NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Loyola University New Orleans celebrated the inauguration on Friday of the first woman and first layperson to be appointed president of the more than century-old Jesuit institution.
Tania Tetlow is Loyola’s 17th president. Her appointment was announced earlier this year, and Tetlow started the job in August. She spoke to The Associated Press ahead of her inauguration.
A FAMILY FULL OF JESUIT PRIESTS
Tetlow didn’t attend Loyola but the New Orleans native practically grew up on its campus. Her parents taught there, her uncle was a dean and she was baptized in the campus’s church — the same one where the inauguration ceremony was happening. Before Loyola, she worked in various capacities at Tulane University next door, where she discovered that she loved running a university.
“It’s just endless problem solving across all these different sectors and every day is totally different from every other day,” she said. “I come from a family full of Jesuit priests so this is an institution that I dearly love. I grew up on this campus and it just was such a good fit.”
FINANCES, ENDOWMENTS AND BUDGETS
The university experienced budget cutbacks after admissions fell in 2013, but later was able to balance its budget before Tetlow’s arrival and is now on “very solid footing,” she said. Tetlow said the university has a healthy endowment — about $230 million — for a university of its size, and is replacing some of the smaller classes with bigger, incoming classes.
“There was a period of uncertainty and cutbacks that took its toll on morale and people are very hopeful right now,” she said. “I think this is a real turning point for the university.”
THE FUTURE OF HIGHER EDUCATION
Loyola classes are available to those with full-time jobs through offerings such as online classes. Tetlow said the school is trying to preserve what it does well while providing it to a wider group of students. That means having regular faculty, not adjunct instructors, teach online courses and making sure those courses include a lot of engagement between faculty and students.
Tetlow said when she was reading up on Loyola’s history she was struck by how, even in its early years, the university was working to make itself accessible to nontraditional students through night classes, summer programs and other offerings.
“It really was a place for these waves of Catholic immigrants — Irish, Italian, German — to be able to come from their jobs downtown on the street car and come to the university and get their degrees,” she said.
ON BEING THE ‘FIRST’
Tetlow is cognizant of her position as the first woman and layperson to lead the religious institution. As a lifelong Catholic, she revels in being at a religious institution where she can “wear my values on my sleeve.” But she’s also conscious of making clear that the university isn’t shifting away from its mission or Jesuit identity just because she’s not a priest.
Tetlow said staff and students are not just getting used to the idea of a woman president, but a woman who’s married with children. But she said she’s felt little pressure to conform.
“I think everyone’s just so excited that I’m here,” she said. “I get to write the rules myself.”
THE HIGH NOTES
Loyola is known for its strong music programs, and one of Tetlow’s hobbies is singing classical music. The two were bound to intersect at some point: “I snuck over once to choir rehearsal and just joined the students rehearsing,” she said. Laughing, she said she made sure to join them in a piece she knew very well so she wouldn’t mess it up.