Our discussion with La Salle’s new president-elect

Editorial

The Editorial Board

On Tuesday morning, the university announced to the La Salle community that the 30th president of La Salle University had been decided, voted on unanimously by the La Salle Board of Trustees. Dr. Daniel J. Allen of DePaul University in Chicago has been chosen to take up the mantle. Allen is an Illinois native who has spent most of his life in Cathlolic education, most recently serving as vice president of DePaul University, the largest Catholic university in the United States. Allen is known for his fundraising talent and the work he has done to raise money through the COVID-19 pandemic, which is one of the reasons he was chosen for La Salle.

This decision comes after months of deliberation and process conducted by the Presidential Search Committee and Board of Trustees. After the announcement of Allen as president-elect of La Salle University, the Editorial Board combed through the previously published position profile from the Presidential Search Committee, which is now unavailable to the public, and has determined that based on Allen’s history, he fits the profile very well. One of the key requirements listed on the profile was a leader who can hit various metrics in revenue and enrollment, and also a person who follows the Lasallian mission.

Last week, our editorial was a plea to the Presidential Search Committee to focus on diversity, mission and social justice, but a majority of the highlights cited by major outlets and releases so far have been about Allen’s commitment to revenue and fundraising. However, Allen is highly qualified academically, having studied higher education and postsecondary education for low-income students. 

In a conversation with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Allen said “I’m a big fan of what happens in cities.” He continued, “that really stirs my blood, what happens in urban communities and universities… that are so tightly knit within those communities.” Our current Interim President Tim O’Shaughnessy said that Allen shows “commitment to our Lasallian values and principles,” and that he is “confident in [Allen’s] ability to lead La Salle into the future.” 

What is clear from this decision is that La Salle University is likely in even more dire straits than was believed. Several members of the Board of Trustees have highlighted Allen’s skills in fundraising as a major choice in his selection, with William Matthews, a member of the Board, stating in the Inquirer piece, “we recognize that one of the pieces of the puzzle that allows La Salle University to flourish is to be able to raise capital that allows you to fund the operations of the school.” Additionally, the first of Allen’s skills listed on his official president page on lasalle.edu are “fundraising, alumni relations and advancement communications strategies.”

La Salle’s co-chair of marketing, Swee-Lim Chia, said in a release from La Salle, “I can’t wait for the larger community at La Salle, especially my faculty and staff colleagues, to meet him and to hear his plans to bring the necessary resources to support our mission and academic priorities in continuing our legacy for delivering a transformative education for our students and their families.”

In addition, Allen himself has even hinted at his financial goals, saying to the Inquirer, “the message was if we don’t raise as much as we did last year, it sure as hell isn’t going to be because we didn’t try.” We believe Allen is branding himself as a fighter and a city coordinator who is trying to pull the university out of the pandemic slump in terms of finances and enrollment.

President-elect Allen sat down with members of the Collegian’s editorial board shortly after the announcement and answered some of our questions about his plans for, and feelings on, La Salle. For more information on Allen and some of the answers from this interview, please check out this week’s news section.

When asked about his commitment to the Lasallian mission, diversity and community service in the university community, Allen was quick to point out that he has been a member of the Lasallian community before at Lewis University, a Lasallian university in Romeoville, Illinois. Allen served as Vice President of Advancement at Lewis, and worked on his doctoral dissertation on “access to higher education for first-generation students, students of color and low-income students,” according to a release from La Salle. 

He stated in our discussion that “the work we did at Lewis helped me select my doctoral dissertation’s focus.” “[It was] a special part of my personal journey,” stated Allen. He clearly knows the mission of community service laid out by John Baptiste De La Salle, but his answer of diversity largely leaned on his doctoral work. 

His background in Lasallian values and academics certainly make him the right man for the presidential position. However, it may take more than that for him to prove himself. Allen does have a strong background academically and is personally connected to the Lasallian mission through his past, and he certainly seems to be the man to save the school on paper, but only a naive optimist would believe that a good resume is “enough to bring La Salle out of the proverbially gutter.” 

What was reassuring during our talk with Allen was his commitment to hearing student voices, and voices from various parts of the La Salle community, both from the student body, but also from specific faculty groups. Allen said that a priority of his will be to take time to meet with students both formally, in meetings and forums, and informally, through grabbing a cup of coffee in the Union and seeing how clubs and sports teams are operated from the inside. We hope that through this process, he will evaluate what student organizations need to be expanded to help improve student life. 

While Allen could not commit to any immediate plan for the school, he certainly demonstrates a great deal of promise. Allen said that he wants La Salle to feel “as robust and as challenging” as it can be, and he wants “students to feel like their time at La Salle was vibrant.” While these goals can be achieved without student feedback, Allen was adamant about his commitment to hearing student voices and is looking forward to visiting the campus community soon to get to know some of the students.

While Allen’s idea of making the University “the best La Salle University it can be” could be put forward by any person taking up the role of president, Allen appears to have been selected both for his ability in the financial sector of higher education but also his dedication to access of education and importance of community. 

Much of the information Allen could give us at this time was reasonably vague, as he will have to meet with the university’s governing bodies before formal plans and changes are developed, but, going off the sum of his releases and interviews on the subject thus far, hopes that Allen will be able to pull us out of that aforementioned financial trouble should be high. While we should be very cautiously optimistic about his intentions regarding community and diversity, the Presidential Search Committee and Board of Trustees appear to be very hopeful. Based on Allen’s resume and experience with the Lasallian mission, we’d say that we are also hopeful, and look forward to seeing how he fits in with our university and what changes he can make to better this historic institution.

What we have seen of Dr. Allen so far is very impressive. He may certainly be the man to save La Salle from crumbling, however, it is hard to make a true assessment of him before the rubber hits the road and he proves himself as the president La Salle needs in its time of crisis. We will look toward his early actions as president when he formally takes up the position in April, and will continue to report on university changes and developments as this time comes.

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