That L-shaped campus Lahey describes was about to morph when Lahey took the reins. His predecessor, Richard Terry, and the trustees had authorized the construction of a building opposite the library to house the physical therapy and occupational therapy programs. Centerbrook Architects was suggesting a four-story edifice that would match the library in height.
“They told me its door needed to line up with the library so there could be a pathway in between. I said, ‘What are you crazy? That looks like the Chrysler Building.’ I remember it like it was yesterday. I took a napkin and a pen and turned the building on its side, like this, making it a two-story rectangle and putting the door right here on the end. That became Echlin Health Sciences Center, and I told them, ‘While you’re at it, finesse this round thing sticking out of Tator Hall,’ which I turned into a theater with Claire’s [benefactor Clarice Buckman’s] money. And back then, you couldn’t enter the library through the tower, you had to enter through a side door. It was a horrible design, and we created the front door.”
Around the same time, Lahey set out to invigorate the board of trustees and asked about successful alumni. People pointed to entrepreneur extraordinaire Murray Lender ’50 of the Lender Bagel family, and Lahey was delighted to learn that Lender lived in nearby Woodbridge. He sought to build a board that would lend credibility to the college’s development efforts, noting that potential donors almost always ask who’s on the board. Ten years earlier, former President Terry had asked the CEO of New Haven’s Echlin Corp. to join and was turned down.
Lender’s presence on the board changed the business community’s perception of Quinnipiac overnight. And Lahey observed that having Bill Weldon ’71, former chairman/CEO of Johnson & Johnson, on the board when he was raising funds for a medical school gave the university’s plans for a major initiative in health care instant credibility. Weldon chairs the board today.
“People give to winning things … You can’t just ask people for money to build a building. You’re asking them to be part of a major endeavor, something that students and others are going to benefit from, something they can be proud of,” Lahey says.
Thanks to donations from alumni, the business community and trustees, Echlin Health Sciences Center was built in 1989 and Lender School of Business Center in 1992, when the main parking lot was created to eliminate vehicular traffic on the quad. New board member Frederick Mancheski, then president of Echlin, persuaded his employer to name the health sciences center while Murray Lender and his brother, Marvin, named the School of Business Center. Lender and Lahey became good friends over the years, and it was Lender who joined Lahey in his endeavor to make Quinnipiac the largest repository for art and literature on the Great Famine by first establishing the Lender Family Special Collection Room in the Arnold Bernhard Library and then helping to build Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at 3011 Whitney Ave.
Looking to grow the college beyond Connecticut in the 1990s, Lahey capitalized on Quinnipiac’s proximity to New York City, the communications capital of the world, by adding a third professional school, this one focused on communications. As he raised funds for the new building, to be located adjacent to the Lender Center, Lahey learned that Ed McMahon’s daughter, Linda, had attended Quinnipiac several years earlier. When “The Tonight Show” moved from New York to Los Angeles, McMahon, Johnny Carson’s famous sidekick, moved with it, taking along his freshman daughter. Lahey decided to invite Linda McMahon back to see what was going on at the college she had first chosen to attend and to hear about the state-of-the-art broadcast studio he hoped to build.
McMahon contacted her famous father, who met with Lahey in Los Angeles and agreed to help Lahey secure funding for the new venture. The Ed McMahon Mass Communications Center was dedicated in 1993. That same year, Lahey inaugurated the Fred Friendly First Amendment Award, which has honored a who’s-who of broadcasters and marks its 25th anniversary this June. The communications program became a full-fledged school in 2000, the same year Quinnipiac traded the name “college” for “university.” When ABC anchor and host of “This Week” George Stephanopoulos visited the school’s high-definition broadcast studio in 2005 before delivering a lecture, he remarked how impressed he was with its level of sophistication.
“I also could have left Quinnipiac and been president of two more colleges in my lifetime, but I really didn’t think about it because Quinnipiac was changing so rapidly and so well. Headhunters called and other universities dangled things out there, but I never pursued them. I would only have been interested in big private institutions, and think about it — what do they have: a law school, medical school, Division I athletics, a museum — and Quinnipiac had those or we were planning for them.”
In addition to three philosophy degrees, Lahey earned his master’s in higher education at Columbia University Teachers College. He knew he had to be here for at least 10 years to have an effect. “After 15 years, I concluded that I was probably going to spend my career here. And besides, I’m a New Yorker, and I didn’t want to get more than 1½ hours away.”
Like a new Broadway show that chooses to debut at one of New Haven’s theaters, Quinnipiac’s poll began in Connecticut in case it flopped. In “Quinnipiac, The Lahey Years,” a book published in December that details Quinnipiac’s history before and during his tenure, Lahey says his first step was to find someone at Quinnipiac with the skill set needed to launch a statewide political poll.
He met with Paul Falcigno ’54, who was teaching market research methods in the business school. Given that political polling uses the same methodology as market research, Falcigno was confident that he and his students could achieve valid and reliable results. In 1988, just one year after Lahey arrived at Quinnipiac, Falcigno and his students conducted the first Quinnipiac poll using the same phones that other staff used to call alumni for annual fundraising gifts.
A few years later, with the re-energized School of Business and the communications program up and running, the time had come to expand the poll beyond Connecticut. Lahey hired a full-time director, Douglas Schwartz. With a master’s degree in survey research (and a PhD in the works) and hands-on experience working for CBS election surveys, Schwartz had both the academic and the practical experience required to bring the poll to the next level.
With Schwartz writing the survey questions and analyzing the results, the poll expanded into New York state and New York City, followed by New Jersey a few years later. The state-by-state expansion continued, ensuring maximum exposure within the states where admissions was focusing its recruiting efforts. “When you do a statewide poll, the coverage you get is just tremendous,” Lahey says.
Once poll results began appearing throughout New York, and radio ads began airing statewide, Joan Isaac Mohr, vice president for admissions and financial aid, followed up with on-the-ground recruiting efforts. The results were impressive. Soon the poll began expanding into other states that Mohr’s research had identified as promising. Lahey recalls, “You could watch, state by state, as the growth in applications and ultimately in enrollment followed the polls.” After New York and New Jersey, Pennsylvania was added in 2002 and Florida in 2004. Lynn Mosher Bushnell, vice president for public affairs, says the reason for choosing Florida had more to do with the grandparents of prospective students than with the students themselves. “It doesn’t hurt,” she says, “to help family members who may be funding part of the education to become familiar with the name.”
Another way to broadcast the school’s name came in 1996 when the late Lou Adler, then a professor of communications and former news director at WCBS Radio in New York City, suggested that the university buy a commercial AM radio station and make it into “a real-life lab” for students. Lahey liked the idea. Before long, Adler learned that a Spanish language station in Hamden, WXCT, was for sale. The station had a 1,000-watt signal that reached well out into the surrounding area during daylight hours, but was restricted to half power once night fell. The trustees authorized the purchase of the station for $500,000 and on April 28, 1997, WQUN — Connecticut’s first university-owned commercial AM community radio station — went live.