Lahey's Legacy

President John L. Lahey poses with students at a recent men's hockey game

Game time

Students greet President John L. Lahey in the student section at a November men's ice hockey game.


ohn L. Lahey slides a white paper napkin from under his coffee cup, grabs a black pen and begins to sketch. As the rectangles take on a familiar shape, he relates how he illustrated his vision for Quinnipiac’s bucolic and iconic quadrangle on a similar napkin in 1987 for an architect who pictured it quite differently.

Gazing out the window of his wood-paneled office in late November, the quad spread before him, he says, “All the great colleges going back to Oxford and Harvard had an academic quadrangle, and it was very much in my mind that we did not have one… I literally created it.” Back then, the would-be quad actually resembled the letter L — the library and its rocket-shaped tower plus a classroom building to its left “with a round ‘thing’ on the end,” Lahey quips. A softball field occupied the space where the visitors entrance now sits.

Designing the quad was just the beginning of the overarching task that Lahey, the university’s eighth president, set for himself, and one that will be his legacy: transforming a small, local college into a major, nationally recognized university.

“I don’t know any other university that has undergone such dramatic change. Most shrank or hunkered down after the 2008 financial crisis. We added an engineering school, opened a medical school and completed two new campuses. Given the economic challenges of the times, even I’m a little amazed,” he says.

The manicured quadrangle is one of the first things visitors to the university notice and one of the last things Lahey will see when he shuts his office door for the last time this June. It’s where students meet on the Mount Carmel Campus to toss a Frisbee, catch some rays, study and socialize in the shadow of Sleeping Giant Mountain. It’s been the venue for decades of Commencement ceremonies, now held inside the TD Bank Sports Center, which Lahey designed on a second campus a mile away.

The 31 years and 3 months he’s devoted to this mission represent the lion’s share of his career in academia. The 71-year-old’s legacy of extraordinary vision and leadership also includes the construction of a third graduate campus in North Haven, increasing the number of schools to nine including a law and medical school, introducing Division I athletics, a successful online learning program, a poll and a museum and institute dedicated to educating visitors about Ireland’s Great Famine.

Enrollment has risen from 1,900 students in 1987 to more than 10,000 today, and the university’s endowment has grown from $3 million to more than $500 million. 

On January 29, the board of trustees named Judy D. Olian, dean and John E. Anderson Chair in Management at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, the ninth president of Quinnipiac. She begins her duties on July 1.

Some might call Lahey a magician, but he had no magic potion. Rather, he devised a formula that blended equal parts vision, imagination and planning with a dash of what he calls fortuitous timing. Looking back, he emphasizes how important it’s always been to be prepared for new opportunities.

“The medical school wouldn’t have been created if it had come up 10 years earlier [before the North Haven Campus was acquired]. We wouldn’t have a law school if the Bridgeport law faculty hadn’t come to us when they did. Murray Lender wouldn’t have joined the board of trustees if he’d been asked 10 years earlier, and men’s ice hockey never would have made it to the Frozen Four [twice] if Vermont hadn’t decided to leave the ECAC just when we were looking for an opening. We try to make good decisions, we prepare, but it doesn’t hurt to be in the right place at the right time,” he says.

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President John L. Lahey draws on a napkin in his office

From sketch to reality

President Lahey reminisces about the time he drew his vision of the quad on a napkin for the architect.

Man with a Plan

Building an endowment was the work of decades, not years, Lahey knew. He’s often said that he and Patrick Healy ’66, former senior vice president for finance, ran Quinnipiac as a business while allowing the school’s endowment to grow into a valuable resource over time. Healy served for 43 years, retiring in 2015.

William Spears was among those with a front-row seat to change. He joined the university’s board of trustees in 1993 and chaired it from 2000–05. As an emeritus member, he still chairs the investment committee for the endowment. His son, Brian, is a 1992 graduate of the law school and a current member of the board.

“John Lahey is such a good executive. He never wasted a moment of my time. He knows how to use his board in the most effective way, and it’s been a privilege to see the school evolve as it has for 31 years,” he says. Spears describes Lahey as a man of extraordinary vision who is not afraid of taking a chance.

