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Loyola University names Jo Ann Rooney as first female president

Dr. Jo Ann Rooney is Loyola University's first woman and lay president. She will assume the position Aug. 1. | Jacob Wittich/Sun-Times

Jo Ann Rooney was tapped on Monday to become president of Loyola University of Chicago, the first female and non-cleric to lead the school, whose long resume includes a battle she lost to be undersecretary of the Navy.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to be president of this university,” Rooney said after she was introduced at the university’s Mundelein Center for the Fine and Performing Arts, 1020 W. Sheridan Rd.

“Being lay adds a different perspective, but on the other hand it is energizing the community — even the Jesuit community who really feel at this point that this is helping them expand their mission. It really shows how much Loyola is positioned to be a part of that changing dynamic in higher education, Catholic higher education and Jesuit higher education,” she said.

Rooney will be the school’s 24th president when she starts her new job on Aug. 1. She replaces Father Michael Garanzini, who resigned as president in June 2015 to become Loyola’s chancellor.

Rooney’s appointment will run through 2021. John Pelissero, former provost of Loyola, has held the position on an interim basis since July 2015.

Rooney, a managing director at Huron Consulting in Chicago, is an attorney, a former Pentagon official and was president for eight years at Spalding University, a private Catholic school in Louisville, Kentucky. She also served briefly as the president of Mount Ida College in Newton, Massachusetts.

President Barack Obama nominated Rooney to be undersecretary on Sept. 11, 2013, but she never made it to a Senate vote because of a controversy over her testimony dealing with the prosecution of rape and sexual assault in the military. That put her at odds with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who was pushing to have these cases handled outside the military chain of command.

Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, jumped on Rooney when written testimony she presented to the committee said she was for continuing to let commanding officers decide whether to pursue sexual assault cases.

The Senate panel voted Rooney out of committee and sent her name to the full Senate in January 2014. But the Senate never called her nomination, and after almost a year in limbo, the White House announced on Nov. 12, 2014, that it was withdrawing her name from consideration.

Rooney holds a doctorate in higher education from the University of Pennsylvania as well as law degrees.

“Dr. Rooney is a lifelong educator with an impressive and diverse array of experiences that will enable her to build on the university’s tremendous success of the last decade,” Robert Parkinson, chairman of Loyola’s board of trustees, said in a statement. Parkinson also chaired the Presidential Search Committee that selected Rooney.

“The outstanding leadership skills she gained from her roles in education, public service and health care will position Loyola well to address today’s emerging higher education challenges. Most importantly, her values and faith are fully aligned with our Catholic and Jesuit mission and identity,” he said.

Omega Styles, program coordinator for outreach at Loyola, said it is an honor to have Rooney join the university.

“I also think that it’s a great opportunity to have a woman in the forefront of the university who is also dedicated to the overall success and to the student body and employees here at the university,” Styles said. “I hope to see her continue what has been built upon for the past few years as well as bring in new energy, ideas and commitment to the university.”

Adilene Gavina, who will be a junior at Loyola in the fall, is excited by Rooney’s selection.

“Having a female president will be really impactful for the whole community because we’re trying to get past the stigma of a male presidential figure and leader,” Gavina said.

Contributing: Lynn Sweet