A Farewell Interview
with Past President Mark C. Reed, EdD
by Kelly Welsh ’05 (MA)
In 2016, I had the chance to sit down with the University’s new president Mark C. Reed, EdD, for an interview that appeared in Saint Joseph’s University Magazine. Just a few months into his presidency, we talked about his Philadelphia roots, his first impressions of the Hawk community and his vision for the University. In the seven years that followed, Dr. Reed would be at the helm of Hawk Hill greeting impressive world leaders such as Pope Francis and John Lewis, opening the University’s first new school in more than three decades and stewarding a $50-million gift — the largest in institutional history — to ignite SOAR, Saint Joseph’s historic capital campaign.
Dr. Reed guided the University through an educational partnership with the world-renowned Barnes Foundation; launched groundbreaking initiatives like the Center for Addiction and Recovery Education (CARE); cheered the Hawks on as they won championships in field hockey, lacrosse, soccer and basketball; and, most recently, steered the University through the interruption of COVID-19 and the acquisition of the University of the Sciences. During his final days on Hawk Hill, we had the chance to revisit that initial interview from 2016 and reflect back on a tenure of monumental change and achievement at Saint Joseph’s.
Seven years ago, when asked about your leadership, you talked about the long vision you had for SJU and how you wanted the University to think differently about itself, challenge assumptions and live out its Jesuit mission by adapting to the times. How did we do?
I think we did very well. We have truly grown and expanded the University in terms of academic offerings, and our plans for the physical plant are active and really beginning to take shape. It’s truly extraordinary. We tend to be hard graders on ourselves, but I do think an objective view tells a different story. Externally, there is awareness of what Saint Joseph’s has been doing. I think the growth and success is a testament to the faculty, staff and students — really the whole community at large.
What are you proudest of?
Our response to COVID is right there near the top of the list. We made a decision to operate at the highest level we could despite the pandemic. This would not have happened if Provost McConnell, the senior administration and I hadn’t been in lock step, and if our faculty and staff had not been so dedicated. I truly believe that continuity of our on-ground experience has made SJU better and stronger than if we had taken a different approach.
And, look, we also didn’t shy away from the opportunity to greatly expand our academic profile with the acquisition of the University of the Sciences, which came to us in the midst of COVID. It would have been easy to say that was too much to take on. But we didn’t.
What was your greatest challenge as president and how did you overcome it?
The hardest times, in my opinion, are when you have to lead people through a change process that they are not entirely sure is necessary or that they think can be done more slowly or incrementally. I think that characterizes my first few years here. The University needed to embrace new ways of thinking and acting. There were many who embraced this view to set an ambitious path and trajectory for the University. For me, persistence, talking and listening helped me overcome the obstacles. You demonstrate a vision and aspirations in actions at least as much as in words.
Is there anything you would have done differently?
I’m a very reflective person and I take time to think about what’s transpired, what’s good, what’s bad, what could have been better. On the grander scale, that kind of reflection takes time and I will continue to reflect on my tenure for a long time to come. But I will say this: As president, I am called on to make decisions all the time. I like to think I’m better now than I was at the beginning of my tenure about not sweating the small stuff. I have learned to delegate and utilize the talent I have in the people around me much better.
The best leaders are ones who both have a vision and the executive acumen to lead people and the institution toward its achievement.”
- Dr. Mark. C Reed
Back in 2016, we talked about your wish list if time and money were no object. You quickly replied with tripling the size of the University’s endowment to allow for greater financial aid for deserving students. Is there anything you would add to that wish list now?
Well, we more than doubled our endowment and now, with the acquisition of the University of the Sciences, it’s even larger. And I would say let’s triple it again. A strong endowment to support financial aid is the very best way to connect the most deserving students with the Jesuit education we provide.
And if time and money were no object, we would accelerate the timeline of our master plan. Ultimately, what this master plan is about is the student and academic experiences. SJU’s campus is one of our best assets, and the revitalization or creation of living, learning and recreational spaces is absolutely essential to providing the educational experience our students deserve.
What advice would you give the next president of Saint Joseph’s University?
I would continue the major themes and initiatives of the strategic plan, updating and refining as necessary; develop and build upon the recent expansion of the University’s academic offerings; continue to pursue options for both undergraduate and graduate nursing programs; move as fast as possible to complete Campus Master Plan projects; focus on fundraising and enrollment as the drivers of the resources needed to enhance and sustain the University into the future; and always place the Jesuit and Catholic mission and heritage at the center and as the basis for why and how SJU educates and forms students. I am hopeful that SJU’s next president will feel and find that there is so much underway and more to do.
On a personal level, I would advise the next president to get to know the institution, its people, its history and its culture deeply and sincerely. It will absolutely help in making the best decisions possible.
What lessons will you take away from Saint Joseph’s?
Wow. There are so many lessons. Too many to list quickly. Two immediately come to mind. First, to expect the unexpected. I am not just talking about a global pandemic! Rather, things do not always go as conceived or planned. Being comfortable with uncertainty and considering contingencies and alternatives is essential.
Second, visionary and operational leadership are not distinct. Vision without the ability to execute it will go nowhere. Managing well but without a clear set of goals will not result in much. The best leaders are ones who both have a vision and the executive acumen to lead people and the institution toward its achievement.
The most common question I have been asked about the acquisition of the University of the Sciences is how it happened or came about. It started several years ago with the vision outlined in the strategic plan. When the opportunity presented itself, we were already prepared and ready to respond. Visionary and operational leadership together enable opportunities to be seized. The campus master plan is not simply a list of projects to be completed — it reflects a vision for the type of university and campus experience we want for our students.
Pope Francis visits campus
Center for Inclusion and Diversity opens its doors in the student center
Launch of Strategic Plan: "Thinking Anew, Acting Anew"
Largest gift in institutional history, $50M from James J. ’58 and Frances Maguire
Historic educational partnership with the Barnes Foundation
Dedication of Kevin Quinn ’62 Track
Jill R. Bodensteiner, JD, first female AD in University history, is hired
First new school in three decades opens: the School of Health Studies and Education
Center for Addiction and Recovery Education (CARE) is established
Campus Master Plan unveiled to actualize Dr. Reed’s vision for a unified Hawk Hill campus, including updated residence halls, state-of-the-art athletic facilities, expanded labs and innovation spaces, The Frances M. Maguire Art Museum, and a pedestrian underpass that safely joins both sides of the Hawk Hill campus
New Jesuit residence, Arrupe Hall, opens on campus
Largest comprehensive campaign in University history launches: SOAR: The Campaign for Saint Joseph’s University
Historic merger with the University of the Sciences results in a four-school structure: College of Arts and Sciences, Haub School of Business, School of Education and Human Development, and School of Health Professions