UWM Chancellor Michael Lovell wasn’t initially interested in the offer from Marquette to become the university’s next president.
Lovell quoted his parish priest from two decades ago in Kentucky.
“If you want to give God a good laugh, tell him your plans,” Lovell said to the crowd at Marquette Wednesday afternoon, where he was introduced as the first layperson, or non-clergy member, to become president of the Catholic university.
He said that when he came to Milwaukee in 2008 to become the dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science, he hadn’t thought he would become UWM’s chancellor, either.
He did become chancellor, though, in 2011. The news that Lovell would be leaving UWM for Marquette surprised the UWM community when it broke Tuesday night. Leaving his job by Aug. 1solidifies the chancellor’s tenure as the shortest in UWM history. The move also fits the trend of chancellors leaving the school for other universities, but he is the first to leave for a local competitor. This is happening, not only after Lovell announced that he would remain at UWM, but also during multiple UWM construction projects, declining enrollment and budget challenges.
Lovell explained that the decision came by his Catholic faith in the form of “a calling.” He added some words from Marquette’s mission statement that moved him to realize that it would be the right place for him.
He read, “It is 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.”
Lovell said that the lines “promoting a life of faith and the development of leadership in service to others,” were the most important to him. That meant he could openly practice his faith, a cornerstone in his life, in his professional career.
A few minutes into Lovell’s address, he said, “It became clear to me that I was being called to Milwaukee six years ago to ultimately become Marquette’s first lay president. It was never my plan, but one that God had laid out for me. And I’m just really glad that I decided to follow it.”
As for the UWM community, there was no such media availability. There was an email from Lovell that morning, however, addressed to “all students.” It began:
“It is with mixed emotions that I would like to inform you that later today I will be introduced as the first lay President of Marquette University, effective August 1, 2014.
My decision to step down as Chancellor of UW-Milwaukee has been the most difficult one of my professional career. I know that many of you will be surprised by my decision. Those closest to me, however, know how important my Catholic faith is in my life, and having the ability to integrate my religious life with my professional life is something that I always wanted to do in my career.”
The email explained his decision as one based on faith and contained neither anything about an increase in his $343,000 salary nor elaborated on his previous statements that he wouldn’t be leaving the university. His new salary at Marquette is currently undisclosed.
The room at Marquette, though short on elbow room, was not short on compliments to Lovell.
“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 would necessarily be possible,” Marquette University Board of Trustees Chair Charles Woboda said. “But we did. And I am proud to say that I am confident, and the Board is confident, that we have found the right person to lead Marquette into its next chapter of its storied history.”
Vice Chair of the Marquette Board John Ferraro took it a step further when he said, “Based on his physical, which the doctor told us he beat the optimal – never seen it, in a thousand patients, never seen someone beat the optimal – I’m convinced – I’m really convinced – we have the closest thing in Mike Lovell to Superman as possible.”
Despite any controversy on the move to Marquette, Lovell has seen support from some high places.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker sent out a tweet on the matter.Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett issued a congratulatory statement to Lovell. He wrote:
“Chancellor Lovell’s move to Marquette University is a win for Milwaukee. During his time at UWM, Chancellor Lovell and I had a close working relationship as we partnered on numerous efforts to advance both UWM and the City of Milwaukee. Our strong partnership certainly will continue as he takes on the challenges at Marquette. Marquette is an extremely important part of Milwaukee and I look forward to working with Mike in his new role. I’m also confident UWM will find a leader that will continue to move that academic institution forward.”
Lovell also received supporting words from the UW System.
President Ray Cross implied that he sees Lovell’s move as a benefit to both universities.
His statement read, “I look forward to collaborating with Mike in his new role. Together, I am confident that we will continue to do great things for Milwaukee, the state, and for our universities.”
Board of Regents President Michael Falbo commended Lovell on his success as chancellor, and also expressed his assurance in UWM’s future success by writing:
“From its earliest days, and especially over the past 15 years, UW-Milwaukee has had vital, active, and engaged chancellors in Nancy Zimpher, Carlos Santiago, and Mike Lovell, who have each contributed immeasurably to the expanded opportunities the university provides. Building on their strong legacies, UW-Milwaukee will continue to deliver on its promise of powerful ideas and proven results.”
Zimpher was UWM’s first woman chancellor. She served the role from 1998-2003 until she moved on to become the first woman president for the University of Cincinnati.
Santiago was UWM chancellor from 2004-2010. He is now CEO of the Hispanic College Fund.
Lovell’s leadership at UWM
Lovell has put his stamp on the university’s legacy. He did a lot to work toward fulfilling his vision statement, located on UWM’s “Office of the Chancellor” homepage:
“We will be a top-tier research university that is the best place to learn and work for students, faculty and staff, and that is a leading driver for sustainable prosperity. We will accomplish this through a commitment to excellence, powerful ideas, community and global engagement, and collaborative partnerships.”
Since Lovell became chancellor, UWM has seen the creation of its 89-acre innovation campus in Wauwatosa, a $53-million expansion of its School of Freshwater Sciences and broke ground on its Kenwood Interdisciplinary Research Complex.
The university has also seen growth in its community engagement and partnerships during the Lovell era.
According to his official bio on the UWM “Office of the Chancellor” page, Lovell has served as chairman to the Water Council, a global freshwater research hub, and the Mid-West Energy and Research Consortium, whose mission is to make the Midwest region a U.S. leader in energy.
He is also co-chair of Milwaukee Succeeds and executive partner on the Milwaukee Education Partnership. Milwaukee Succeeds’ is a collaborative effort that works to create a better education for all Milwaukee children, while the Milwaukee Education Partnership is an effort to keep all Milwaukee Public School students proficient in reading, writing and mathematics.
While Lovell cannot be held solely responsible for all of UWM’s success over his tenure, he was at the university’s helm, leading its initiatives. However, the university also has been struggling with flagging enrollment and retention concerns.