“It would have been easy to take a conservative course but to acquire a law school, build a medical school from scratch and borrow funds for an athletic facility demonstrated entrepreneurial vision — not going by the book,” he notes.

Spears recalls the endowment being less than $10 million when he joined the board. “I recommended a particular investment company. The endowment grew fabulously and outperformed many other universities, and Quinnipiac has always been able to generate a positive cash flow.” Returns this year were nearly 21 percent, among some of the highest returns on record.

Although a lot has changed over the years, one thing has remained constant — Lahey’s focus on a student-centric experience. He signs several thousand diplomas personally every year and is still using the same cartridge pen he’s had since day one. Lahey knows he will miss the student interaction and may return after a year’s hiatus to teach philosophy, a course he taught at Quinnipiac for 25 years.

Popular with students, the outgoing president patiently and willingly smiles for countless selfie requests. Getting that picture with Lahey is a tradition that ranks high on the bucket list of most students. During the mid-November men’s ice hockey game vs. Yale, Lahey and his wife, Judy ’99, made their way from the arena’s University Club to visit the packed student section at the end of the first period, a practice he follows at every home game. Every 20 feet or so, students entreated him to stop so they could capture “their moment.”

As he rounded the corner where the pep band sits and descended the arena stairs, a chant went up: “Lay-HEE, Lay-HEE, Lay-HEE…” Smiling broadly, he high-fived left and right as he ambled and chatted, soon joined by mascot Boomer.

“He loves this,” said Judy Lahey, watching the scene unfold from the top of the stairs. As Quinnipiac’s first lady, she has been by his side through dozens of Commencements, convocations, ribbon cuttings and the like, and she has welcomed members of the QU community into her home on countless occasions. It would be safe to say she has served as a sounding board on occasion.

“I’ve known Judy for 50 years, been married to her for 48, and she is not without opinions,” Lahey says with a grin.

Since he announced his retirement last April, Lahey has savored every moment he spends with members of the community. In December, dressed in his customary suit, he donned a Quinnipiac Plaid scarf and recorded a musical holiday video with Quinnipiac-themed lyrics to the tune of “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.” He lip-synced while the university’s Legends acapella group harmonized.

In late January, he shared students’ excitement when he helped announce the headliner for the Wake the Giant concert — R&B artist Khalid. In fact, he kicked in funds this year so they could have an extra-special performer.

“I go to a lot of student events, but the selfies get the most attention because this generation loves to take photos, and I am happy to do it. It’s important for the president to have a good sense of where the student body is, and I will say I personally feel closer to the students than a lot of my colleagues do. It’s critical, because if you are too far removed and don’t interact with the students, you won’t make decisions that are in their best interest,” he notes.

John L. Lahey pictured in front of a blackboard holding a book gesturing toward his students

Leader in the classroom

A young John L. Lahey in the classroom. He taught philosophy at Quinnipiac for 25 years and may resume that role at some point in retirement.

Lahey’s commitment to students is nowhere more evident than in the mission he carved with the Quinnipiac community early in his tenure: Quinnipiac would provide a solid foundation of liberal arts, but also prepare students for the professions with an emphasis on teaching as distinct from research. There would be no huge undergraduate lecture classes with sections taught by graduate students. Only faculty would be entrusted with teaching responsibilities, and classes would remain small.

While many Quinnipiac professors do engage in research and publish in peer-reviewed journals, they are hired and evaluated primarily based on their teaching. “In fact, as we were preparing to launch our medical school, we hired a lot of faculty from other research universities who came because they wanted to teach more than they wanted to do research; they wanted to work with medical students,” Lahey notes.

To reward and encourage this focus on teaching, Lahey created the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Service to Students in 2003. Every year three teachers and three staff members are honored for their contributions. “If we were a research university, I’d have started a Center for Excellence in Research,” says Lahey.

One such honoree is Sean Duffy, a political science professor who joined the faculty in 1998. He recalls a colleague telling him that the school was going places and it would be a place for him to grow, to be involved in the development of something big. In January, Duffy became executive director of the Albert Schweitzer Institute at Quinnipiac.

