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St. Vincent College President Towey to step down

| Thursday, Oct. 15, 2009

St. Vincent College President Jim Towey will step down from the position he's held since 2006.

Towey said Wednesday he has accomplished all he set out to do at St. Vincent and decided to announce his resignation now to give the college time to find a replacement.

"I came as a stranger to academia, and my view was there were things I wanted to accomplish here," Towey said. "I didn't come to stay. I came to make a difference."

The news came as a bit of a surprise to faculty members but was not shocking, said associate professor Matt Fisher, president of St. Vincent's faculty council and chairman of the chemistry department.

"All faculty recognize, in higher education today, presidents don't stay for an extended period of time," Fisher said, noting the two presidents preceding Towey stayed for five and six years.

Towey, 53, will depart in June after four years on the job.

Towey, the former director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives under President George W. Bush, has supporters and detractors on campus.

"There were some individuals that viewed him favorably and others that have significant differences with how he went about his job," Fisher said.

During Towey's tenure, the Benedictine liberal arts college near Latrobe has raised more than $35 million and is undertaking the largest building project in its history — the $30 million Sis and Herman Dupre Science Pavilion.

The Fred Rogers Center and the renovation of Headmasters Hall were completed during Towey's presidency. And the Chuck Noll Field football facility and new artificial turf field for students were planned and built over the past three years.

The college has had record levels of enrollment and three consecutive waiting lists for admission. The number of students studying overseas has nearly tripled since Towey arrived.

Towey has accompanied students on annual mission trips to Calcutta, India, where they worked in the homes for the dying founded by Mother Teresa, whom Towey had served as legal counsel.

"The most edifying work has been with the students," Towey said. "I just love being around them. These are great men and women. It's fun to watch them grow."

His tenure has not been without controversy, however.

When President Bush came to speak at St. Vincent's commencement in 2007, some faculty, students and alumni were upset by the choice, saying Bush's policies did not fit with the college's Benedictine mission.

In 2008, 31 of the college's 44 tenured faculty members signed a letter expressing "grave concern for the current state of the college" because of Towey's leadership.

The professors accused Towey of running the school through a "pervasive atmosphere of intimidation and fear," which led to nearly two dozen professors and administrators leaving the college.

Towey said his detractors had no bearing on his decision to leave.

"The reality is any time you're in a leadership position, you're going to have people that disagree with the direction that you're going," Towey said. "That just comes with the responsibilities of being a president of a college. Even to my detractors I'm grateful, because they've made me a stronger and better person."

St. Vincent Archabbot Douglas R. Nowicki praised Towey in a statement yesterday, saying he did an "outstanding job" as president.

"There have been many great accomplishments and positive developments during his time at St. Vincent, including the deepening of the college community's commitment to our mission," Nowicki said. "He also has succeeded in moving the college from being a well-respected regional college to a nationally recognized college of excellence."

Fisher said only time will tell what Towey's legacy is.

"That is something that would become clearer in the next couple of years as we look at what he's left as a foundation for his successor to build on," he said.

Towey said he has no plans and no job offers and isn't sure where he and his wife, Mary, and their five children are headed.

"My future is always in God's hands, and Mary and I pray to see where next we go," he said.

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