Tetlow to be installed as Loyola’s first lay president

By Peter Finney Jr., Clarion Herald

If digital geotargeting had been available when Tania Tetlow attended Holy Name of Jesus Elementary School, it would have shown just how close her pin drop was to Loyola University New Orleans, the big school next door.

The Holy Name schoolyard is close enough to the Danna Center for Loyola students to hear the kids shrieking at recess. And now, Tetlow will be installed Nov. 15-16 as Loyola’s first layperson and first female president in the school’s 104-year history.

Did she ever envision that playing dodge the ball?

“Being at Loyola, sure; being president, not so much,” Tetlow said, laughing, last week as she prepared for her presidential inauguration. “I went to school next door (Tulane University) as the only rebel in my family who didn’t go to Loyola in some form or fashion. I think I just thought I wanted to do something slightly different. It wasn’t really high on the list of rebellious teenage behaviors.”

Tetlow, 46, said she is thrilled to be the fourth woman president to lead one of 28 Jesuit colleges in the U.S.

After more than a decade of challenging faculty and administrative cuts brought about by slipping enrollment after Hurricane Katrina, she inherits a university with a balanced budget and higher student retention and poised to offer professors and other university employees their first salary increases in years.

“The members of this community have done heroic work to make sure that the cuts we made were surgically done in a way least likely to affect the student experience,” said Tetlow, who comes to Loyola after having served as senior vice president and chief of staff at Tulane University. “We know they succeeded because we have seen this enormous surge in the retention of our students, which is a great sign that they managed to thread that needle.”

Tetlow called Loyola’s balanced budget “a huge accomplishment” because it was done with “new revenue rather than with cuts.”

“Which means we have revenue streams that are going to continue to grow, and we want to get to a point on not just being balanced but of having reserves so that we always have, ideally, 3 percent of a budget surplus that we invest in new projects,” she said. “But the primary goal right now will be to quickly get to the point where we can invest in our people, who have gone without salary increases for far too long.”

More collaboration possible

Tetlow said her administrative experience at Tulane naturally brings with it the possibility of greater collaboration with the university across the street.

“Both universities have often wondered why we don’t do more together,” Tetlow said. “We do many things together. Our students eat on each other’s campuses. We have reciprocity of courses. There’s a lot of informal exchange, but they do still feel worlds apart sometimes in a strange way.”

That collaboration might take the form of joint contracts that could save money as well as academic engagement. “There are strengths that Loyola has that Tulane does not, and vice versa, so we would both do better if we share more,” she said.

“There was a lot of hard work done before I got here to balance the budget, to turn around some admissions declines. So now I think it’s building on that success in finding  ways to build on Loyola’s strengths in a way that meets the demands in the market for particular kinds of education and bragging even more effectively about what we’re good at.

“There’s so much amazing community and content here to brag about. We have the magic. We just need to make that better known.”

Tetlow said Loyola’s current undergraduate tuition of slightly more than $15,000 “is vastly better than the price tag,” and the university experience is enhanced with small class size.

Tetlow’s priority is to make sure Loyola remains faithful to its mission to help students of diverse backgrounds “lead meaningful lives with and for others; to pursue truth, wisdom and virtue and to work for a more just world.”

Tetlow’s late father, Louis Mulry Tetlow, is a former Jesuit priest who married and served as a clinical psychologist at the LSU Medical Center and at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. When Tetlow died last year, a former Angola inmate spoke about what Tetlow had done to help him turn his life around.

“He stayed in close touch with many of the inmates that he had gotten to know well,” Tetlow said. “He would write them letters and go up there and visit them. It struck me once during Mass listening to the beatitudes. One of the lines where we pay the least attention to is, ‘I was imprisoned and you visited me.’”

Tetlow acknowledges how the shrinking presence of religious at most Catholic campuses places greater responsibility on Catholic lay administrators to keep Catholic identity at the forefront.

“How do we make sure that at their core they are still fulfilling the mission?” Tetlow said. “There is a temptation sometimes to think that we ask the clergy to carry out the mission,  and the rest of us don’t have to do it because they do. It is all of our obligations to do that. There are ways I can be very overt and purposeful about that in every communication I have with the university. People maybe will hear it a little differently from a layperson. The primary part of my job is to get that right.”

Of course, for a college president, shaking the money tree is also important.

“I do feel just Catholic enough to feel like I’m doing people a favor in putting their money to better use,” Tetlow said, smiling.

Tetlow, who graduated from Harvard Law School and is a former federal prosecutor, served as senior vice president and chief of staff as well as the Felder-Fayard Professor of Law at Tulane University, where she was key strategic adviser to president Michael Fitts.

In this role, she held oversight of government, community and board relations; she led special policy efforts on issues including campus safety, race and diversity, and campus sexual misconduct reforms. During her time as strategic adviser, enrollment, retention, and fundraising soared, and the university experienced great cultural, community and financial transformation.

Inauguration events set

There are two major events in Tetlow’s inauguration:

  • A Missioning Mass Nov. 15 at 11:30 a.m. at Holy Name of Jesus Church, during which Board of Trustees chairman Robert A. Savoie will present Tetlow to Jesuit Father Ron Mercier, provincial superior of the Jesuits U.S. Central and Southern Province and request “missioning her” in her new role as the first layperson to lead Loyola University. Tetlow’s uncle, Jesuit Father Joseph Tetlow, former dean of Arts and Sciences, will be the homilist. Jesuit Father  Michael Sheeran, president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU), will present Tetlow with an amulet blessed by Pope Francis on behalf of the 28 Jesuit universities.
  • The academic inauguration on Nov. 16 at 4 p.m. at Holy Name of Jesus Church, in which Tetlow officially becomes the head of the institution selected by faculty, staff, students and the board of trustees.

Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at pfinney@clarionherald.org.

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