For Dr. William J. Lennox, “kicking the tires” was the strategy he used for transitioning into the highest leadership role at Saint Leo University: President. He said he felt that this method of approach was best for understanding and familiarizing himself with the University’s organizational structure and that, overall, it was a great first year.
Lennox served on the University’s board for seven years before taking over. He compared the transition from the board to the presidency to moving down tfrom a 60,000-foot level to the ground floor.
“What I found was that Saint Leo is just like a small business that took off; and Art Kirk did a fabulous job at that for 18 years,” said Lennox. He believes that although the University’s success virtually exploded, some areas of the system have been deteriorating in recent years and those areas were his focus for his first year as President.
Because the military has been downsizing, the University has been losing customers that make up its veterans and military program. Additionally, due to many community colleges in Florida recently beginning to offer 4-year degree programs, it was clear that Saint Leo University had more competitors than it ever had. These were some of the initial areas that were tackled during his first year and the University is continuing to work on them today. “If you’re not really watching what’s going on out there and you’re not responding to it, you’re not changing by working with the environment and you’re not going to grow,” said Lennox.
According to Lennox, the University’s off-campus centers and the online center were “stove piped,” so another thing he had to work on last year was breaking those down and combining their production under one person. This person is Dr. Melanie Storms, Vice President of Saint Leo University Worldwide. The off-campus centers virtually didn’t have any sort of marketing or the adequate software that the online center had. Now, the two are combined so the off-campus centers can use the call centers that online has as well as its software and the University took on more marketing. Saint Leo ads are seen all over the country now. “We used one to help the other, and now they are working complementary. This will make a big difference in the long run,” said Lennox.
The greatest challenge Lennox faced last year was the angst inside of the organization during his transitional period. The University’s structural change made the staff and faculty weary due to the unknown of what was going to happen and the nervousness from the possibility of having to work with new people in different areas. “We had to let some people go, not because they were doing a bad job, but because their jobs really didn’t add to the mission anymore. Anytime you do that there’s a lot of angst because they worry about their jobs,” said Lennox.
“According to our values system, stewardship said that we had to make those changes, but on the other hand, we also had to respect them since they were part of our community,” said Lennox. Since the changes were made, he believes that the angst has somewhat healed and the University is now focusing on the future by hiring new people in different areas that need growth. He compared Saint Leo University to a small business by explaining that any time a small business takes off with explosive growth, it has to change and become more sophisticated at a certain point by responding to the new environment or else it doesn’t continue to grow. Lennox stated that this comparison is how he has been attempting to continue to heal the angst.
The main plan in place for this school year is finishing what was started last year. “We’ve got to finish what we started,” said Lennox. A new organization was established over the summer that changed what the University VPs were responsible for by trying to align them with Saint Leo’s business organization. Additionally, the University is going to continue to work on breaking down the silos between the off-campus centers and the online center. Marketing and enrollment is now under new leadership that will be responsible for “selling” Saint Leo and getting students enrolled in a cause and effect fashion.
Over the summer, an incoming freshman reached out to The Lions’ Pride newspaper inquiring about an old article regarding the LGBTQ+ community and presence on Saint Leo’s campus. This piqued interest in the question of whether or not the University has any plans to establish any sort of recognized and organized club or support group for the LGBTQ+ community on campus. Additionally, the staff members that received the email were curious if the University would approve the establishment of such a club or group.
“The way I look at it, we have six values here and they’re all derived from the Benedictine values system. Among them are two very important ones, and those are community and respect. Every student and every staff and faculty member is a representative of community and respect,” said Lennox. He felt that a great example and representation of those values was witnessing hundreds of students helping the freshman on their move in day.
“When I talked to the students, the two things they said they value most at Saint Leo are the faculty and the closeness with the faculty, but also the values system here; and I think that’s what I’d talk to her [the student who inquired about the LGBTQ+ community] about; that we value every single student here. And with the value of community, we’re here to help each other and I think that’s critically important. If we’re not valuing the people, especially since this is a very diverse group, we’re not that Catholic institution that we say we are,” said Lennox.
Regarding whether or not an official LGBTQ+ club or group would be approved, Lennox said that the University would “…take a look at it as we do with all the clubs that come in.” He said that the University would have to make sure that it was within the guidelines of the University as a whole, as they do with each club that puts in a request. The charter would have to be examined to ensure that it is in consonance with Saint Leo’s mission, according to Lennox.
Over the summer, there was some confusion about the work-study and non-work-study budgets for this school year. It was rumored that only work-study jobs would be offered to students and non work-study positions would not be offered this school year. Additionally, some heard that a new type of work-study called “preferential” would be implemented. Lennox informed that there was a memo that went out that was mistaken, which is what sparked the confusion and subsequent rumors. The memo was retracted but many rumors floated anyways.
According to Lennox, the University has not cut back in the institutional budget (the non-work-study budget); the University is continuing to try to maintain both simultaneously. Dr. Lennox advised the VPs to be cautious with the use of the federal work-study, but to offer it as much as possible and to not spend as much of the institutional money if they don’t have to. As soon as the federal work-study runs out, it’s Saint Leo money that is offered to students and Lennox believes that is what some of the departments were confused about. Lenox said that they’re more conscious and aware of the reasoning behind the money’s distribution now.
Regarding “preferential” work-study positions, Lennox that this refers to the certain jobs on campus that require specific skill, such as the tutors. These positions are likely going to pay slightly more than some of the other jobs, but there will be both federal and the institutional work-study offered, according to Lennox.