“Throughout his tenure, President Lahey has kept students front and center,” agrees Louis Venturelli ’11, student government president from 2009–11. In that role, Venturelli met with Lahey for one-on-ones and small student leadership meetings weekly for two years. “He always made us feel incredibly welcomed and valued. Not only were our voices heard, but they truly helped shape the daily operations of the university,” says Venturelli, now a youth program officer for the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates.

“Under his leadership, Quinnipiac has grown to be a first-rate institution sending graduates into the world in leadership roles armed with the skills needed to make bold and positive impacts on the communities and industries they serve,” Venturelli says, adding: “I know this because I see it every day through the success stories of my friends who graduated alongside me.”


President John L. Lahey poses with a group holding shovels and wearing hard hats on the Mount Carmel Campus

Breaking ground

President John L. Lahey and team break new ground on the Quinnipiac University School of Law. In Fall 1995, the new school opened in a striking new building on the Mount Carmel Campus. The school would move to its new home on the North Haven Campus in Fall 2014.

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Architect for Change

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.

“Now I had my quad, and when the law school opportunity came in 1992, that completed it on the far end. It’s the greatest thing to see students sunbathing in nice weather, enjoying the serenity. It’s very New England like,” he says.

In 2014, the law school relocated to the North Haven Campus and its former building was renovated to house the communications programs as well as workshops for engineering, which became Quinnipiac’s ninth school in 2016.

Lahey is among a select group. According to the American Council on Higher Education, only about 5 percent of all in-office college presidents have served longer than 20 years. “I knew Quinnipiac needed a long-term vision and a long-term plan, so I came with the view that a vision, strategy and culture would take years,” says Lahey, noting that he was “still young” when he left Marist for Quinnipiac after working there 10 years.

A student rides her bike on the Mount Carmel Campus quad while other students walk on the way to class

Campus quad

The Mount Carmel Campus quad fills with activity during the autumn months.

“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.”

Student Megan Perez takes a call with headphones on and surrounded by fellow employees at the Polling Institute

Polling the country

Quinnipiac student Megan Perez works at the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute in Hamden on Thursday, June 30, 2016.

The Quinnipiac Poll

Quinnipiac is not a word that rolls off the tongue. To achieve his goal of national prominence, Lahey knew the name needed to seep past Connecticut’s borders into newspapers and onto the lips of broadcasters who would teach people how to pronounce it. Coming from Marist, which had a poll, Lahey knew a poll would be a solid way to achieve that recognition.

He already had a total marketing communications plan to introduce Quinnipiac to prospects in surrounding states. The college was advertising in print and radio, developing new alumni chapters and recruiting new board members in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. He reasoned that a successful poll in those states would complement those efforts. He especially liked the fact that accurate, scientific polling would associate the college with a worthy endeavor while giving students, hired as interviewers, paying jobs in which they could learn firsthand about political issues and research methods.

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.”

The media’s and the public’s interest in Senate and Congressional elections also has grown. Once again, Quinnipiac’s ability to delve deeply into specific states has earned it not only high marks but increasing national recognition. National polling began in 2001. It was not long before Quinnipiac was being quoted often and widely in both state and national media. In fact, by the time Barack Obama ran for president, major news organizations were eager to partner with Quinnipiac, but Lahey thought it best to keep the poll independent.

Today, the poll is widely recognized as the gold standard in political polling with the greatest degree of independence and accuracy of any poll in America. Eventually, Quinnipiac added Ohio, Virginia, Georgia, Iowa, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Colorado and Wisconsin to its roster. These additions enabled the poll to leverage its state-focused approach in crucial state elections that the nation was watching. In preparation, the poll added 50 more calling stations to the 150 it already had, making it possible to poll in half a dozen states simultaneously, a capability no other polling operation in America possesses.

Doug Schwartz seated at a table talking into a WNPR microphone with various political campaign signs in the background

Nationally recognized

Douglas Schwartz, director of the Quinnipiac Poll, talks with WNPR reporter Lori Mack, Thursday, October 20, 2016 at the Polling Institute in Hamden.

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.


The women's basketball team jump up and down in celebration on the court after upsetting Miami in the 2017 NCAA Tournament

Sweet victory

The women’s basketball team celebrates an 85-78 upset win over Miami in the 2017 NCAA Tournament, earning the Bobcats their first trip to the Sweet 16 in program history.

