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Marquette Taps UWM's Michael Lovell to become MU's First Lay President

John Holman

Despite UWM's loss, several people say Lovell's move seems like a win for Milwaukee.

When he took center stage at Marquette University on Wednesday afternoon, Lovell told the crowd gathered that he never imagined leading the Catholic school.

“After hours of meditation and actually several sleepless nights, it became clear to me that I was being called to Milwaukee six years ago to ultimately become Marquette’s first lay president. And it was never my plan, but one that god had laid out for me. And I’m just really glad that I decided to follow it,” Lovell says.

Lovell stressed that he was extremely happy with his job at UW-Milwaukee, but moving a few miles to Marquette, was not an opportunity he could turn down.

“This was truly a decision that was based on the ability of me to practice my faith in my professional life. The people I work with there you know I’m very close to. That’s actually the hardest part of accepting this position is actually leaving people that I have great respect for there,” Lovell says.

Lovell will officially take over at Marquette on August 1. He joked that his first order of business, would be finding a new men’s basketball coach.

Over at UWM, spokesman Tom Luljak says the university is sad to see Lovell go, but is looking forward to more collaboration.

“We think that you’ll see even more synergy in terms of the  type of work that is being done in a laboratories and in the classrooms result in inventions, and frankly a better trained workforce and a better economy. I think the city should be pleased and thrilled that he’s not leaving town and he’s keeping his strong leadership skills here,” Luljak says.

Luljak adds that no one at UWM should be concerned about how it will fare without Lovell.

“The incredible partnerships that we have with the business community particularly in the engineering and energy side, all of that work is going to continue. Those are really campus wide initiatives, and while one person may have served as the head of the institution, major initiatives that we have were endorsed and embraced by the campus community,” Luljak says.

The outgoing and incoming university leader was heavily involved in pushing Milwaukee to become an international water hub, with UWM playing a key role. Lovell is a member of the Milwaukee Council along with Badger Meter President and CEO Richard Meeusen. Meeusen says Lovell’s move across town is positive, as it will give the water initiative access to even more talent.

"Marquette has been involved but could be more so. And especially with the talent they’ve got over there in the school of engineering, the school of law, the school of business. They have a lot of talent over there that we would love to have better access to and tap into more. I think with Mike going to Marquette it’s going to make a huge opportunity for that,” Meeusen says.

Meeusen does not foresee harmful competition developing between the two Milwaukee universities.

When it comes to Lovell’s new job, he is able to become president of Marquette due to a recent change in the school’s bylaws. They now allow lay individuals, not just clergy, to lead.

Across the country, lay people now head more than half the 200 Catholic colleges and universities, according to Michael Galligan-Stierle. He’s president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities. He says there are a couple of reasons why religious schools are allowing non-clergy to take the helm.

“The culture of the university and the skill set of a president have significantly increased. A substantive skill set in interacting with people for fundraising and for making executive decisions and for also leading the community as a model and as a significant person,” Galligan-Stierle says.

Galligan-Stierle says there are fewer clergy with the skills needed to run a university.

As for Lovell, he says he’s looking forward to learning more about the Jesuit order at Marquette, so he can lead the school according to tradition.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.
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