Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Can this school be saved, part 3: failed presidential search

Below is the third installment of the story I wrote for Creative Minority Report about Seton Hall University. I will close comments until it has run in its entirety. I link to the newspaper articles I used for sources. Here are parts one and two.

In June 2009, Msgr. Robert Sheeran announced his intention to resign as the President of Seton Hall University, kicking off a year-long search for a replacement. By the spring of 2010, the committee had chosen two priests as finalists, Msgr. Stuart Swetland and Rev. Kevin Mackin, OFM. Fr. Mackin, currently the president of Mt. St. Mary College in Newburgh, NY, withdrew from consideration shortly after his name was announced, saying that he had decided to stay at Mt. St. Mary’s.

Msgr. Swetland, who was ordained for the diocese of Peoria IL in 1991 by Newark Archbishop John J. Myers (bishop of Peoria Diocese from 1990-2001), came to campus for a series of interviews in May 2010. Swetland is the host of EWTN’s Catholicism on Campus and a professor at Mt. St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, MD. Some at the university objected to Swetland’s candidacy, citing his lack of administrative experience. They also contended that he was being seriously considered a finalist only because of his friendship with Archbishop Myers.

Swetland was offered the job of president of Seton Hall. During the course of confidential contract negotiations, some university officials leaked specific details about the contract discussion, including a reported $300,000 annual salary. Sheeran earned about $31,000 per year. At the same time, the faculty senate, which represents each of the university’s colleges, circulated a statement urging the Board of Regents to reopen the search to seek candidates with more administrative experience and to laypeople. Citing his discernment that the Lord was calling him to stay at Mt. St. Mary’s (MD) and expressing his disappointment that the confidential contract discussion had been compromised, Swetland withdrew his candidacy.

While other New Jersey Catholic colleges in the area have gone from having priests and religious serving as president to laypeople, Seton Hall has not. The Board of Regents had limited its search to clergy for two reasons: the by-laws of the university require that the president is a priest and the Board’s feeling that a priest-president best serves the university’s mission.