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Division I Decision

As the poll was expanding, Lahey began turning his attention to athletics. Although there is no real correlation between athletics and academics, he knew that many people assume the two are on the same level. He reasoned that Quinnipiac, then in Division II, would not be considered an academic powerhouse unless it became an athletic powerhouse as well.

“But the problem with athletics is you don’t get to choose your conference,” he explains. First, there has to be a conference opening, and then the other members vote on whether to accept a particular school. Lahey found it frustrating that so much of what he wanted to accomplish in sports depended more on luck than it did on planning and execution. Nonetheless, he presented the Division I idea to the trustees, which approved the proposal to move to Division I athletics and seek admission to a new conference. Newly hired athletic director Jack McDonald would shepherd the move.

First, Quinnipiac had to meet several requirements including offering a number of full athletic scholarships and maintaining a full-time staff. That was easy. The only requirement not under Lahey’s control was that a Division I team play 90 percent of its games against Division I competitors — a Catch 22 of sorts. Of the 31 Division I conferences, four in the Northeast seemed the most likely: the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East Conference, the Patriot League and the Northeast Conference.

Rich Ensor, commissioner of the MAAC, told McDonald that Quinnipiac wasn’t ready for his conference, but he encouraged and supported Quinnipiac’s approach to the NEC, which had just lost members. NEC was not Quinnipiac’s first choice, but Lahey and McDonald enthusiastically visited the presidents and athletic directors of every school in the conference. And then the news came that Quinnipiac had been turned down.

The disappointment was short lived, however. The very next year, 1998, the NEC decided to expand from nine to 12 schools. Quinnipiac reapplied and was accepted. Lahey signed the official papers at a pep rally and immediately set his sights on the next conference, according to McDonald, who served as AD for 20 years before retiring.

Lahey had made a decision to focus on hockey in addition to basketball. He reasoned there were fewer than 60 Division I hockey programs in the country and more than 300 Division I men’s basketball teams. According to Lahey, hockey also was strong in areas where Quinnipiac was actively recruiting students. The problem with the NEC was that it did not have a hockey league.

McDonald’s solution was to invite the athletic directors of the region’s Division I hockey teams to a meeting at the New Haven Coliseum, where Quinnipiac was hosting an annual hockey tournament. A number of ADs came and agreed that they wanted to form a Division I hockey league. McDonald discussed the idea with Ensor, who was interested in adding hockey to his conference. Ensor made a presentation to that group of athletic directors from Iona, Fairfield, UConn, American International, Canisius, Holy Cross and Sacred Heart. In short order, there was a Division I MAAC Hockey League. Bentley, Mercyhurst and Army joined later. Quinnipiac played its first Division I hockey game as a member of this league at the Quinnipiac Cup Hockey Tournament at Yale’s Ingalls Rink in Fall 1998. Quinnipiac’s reputation began to grow, and the team played in the NCAA Division I tournament in 2002. Lahey was more eager than ever to move up to a stronger Division I conference.

Never dreaming that Quinnipiac could make it into ECAC Hockey, which included Harvard, Brown, Princeton and Yale, Lahey was thinking about approaching Hockey East. Around this time, McDonald got word that Vermont was leaving the ECAC to join Hockey East. That meant there was an opening. “That was the greatest piece of fortuitous luck to come my way since I’ve been president, bar none,” Lahey reflects.

McDonald tried to manage Lahey’s expectations. Knowing how well-positioned another university was, the athletic director believed that “the only prayer we had was if the ECAC decided to take two schools.” Lahey and McDonald made a presentation to the ECAC during which Lahey committed to building a major new sports facility.

“We hadn’t broken ground yet,” says Lahey, “but we had already raised some money for it, and the board was behind it.” The new sports center would include both hockey and basketball arenas and provide equal facilities for the men’s and women’s ice hockey and basketball teams.

A Quinnipiac hockey player battles for the puck with a North Dakota hockey player

Best of the best

Quinnipiac’s Andrew Taverner battles North Dakota’s Nick Schmaltz for the puck in the 2016 national championship.

