Chancellor Michael Lovell repeatedly stressed Wednesday how his strong Catholic beliefs were the driving force that caused his sudden departure from UW-Milwaukee for cross-town rival, Marquette, where he will now become the first lay president in the university’s 132-year history.
Flanked by members of Marquette’s Presidential Search Committee, Lovell entered the room to a roaring applause. Following a few short speeches by members of Marquette’s Board of Trustees, Lovell stepped to the podium with a bright smile on his face as journalists and supporters waited patiently for his opening statements as Marquette’s new president.
Lovell spoke calmly and easily to the crowd. His stature firm and his voice strong, he began with a joke told to him by a priest during his time as an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky.
“If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans,” Lovell said with a chuckle. “Today, looking back at my career, I don’t think that statement could have been more true.”
Quick to elaborate, Lovell said that when he first arrived in Milwaukee six years ago to serve as UWM’s Dean of the College of Applied Science he had no idea that in just two years he would be the eight Chancellor of UWM, let alone a historic president at the famed Marquette University.
“Being a chancellor or a president never appeared on my radar screen,” Lovell said. “Likewise, three and half years ago when I became Chancellor, I could have never dreamed of becoming Marquette’s first lay president. It wasn’t even permissible in the by-laws.”
Lovell reflected on how his journey to become a historic Marquette president began. Joining the UWM faculty in 2008 as the Dean of the College of Engineering & Applied Science, Lovell became UWM’s Chancellor in 2011. This now makes him UWM’s shortest serving chancellor (excluding the year he spent in the post on an interim basis).
It also continues a modern trend in which UWM’s most recent chancellors have left for other universities – although none to a cross-town rival. The news media first broke the surprise news on Tuesday night, and it was unexpected because Lovell just in February had stressed he wasn’t interest in the Marquette job.
The outgoing chancellor did not hold any press events on the UWM campus Wednesday but rather met the media on Marquette’s campus with Marquette officials.
Under his leadership, UWM undertook several groundbreaking construction projects including a $59 million dollar expansion for the School of Fresh Water Sciences, and the first phase of construction of the Kenwood Interdisciplinary Research Complex, UWM’s first new academic building in over twenty years. In addition, Lovell has been instrumental in UWM’s acquisition of professional ties with corporations and committees around Milwaukee such as Johnson Controls and the Water Council.
In February of 2014, Lovell met with Marquette representatives regarding his candidacy for Marquette’s presidency. Lovell was at first uninterested in leaving UWM until a meeting with the Presidential Search Committee and Vice Chair of the Board, John Ferraro, convinced him that service as Marquette’s president was for the good of Milwaukee.
“After I walked out of the meeting I realized the characteristics of what I believe were important for the president were things I personally aspire to,” said Lovell. “Civil leadership is the fundamental core of what I practice.”
The search for a new leader is always a long and strenuous process. Marquette University officials say they were looking for a bold yet approachable leader of integrity, honesty, and a strong work ethic. In the end, Lovell was chosen from over 1,200 candidates including 16 sitting presidents and eight Jesuits from across the United States. Lovell’s appointment as Marquette’s 24th president is groundbreaking, as this is the first time in the history of Marquette that a Jesuit has not occupied the office of university’s president.
Ferraro listed a variety of reasons why Lovell outshined his competition, citing his residency on Milwaukee’s East Side, his devotion to the Catholic faith and his community, his impressive track record as a professor and university official, as well as his feats as an athlete, referring to Lovell as “the closest thing to Superman as possible.”
While accepting his new duties as Marquette’s president, Lovell expressed his admiration of these criteria, believing that his dedication to his community and faith molded him into the man that he is today; Marquette’s first lay president.