People

From Managing a Private-Equity Fund to Leading a Catholic University

Mount St. Mary’s U.

Simon Newman
June 08, 2015

Investor, University Chief

Simon P. Newman would not have appeared an obvious choice to run Mount St. Mary’s University last September, when his wife chanced upon a job posting for the presidency of the liberal-arts college, in Maryland.

Mr. Newman, who lived in Los Angeles, was dually the managing director of a private equity fund and president of an investment and strategy-consulting firm.

But the listing called for entrepreneurial experience, fund-raising skills, and a financial background, all of which matched Mr. Newman’s skills.

Mount St. Mary’s Roman Catholic affiliation made the job even more appealing.

"I’ve been a rather devout Catholic most of my life, and I’ve done lots of volunteer work," Mr. Newman says. "I was interested in combining that with my work life."

He says he was looking for a job that would have a "bigger, more global impact" than his work in private equity, a field that he describes as being "geared around wealth generation for the few that can afford to participate."

Though Mr. Newman knew little about the university when he first applied in September, John E. Coyne III, chairman of the university’s Board of Trustees, says that by the time Mr. Newman interviewed last November, he wowed the search committee with the depth of his knowledge about Mount St. Mary’s and his vision for helping it succeed at a time when liberal-arts colleges nationally face challenges maintaining their financial footing and enrollment.

Mr. Newman was offered the position in December and took office in March. He says his success will hinge on the university’s ability to better serve two types of customers: Its "core customers" are the university’s most engaged and successful students, while its "ultimate customers" are employers.

Mr. Newman, who began his career in consulting work at Bain & Company, says the university needs to better identify where its "core customers" come from and what attracts them to Mount St. Mary’s. To bring in more of them and better serve the "ultimate customer," he wants to use existing courses and faculty strengths to develop cross-disciplinary programs attuned to the employers’ needs — philosophy, politics, and economics, for example, for public-policy positions in nearby Washington, D.C., or bioinformatics, for jobs in pharmaceutical research.

"There’s a tremendous platform here to build on," he says. — Ben Wieder


Oxford’s Female Leader

The University of Oxford has named its first female vice chancellor in the nearly 800 years that the occupant of that position has been recorded. Louise Richardson, now principal and vice chancellor of the University of St Andrews, in Scotland, will succeed Andrew D. Hamilton as Oxford’s vice chancellor in January. The position is equivalent to a university president in the United States.

Mr. Hamilton was appointed in March to be the next president of New York University.

Before joining St Andrews more than six years ago, Ms. Richardson, a noted scholar of terrorism and security studies, was executive dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. She is a native of Ireland. — Ian Wilhelm


A Resignation Gone Right

Haley Baker, Kent State U.

Molly Merryman, with Kenneth M. Ditlevson, director of Kent State's LGBTQ Student Center

Molly Merryman wasn’t sure what would happen next when she wrote an open letter of resignation from her post as coordinator of LGBT studies at Kent State University. In the April letter, she criticized the administration for not providing financial support for her position or the program.

But word spread quickly across social media, and administrators soon pledged to create a fully supported Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality, which will integrate and expand women’s studies, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender studies. Ms. Merryman, an associate professor of sociology, was appointed to help lead the development of the center.

James L. Blank, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, says that, as a biologist, he has been interested in gender and sexuality issues for decades. But until recently, he says, he wasn’t in a "position to be able to make a difference like this." Mr. Blank was named dean in January, after serving as interim dean for about two years.

"When I got Molly’s email, my first thought was, Uh-oh," he says. "But my second thought was, We got a great opportunity; let’s take advantage of it. And it worked."

The LGBT Studies and Women’s Studies programs offer only minors. Ms. Merryman says the goal is to rework the curriculum and design a major in gender and sexuality, as well as a graduate certificate. Courses will be offered online, as well as in the classroom, she says, to reach students across Kent State’s eight campuses.

The center will also provide opportunities for research. An advisory group will draft specific recommendations over the summer, and the center’s structure and budget needs will be based on that.

The initial costs of the center’s creation and work will be minimal and will come from enrollment revenue, Mr. Blank says.

Ms. Merryman helped found the LGBT program 14 years ago and has led it since 2010. She says the university has historically supported diversity, and the lack of support for the program was a frustrating blip on its radar.

"I feel like the university is realigning itself to the core of what it is as an institution," she says. — Madeline Will


More Than the Law

Rangita de Silva de Alwis

Rangita de Silva de Alwis

Rangita de Silva de Alwis took a top role at the University of Pennsylvania Law School in February, but she has little interest in educating those who will be "just lawyers."

The new associate dean for international affairs isn’t "just a lawyer" herself. She has a doctorate of juridical science from Harvard Law School, but has worked primarily in public policy focusing on human rights and gender.

As the inaugural director of Hillary Clinton’s Women in Public Service Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, she collaborated with United Nations agencies and lobbied politicians and universities around the world to organize international symposia on how to support women’s leadership. She helped organize summits at the China Women’s University, in Beijing, and the Asian University for Women, in Bangladesh.

At Penn Law, with the support of Theodore Ruger, who is set to become the school’s dean in July, she is focused on preparing graduates to have the "global perspective" to work anywhere in the world and is grooming them for jobs in public policy and with nongovernmental organizations.
The law school is starting a center for Asian law and organizing both a symposium on women and national security, and a women’s summit of Penn Law alumnae. "The role of a law school is not only about educating the next generation of leaders in law," she says. "They also have an important role to play as academic institutions that study, and influence, nation-building and law reform."

She is also reviewing the school’s connections abroad. "I’m looking at areas, such as Asia or Latin America, that are underrepresented and looking at how we can help students work in that area — for example, building greater access to internships and fellowships there," Ms. de Silva de Alwis says.

The U.N. women’s agency has already asked about working with Penn Law students to help draft model laws that could be shared with country officers around the world, which is exactly the type of partnership Ms. de Silva de Alwis wants to promote.

"Academic institutions deepen the conversation and provide the kind of research and insights that those in policy making do not have access to," she says. "Connecting the two is the role I want to play." — Angela Chen


Obituary: Chinese-Epic Translator

Anthony C. Yu, a professor emeritus in the humanities and of religion and literature at the University of Chicago and a noted translator, died on May 12. He was 76.

Mr. Yu taught in the Divinity School and several departments at the university for 46 years. He is especially known for his four-volume translation of The Journey to the West, a classic Chinese novel about a monk’s pilgrimage to India with three fantastical disciples to seek Buddhist scriptures. Mr. Yu’s grandfather told him stories from the epic tale as his family escaped Hong Kong for mainland China at the outbreak of World War II. The first volume of Mr. Yu’s translation was published in 1977, and the other three followed. A second edition was published in 2012.

Among other honors, Mr. Yu was an elected member of the American Academy of the Arts & Sciences. — Anais Strickland


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