Only several months ago, when members of the Marquette community came to Chancellor Michael Lovell about running their university, he was “flattered but wasn’t really interested. I was very happy at UWM.”
That changed suddenly this week, as Lovell announced he was leaving UW-Milwaukee after just three years as permanent chancellor to lead the university’s cross-town rival. It was, he stressed repeatedly, a religious calling that led him to make the switch.
“I was called to Milwaukee almost six years ago to ultimately become Marquette’s first lay person,” Lovell said he believed, referring to a spiritual calling he received because of his Catholic faith. This calling came to him through prayer, meditation, and consultation with a spiritual leader.
These were the words of Lovell at the Wednesday press conference where he was officially announced president of Marquette, making him the 24th overall but just the first lay president in the school’s history. With the surprise announcement that stunned some people on UWM’s campus, Lovell now becomes the shortest tenured chancellor in UWM’s history, solidifying a modern trend in which the university’s chancellors leave after a few years for other universities (you have to go back decades to find the university’s longest-serving chancellor, J. Martin Klotsche, who ran UWM from 1956 to 1973).
Earlier in the day on Wednesday (after news media broke the story of his resignation the night before), Lovell released an e-mail to the students and faculty of UWM, thanking them and also saying he had to leave UWM because it was “his calling.”
In his press conference on the Marquette campus (there was no press availability by Lovell at UWM on Wednesday, nor did he address the students), Lovell also repeatedly mentioned that a major reason for him coming to the Jesuit university, Marquette, was his Catholic religious faith. In his resignation e-mail to the UWM campus, Lovell also mentioned that he wanted to be able to express his Catholic faith as part of his professional life and that Marquette would allow him to do that in ways a public university could not.
The move by Lovell means that UWM is once again searching for a new Chancellor; whenever the new Chancellor arrives, he or she will become UWM’s 8th in 41 years.
Lovell’s press conference, which he conducted surrounded by Marquette officials, was focused on Marquette and his future, with scant mention of UWM at all or the unfinished projects he leaves behind there, as the university faces issues ranging from new facilities to enrollment declines. During his short tenure leading UWM, Lovell was known for continuing to push the building of new facilities, such as the Innovation campus in Wauwatosa and the expansion of the School of Freshwater Sciences.
Lovell is still the Chancellor at UWM until Aug. 1, but Lovell said he would be pretty hands on at Marquette in about 3-4 weeks. He even joked, saying “I have about two years of unused vacation left at UWM.” When asked directly about UWM, the new president had a possible Freudian slip, saying, “I was very happy at Marquette.”
When asked about the vacancy of the men’s Basketball coach at Marquette affecting the search (especially with UWM’s surprise NCAA berth), Lovell said it was his first priority, but he said he had not been a part of the decision making process to date, so he would not be able to speculate on who would be replacing former Coach Buzz Williams. Lovell did say that whomever they do hire will be a successful basketball coach and is a model of the values of Marquette University.
Being the first Lay president in the school’s history will bring challenges, Lovell told the assembled media on the Marquette campus.
“I’m not Jesuit and this has been a Jesuit institution for over a 100 years,” he said. “I think it is important for me to learn more about the Jesuit traditions and the Jesuit community, so I can lead this university the way it was formed.”
Lovell also responded to questions about filling other key academic positions and just the head basketball coach. He said those positions would be harder to fill because they usually happen during the academic year, so they probably wouldn’t happen until the next semester or the summer.
Lovell made it clear he wants to bring the same level of student relation services to Marquette that he said he brought to UWM. The services he highlighted specifically were holding open office hours for the students, and he said wants to bring his running program, where he runs with students and the community.
Finally the new president briefly discussed that he wants to expand Marquette University with new buildings and programs much in the same way he had begun to renovate the UWM campus adding new research buildings and the building of Innovation Campus on Wauwatosa, all part of a $240 million dollar renovation plan.
Lovell said that in the weeks leading up to his hiring that he had talked with people close to him including his spiritual advisor, Father Brian Summers, who was back in Pittsburgh.
“We prayed about it and we talked about it, and it’s interesting during his prayers God said to him (Summers) that ‘I need him.’ When Father Brian told me this I knew I had better take this decision more seriously.”
When asked if there was anything that had happened at UWM that led to him making his decision final to join Marquette, Lovell responded that this decision was purely based on his desire to more openly practice his faith. Lovell said that he loved his UWM job.
The move continues a trend for Lovell, where he accepts a job at a university but moving on a few years later. He started out in 1996 as an Engineering professor at Kentucky. Four years later, he moved on to Pittsburgh in 2000. In 2003, he became associate dean for research at Pittsburgh’s School of Engineering but Lovell left that job in 2008. That’s when Lovell came to Milwaukee and took over as a dean at UWM’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. In 2010. Lovell took the job as the Chancellor of UWM. Lovell has had five positions since his Kentucky job and through his Chancellor job, giving him an average tenure of 3.6 years at each position, according to Lovell’s official biography and curriculum vitae.