Then and now: Leaving behind a 28-year presidential legacy

Sept. 28, 1988

Sept. 28, 1988

Gaffney pic 2

Laura Fox, Editor-in-Chief

On Oct. 2, 1988, Lewis University inaugurated its ninth president, Br. James Gaffney, FSC. After the sudden death of the university’s eighth president, Br. David Delahanty, Gaffney was elected by the Board of Trustees to guide the university.


Delahanty began his presidency in 1982, coming from New York’s Manhattan College to serve as their president.


“It was interesting- after the four years [Delahanty] said, ‘I’ve fallen in love with Lewis, I’d rather stay at Lewis,’” Gaffney said.


Delahanty died of cancer on Oct. 13, 1987, and 11 days short of a year later, Gaffney began his career as president at Lewis.


Gaffney spent plenty of time on campus before his inauguration, which gave him a strong familiarity with the university.


“I had been chairman of the Board of Trustees for 11 years, so I knew Lewis, and I headed the Christian Brothers of the Midwest, and at that time, our offices were on campus at De La Salle Hall, and the national office was actually at Benilde Hall for the Christian Brothers and our colleagues,” Gaffney said. “I had lived on campus those years; I was doing doctoral studies at the same time. So, I knew Lewis, but not like a president would.”


Luckily for Gaffney, Delahanty left behind a promising future for the university after dealing with financial struggles, amongst other issues.


“He restored three things. One is trust in the president; there had been some late presidents who were disappointments, and I was involved in asking both to leave,” Gaffney said. “Secondly, he restored confidence in the faculty, that they could really respect his vision on where the university should go; and thirdly, he began the redirection of the university to be student-focused.”


Gaffney was not expecting Delahanty to pass away from cancer, and he was also not expecting to be chosen as the next in command.


“I didn’t expect it. You shouldn’t just say, ‘oh, you’re here, you should be president,’ but have a search. At that time, it had to be Christian Brothers’ only as candidates, but we had a lot of runners well qualified,” Gaffney said. “There were seven candidates and they chose me.”


Although it came as a surprise, Gaffney felt a variety of positive emotions, including confidence in furthering Lewis’ success.


“I was hopeful, confident, enthused—really enthused I think because I saw the potential that we had and so much that we could turn around. [I was] determined, certainly not overwhelmed,” Gaffney said. “The really thing good for the students was they knew we could continue building on what Br. David had started, and this would be a much better experience for the students.”


Gaffney was a double major in Theology and English and did not have a leadership course background before he was elected, but had plenty of leadership experience in other roles. He uses himself as an example of the power of a liberal arts education.


“If you get a good liberal arts education, you can do almost anything,” Gaffney said. “You can write, you can communicate, you can read, you can persuade, you can organize; there’s just so much you can do because you have the skills of a liberal arts education. You’re not so narrow.”


Even with his previous experience, Gaffney has changed and grown as a leader throughout the past 28 years.


Some of the most important things he has learned is how to handle tough situations, how to be a better listener and decision maker, how to involve people in decision making processes and how to articulate a vision of what the university is all about and where it should be headed.


One of the most notable things Gaffney has learned would be time management, which the entire school can attest to. Gaffney makes a point to attend each show, game, ceremony or other event happening on campus, and at most events he is appointed to make a speech.


“I give at least 250 to 300 talks a year. Some are three minutes only, and some are 30 minutes, so [there is] a lot of communication,” Gaffney said.


This month alone, he is scheduled to make over 45 speeches. It is important to Gaffney to attend as many events as he can, even if for only a short amount of time. He explained one of the best pieces of advice he was given was that whatever the president cares about most is where he will be found.


Although he is happy to be there for the students, Gaffney does wish he could spend more time in each place.


Gaffney values the association with students and being involved throughout the entire campus.


“That’s why I came to Lewis – to teach, to be involved with students and campus ministry, live in a residence hall – do all of the great things that Brothers love to do,” Gaffney said.


After 28 years as president, which will come to a close on July 1, Gaffney has a new sense of confidence, explaining that most university presidents are just in office for six to eight years.


As his presidency concludes, Gaffney reflects upon what he wishes the Lewis community to remember most about him, which includes the values of the university and all that the school has become.


“We established something really good. Lewis has become a remarkable university in all of the things that count most,” Gaffney said. “I think we’ve fine-tuned that we’re not just a liberal arts college and we’re not a trade school. We’re that right blend and balance of career relevance and the ability to prosper in life with the holistic education that comes in our tradition, and the wedding of those two has been pretty remarkable and we are getting ever better at it.”


Out of all the advancement and successes Gaffney has achieved as president, his commitment and dedication to the students is what he views as most important.


“That which I hope people remember me for is my intense concern for Lewis students and their overall development, as well as my great job in being able to serve as a Brother to many others during my decades as president,” Gaffney said.

Laura Fox is a senior double majoring in journalism and public relations/advertising, with a minor in social media. She is the Editor-in-Chief of The Flyer. She has her own fashion blog, The Fashionable Fox, and is also Corey Crawford’s biggest fan. She dreams of someday working in community relations for the NHL.

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