Neither Lahey nor McDonald were optimistic about the outcome. Although Quinnipiac’s academics were on par with Holy Cross — the competing school — QU was less well known. When McDonald got the news that Quinnipiac was in, he assumed Holy Cross was as well. But only Quinnipiac had been chosen, thanks in part to its commitment to the new arena. Yale University also played an important role behind the scenes and its help continued after Quinnipiac was accepted. The Bobcats were invited to use Yale’s rink until their new home was ready in January 2007. TD Bank Sports Center is packed every year for the Battle of Whitney Avenue, when the Bobcats take on the Bulldogs.

The first ECAC game the Bobcats played actually took place at the Hartford Civic Center. On Nov. 5, 2005, some 5,000 people watched the Bobcats beat Harvard. In 2013, the men’s team played Yale in Pittsburgh for the national championship at the Frozen Four. Just three years later, the Bobcats skated into the national contest lane again, this time in Tampa, Florida, against powerhouse North Dakota. Although the Bobcats lost that game, fans had plenty to cheer about. The team captured the ECAC Hockey regular-season and conference tournament championships for the first time that season.

True to his word, Lahey supported women’s ice hockey, which advanced to the first round of the NCAA tournament in 2016. Greg Amodio succeeded McDonald as athletic director in 2015, leaving his AD post at Duquesne of the Atlantic 10 Conference for the opportunity to head Quinnipiac’s rising athletics program.

Courting the Law School

The opportunity to acquire the former University of Bridgeport law school is another example of what Lahey calls fortuitous timing. Back in September 1991, UB was experiencing a significant enrollment drop across the university. Half of the university’s faculty had been on strike for nearly two years, and the school had been forced to take bank loans to cover much of its operating budget. To the dismay of many — especially the late Terence Benbow, then-dean of the law school — the university was considering an alliance with the Professors World Peace Academy, an institute financed by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church.

Convinced that the law school’s reputation and accreditation would be threatened, Benbow began a search for a more hospitable home for the law school, which brought him to Quinnipiac, along with his associate dean and two faculty members. Surrounded by foliage, the campus offered a stark contrast to the blighted South End neighborhood their law school occupied. Soon after, Lahey visited UB to meet with the rest of the law school faculty.

Lahey also discussed the possible acquisition of the law school with his finance chief, Patrick Healy, and the board of trustees. Quinnipiac’s strategic plan said nothing about entering the field. However, all quickly agreed the law school fit well with the college’s goal of preparing students for successful careers. The trustees unanimously approved the proposal, provided that the law school first become independent of UB. 

The biggest obstacle to the move was Quinnipiac’s faculty union. ABA rules prohibited law school faculty from joining a union, but because Quinnipiac’s union was a “closed shop,” all new faculty had to become members. Lahey called in the head of the union, which eventually agreed to a “carve out” for the law school. The deal Lahey proposed at the end of January 1992 consisted of two parts: Quinnipiac would pay about $1 million for the books in the law library and another $4 million to rent the school’s existing facilities in Bridgeport for three years while Quinnipiac built a new home for it.

Everyone at Quinnipiac expected the deal to be consummated in short order. Instead, it almost collapsed. “We came very close to walking away from it,” recalls Lahey, explaining that the situation in Bridgeport had continued to deteriorate.

In the fall of 1991, just prior to the UB law school faculty’s vote to join Quinnipiac, UB President Janet Greenwood resigned, and Edwin G. Eigel, the university’s provost, was named interim president. When UB’s trustees heard about the law faculty’s vote, they were furious. On Nov. 27, Eigel fired Benbow. But the dean not only refused to accept the letter of termination, he refused to leave his office. With crowds of supportive students gathering outside Benbow’s window, the university called in Bridgeport police. TV news crews followed.

The exterior of the School of Law Center on the North Haven Campus

North Haven hub

In Fall 2014, the Quinnipiac University School of Law moved to its current home on the North Haven Campus.

A compromise between Benbow and the university ended the fireworks, but that January, Eigel and others, including Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd, held a news conference in the university auditorium to announce that Sacred Heart University in neighboring Fairfield was going to take over all of UB’s programs, including the law school, keeping it in Bridgeport.