Due to the prevalence of gun violence in the U.S., the board has been paying extra attention to security in recent years. According to Lennox, a study was done on the off campus centers to evaluate the security and learn what they need to be as prepared as possible. A concern found was that the centers frequently have night classes, so the board wants to remain positive that the students going to and leaving night classes are safe. The University has dedicated approximately $150,000 dollars to improving security at the centers.
Additionally, the University has hired a university safety and security officer, Cyrus Brown. He is a chief Florida state patrolman who has covered territory from Orlando to Pensacola. Brown has experience in creating and implementing emergency action plans and will be responsible for all things security related at the main campus as well as at the off campus centers.
Over the summer, the local sheriff’s department held training sessions on campus for the faculty and staff. Lennox wanted the local police force to be familiar with the campus in case something did ever happen. Additionally, the faculty and staff will be required to attend mandatory training once a year and take a security class. The University has also and will continue to bring in outside speakers regarding security.
Lennox explained that the issue with most colleges and universities is that you can’t check every car that comes on to the campus. He advised, however, that what can be done is preparing for the reaction to an attack. The University is focusing on the reaction itself and how quickly the reaction occurs. The University has ensured that the local police in Saint Leo and San Antonio can respond quickly in the event of an attack. Lennox also said that they’re considering arming some of the campus security officers in order to be available quickly if need be. “We’d be as prepared as we could be [if an attack were to occur]. Again, a lot of it is just reaction and how quickly the reaction to the incident is, so that’s what we’re concentrating on right now,” said Lennox.
According to Lennox, the University hired a new Director of Veteran Student Services, retired Colonel Pamela Martis. She was already very active with the University’s veterans by helping them with their education. “There are a lot of things that veterans have to know that regular students don’t, and they already know some of the things that we have to teach the incoming freshmen. They have a lot of experiences that a lot of the students haven’t had,” said Lennox. He explained how they have to understand their GI Bill, the importance of going to class, how to save money, opportunities to get help, and Martis can help them with all of that. She will focus on student veterans and their needs, specifically.
An alumnus of Saint Leo, Father Kyle Smith, has also joined the campus community in ministry. The University also took on a new VP for Marketing as well as a new CIO. “Each of them are going to be bringing in a little bit more sophistication to the staff so we can continue moving where we have to move,” said Lennox. The new sales force will recruit students both for Worldwide and main campus.
The new CIO will be working in UTS dealing with any technological problem that may occur such as laptop or Internet access issues. The goal is to be as proactive as possible with helping students with technology problems. “We made a 10-15 million dollar investment into our IT infrastructure, bringing in a new platform for our classrooms (D2L, the new version of Learning Studio). This new system will allow everyone on campus to be on the same system,” said Lennox.
D2L is designed to personalize learning by allowing for teachers to more proactively guide students. Lennox also said that the University is working on acquiring a data warehouse where all of the University’s information can be consolidated into one place so that it can be drawn out when need be to do specific analyses.
One of the most prevalent concerns for students in today’s day and age is student debt. Candidates in the current presidential election such as Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have brought this issue to light throughout the past year by calling for free undergraduate education. “I think the older you get, the more you learn that there’s nothing free in this world,” said Lennox regarding this issue.
“You may have a free education now, but somebody’s going to pay for it and it’s probably going to be you when you get older and have to pay down that debt. I worry about that,” said Lennox. He explained that he believes that the U.S. has a great university and college system, but it has to be handled carefully because it’s a fragile institution. He said that he worries about the government’s involvement because if free education is offered at state universities and community colleges, his concern is what that will mean for Saint Leo.
“We’re left out at that point. If you’re not careful, you may grow the state colleges and universities so much that you would lose all of those private colleges that contribute so much all the time; and frequently, those are the ones that educate the most needy. If the government gets involved, can they make regulations on what and how you teach? There are a lot of big questions that have to be considered as you go into a proposal like that,” said Lennox.
Dr. Lennox said that advice he would give to the new freshman class is to graduate in 4 years and to save money. “That’s the best stewardship they can practice at Saint Leo,” stated Lennox. He added that he also stressed to take advantage of the new student success coaches on campus. “The whole concept is, as you get into trouble, raise your hand. Get the help you need when you need it, don’t just let it linger,” said Lennox.
According to Lennox, the University is currently working on putting two plans in place for the freshmen: an academic plan and a payment plan. The academic plan will have the freshmen consider their 4 years and how they’re going to take their courses in order to graduate on time. The payment plan will have them consider how they’re going to pay for their schooling. Will they work over summer? Will they take classes over the summer to try to graduate early? Will they do both? The financial plan will encourage the freshmen to consider all of their options. The goal is for the freshman to come up with these two plans during their first semester so they have a good idea of what they need to do.
Lennox added that when he spoke with the new freshman, he also talked to them about how difficult the first semester is. He said that he explained to them how it’s tough being away from home and loved ones, when you don’t know your roommate, and when you have to study maybe more than you did in high school now. “It’s probably the toughest semester, but bear with it,” said Lennox. He also stressed to them the importance of getting involved in one of the 70 different clubs and teams on campus.
Dr. Lennox explained that he’s looking forward to this year and that he missed the students while they were gone over the summer. “There’s more energy when the students are back,” said Lennox. In his first year, he especially enjoyed many of the first year experience activities, the plays such as “9 to 5,” the Christmas tree lighting ceremony, and the sporting events where Saint Leo won at the last minute.
“I think the beauty of Saint Leo is the strong mission, the values set that we have, the great staff and faculty that take care of our students, and the whole teaching focus that we have that makes such a difference. I think that’s really the selling point for Saint Leo. Our values system that’s so important in developing mind, body, and spirit,” said Lennox.