads that board of members, said such a dramatic step was not being considered. "That was feared by some of the trustees, but the whole Jesuit way of proceeding is based on respect for others and building relationships," he said.

Carey criticized trustees for acting from a "corporate model" in their unilateral decision to remove Glynn, rather than from a "university model," which he said emphasizes collegiality and collaboration.

Ron Large, religious studies professor and president of the faculty assembly, agreed. An important issue in the conflict, he said, is "how we live out the values of not just a university, but a Jesuit university."

Glynn told NCR his relationship with the board had been strained from the start. Issues he cited include the lack of term limits for board members, lack of an executive committee, weakness in the board's committee structures and overall "micromanagement" by the board. Glynn said he was discouraged from attending board meetings although as president he was a member of the board.

The board, which in the past has operated by consensus, decided by a narrow majority in a straw vote to force Glynn to resign, Kuder said, and refused to seek mediation, as Jesuits had urged.

"It's a case here of very strong personalities on both sides," a clash of wills, Kuder said.

As at many private colleges and universities, trustees include some wealthy business leaders who are major financial contributors.

Glynn said he had been encouraged to speak publicly about the problems because of widespread concerns about the board's view of governance. The Jesuit board of members, in their statement to the board, said Glynn's efforts to address the board's operations stemmed from "a much-needed renovation of internal procedures."

After Glynn was removed, Gonzaga's Faculty Assembly condemned the action in a formal statement, asking, among other things, that the board of trustees formally affirm its commitment to "collegial relationships and governance." The assembly also asked the board of members to reserve to itself the right to approve of hiring and firing presidents.

Glynn said he expected the Jesuit board of members to effect some bylaw changes, at the very least limiting the number of terms trustees can serve. Presently, unlike trustees at other Jesuit schools, Gonzaga trustees can serve for an unlimited number of terms.

Glynn said the rift with the board had begun over something as "silly" as a disagreement over the location of an office for Jesuit Fr. Bernard Coughlin, former president of the school. Coughlin was named chancellor after 22 years as president.

Jesuit Fr. Michael McFarland, dean of arts and sciences at Gonzaga and a member of the Jesuit board of members, said further conflicts developed when the board acted unilaterally in coping with a budget crisis, deciding to raise tuition 3 percent rather than the 6 percent recommended by a university-wide process and by the board's own budget committee.

"Even at six percent, serious cuts were needed," McFarland said. "Ideas about what and where to cut further were never communicated by the board.

"I'm not sure that three percent wasn't the better alternative," he said. "But there is a process."

McFarland said the most important question to be addressed in the controversy is, "To whom is the board of trustees accountable?"

"It's a very complicated case here," he said. "I think everyone on the board of trustees would tell you they are very devoted to the Jesuits and to the Jesuit mission. Certainly they are in their own minds. I don't agree with what they did. But it's too easy to say there are barbarians at the gate."

McFarland said he believed a different person might have gradually achieved a working relationship with the trustees. "Fr. Glynn has 12 years in Jersey City. His virtue is that he's direct, blunt. He's a very principled person who cares about organizations and how they function, and he wants to see them function correctly," McFarland said.

Before being hired at Gonzaga, Glynn had been selected as president of the prestigious Jesuit-owned Weston School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass., but was barred from the post by Vatican officials. The school has a pontifical faculty, giving the Vatican control of some decisions.

Sources thought at the time that Glynn's obstacle had been Cardinal James A. Hickey of Washington, who is a member of the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education. When Glynn led the Jesuits' Maryland province, which includes Washington, Hickey asked him to use his influence to get rid of an abortion rights student group that was meeting at Georgetown University, a Jesuit school. Glynn refused, saying that to intervene in an autonomous institution would be an inappropriate exercise of the provincial's role.

Jesuit Fr. J. Donald Monan, chancellor of Boston College and interim president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, said he doesn't believe the movement to lay boards at Jesuit institutions has compromised their integrity.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Jesuits, along with many other religious orders that operated schools, began relinquishing control of their institutions, turning governance over to mostly lay boards. The reasons were complex, said Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese, political scientist and author. First, after the Second Vatican Council and as numbers of Jesuits declined, theological and institutional concerns made it important to recognize and use the skills and charisms of the laity. Professional and financial considerations were also key. The Jesuits' assets and those of their institutions could be legally separated under the new arrangement, making it easier for the schools to receive federal and state money needed for their survival. And finally, the role of college and university presidents was distinguished from the role of the community's religious superior.

Different Jesuits stressed different reasons for the change, Reese said. "It's like asking a congressman why a bill passed. You'll get 400 different answers."

"Usually," Reese said, "the lay boards are very deferential to the Jesuits, and presidents are ousted only when they can't control the budget. The situation at Gonzaga is unusual."

Monan echoed concerns of faculty members and other groups at Gonzaga who say it will now be hard for the school to attract a qualified Jesuit to serve as president.

"I expect some accommodations will have to be made there," he said.

National Catholic Reporter, June 6, 1997