Fr. Wildes announces retirement


The Rev. Kevin Wildes, S.J., university president, addresses faculty at a convocation. Photo credit: The Maroon

Nick Reimann

After 14 years holding the role of President of Loyola University New Orleans, the Rev. Kevin Wildes, S.J., has told the board of trustees he intends to retire in June of 2018.

Wildes will continue as usual in his role as president for the remainder of the academic year, including commencement, before he officially steps down.

In the meantime, Dennis Cuneo, a member of the Board of Trustees, will now chair a cross-functional committee that will launch a nationwide search for Loyola’s next president.

Wildes told the board he intends to be active in consulting his successor once the new president is selected.

“This is an exciting time at Loyola, and we will miss Fr. Wildes. Please join me in thanking him for his years of leadership and commitment to Loyola — and in wishing him well in his future endeavors,” Paul Pastorek, chairman of the Board of Trustees, said in a community-wide email.

Many members of the Loyola community are excited about the new possibilities that will come out of this transfer of power, such as the Rev. Francis W. Huete, S.J., a member of Loyola’s Board of Trustees.

“In any kind of administrative post like this you bring your strengths to the job and you give what you have, but eventually it is time to move on because nobody’s perfect and so your weaknesses catch up to you and then you need someone else,” Huete said.

He then added: “I think he’s done a great job for the university, but he’s 14 years older than he used to be and sometimes it’s good to have a change.”

Connie Rodriguez, former head of Loyola’s classics department, was one of the 14 faculty members who took a buyout in July as part of the newest round of spending cuts for the university. Rodriguez told The New Orleans Advocate in an August interview that she would have continued teaching at Loyola if she knew Wildes was retiring.

“I liked him as a person, I really did,” Rodriguez said. “But as a university president, he was out of his depth. He was in over his head.”

As Loyola’s 16th president, Wildes notably led the school through a difficult period following Hurricane Katrina, resulting in the fall 2005 semester being canceled and ensuing problems afterwards.

Starting in 2006, he was at the helm of the Pathways plan, a controversial restructuring plan that resulted in the cut of well-known programs, such as broadcast journalism.

One of its key features was also the creation of the College of Social Sciences — a college that was dissolved with the latest college reorganization that took place last year.

In more recent years, though, Wildes has been at the helm of what the university calls its most ambitious campaign ever — Faith in the Future — which seeks to raise $100 million by Dec. 31 to fund scholarships, facilities and other major aspects of student life.

To date, the campaign has raised $67 million toward that goal, according to the university.

Wildes can also tout a 33 percent increase in enrollment for the upcoming semester as another accomplishment, though enrollment for previous years did not live up to the university’s expectations.

Pastorek praised Wildes’ accomplishments in an email sent on the morning of Aug. 4, saying: “Under his leadership, we have enjoyed new and exciting academic programs; transformations to campus, especially in Monroe Hall; the most successful and ambitious capital campaign in Loyola’s history; and the creation and development of critical scholarships that so help to diversify, augment, and support our student body.”

Wildes said he made the decision now because he feels like the university is going in the right direction, telling the board that he “has always believed that if a university president is going to create a meaningful and lasting legacy, that legacy needs to include leaving the university prepared to do well what it needs to do next. I have always wanted, above all, to leave Loyola well-positioned for the future.”

In addition to early criticisms as a result of Pathways, Wildes recent tenure hasn’t been short of detractors, either, especially since the university has made several rounds of faculty buyouts in recent years in an attempt to close a budget gap that peaked at $25 million in 2015.

There have also been two votes of “no confidence” in Wildes from faculty, most recently from the University Senate in 2016.

It was merely a symbolic move, though, as the Board of Trustees, the only university body that has power over Wildes, issued a statement of support after the vote.

Loyola begins its final fall semester with Wildes serving as president on Aug. 21, where Wildes will continue his full normal function as president before handing over the reins to his successor in June.

After that, university spokeswoman Laura Kurzu said that the community can still expect Wildes to be around — just no longer in his role as president.

Should Wildes choose to regularly stick around on campus, he wouldn’t be the only retired president doing so.

The Rev. James C. Carter, S.J., still teaches at Loyola. He left his role as president in 1995.