Benbow believed that Sacred Heart lacked the financial ability and academic standing to satisfy the bar association’s requirements for accreditation. With both Sacred Heart and Quinnipiac preparing to present their cases to the bar’s council on legal education, Lahey expressed concern that the battle over the law school might well destroy it. But before the month was out, SHU’s president announced that his institution would no longer seek an affiliation with UB’s law school. The law school faculty’s preference for Quinnipiac, he said, was decisive. Eigel quickly announced that UB would begin discussions with Quinnipiac. They lasted six weeks.

Never before had a U.S. law school separated from a university and affiliated with another college without any interruption in accreditation. The ABA told Lahey and Healy it would support the law school move, but that the move could not happen without the agreement of UB. On March 18, 1992, on their way back from the previous day’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York, Lahey and Healy stopped in Bridgeport to sign the papers. Benbow served as dean the first year, and then became dean emeritus and a professor.

Representatives of the ABA were scheduled to arrive one week later to inspect the law school’s facilities. After years of budget cutbacks and neglect, the buildings and grounds on the UB campus were shabby. Fortunately it was spring break, so students were away for the spruce-up. Lahey told Joe Rubertone, then Quinnipiac’s director of facilities, to do whatever it took to get the school ready for inspection. Rubertone brought in additional crews and over the next seven days, the law school was cleaned, patched and painted.

The ABA’s initial site evaluation team was satisfied with the conditions it found, but at the time, the ABA frowned on leasing facilities. To demonstrate that the three-year rental agreement with UB was temporary and that Quinnipiac was serious about building the law school a permanent home on its Mount Carmel Campus, Quinnipiac accelerated the development of its design and construction plans. Lahey also invited ABA representatives to visit Quinnipiac so they could see for themselves where the law students would be attending classes. "As soon as they saw the campus, everything changed,” Healy recalled. “They realized we had the financial resources to make the new law school successful.” The school moved into an architecturally striking building on the Hamden campus in 1995 and into an equally attractive building on the North Haven Campus in Fall 2014.


The exterior of the Center for Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences on the North Haven Campus

Medical miracle

The Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine opened in the Center for Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences on the North Haven Campus in Fall 2013.

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Major Medical Initiative

Only 2 percent of U.S. universities can boast both a law school and a medical school. Lahey hadn’t given that statistic much thought until a longtime friend and former president of New York Medical College in Valhalla, New York, told him the Archdiocese of New York was selling that school. He urged Lahey to consider acquiring it.

Lahey was intrigued. He served then — and still does — on the board of Yale New Haven Hospital. He knew the Affordable Care Act was in the offing and it looked increasingly certain that primary health care would be delivered in the future by teams of medical professionals. Quinnipiac already had highly respected programs for nurse practitioners and physician assistants, physical and occupational therapists, and other health care disciplines.

In fact, Quinnipiac trained just about every medical professional except doctors. So, Lahey reasoned, why shouldn’t the university consider acquiring a medical school?

His colleagues on the cabinet and board of trustees agreed the idea was worth considering, so Lahey drove to Valhalla to take a look. Thinking back to when he first stood on Quinnipiac’s small, muddy campus in the mid-80s, he remembers seeing potential. Standing on the rundown campus of New York Medical College, about an hour away, he saw something else entirely.

The college was unattractive. “They shared a parking lot with a prison, and there also was a county medical center, a coroner’s office and an environmental testing center. It was not Quinnipiac to say the least,” he says.

It turns out that the archdiocese was willing to give New York Medical College to anyone who would buy the land they owned adjacent to the school — 40 acres of undeveloped property just 13 miles from New York City. Lahey told the archdiocese that Quinnipiac was a university, not a real estate developer. 

On the drive home, it dawned on him that Quinnipiac might already have what it needed to start its own medical school. The university had by then acquired the Anthem Blue Cross property, and Lahey knew the existing plans for the North Haven buildings would only use about half the square footage available. 

After hiring consultants to explore the possibilities, Lahey conferred with Healy. They concurred that Quinnipiac could renovate one of its buildings on the North Haven Campus for about $60 million and open a medical school right on its own campus. “We already had the shell of the building, and we also had resources in the other programs we could leverage,” recalls Lahey.

Many medical schools are largely research institutions. They educate doctors, but most of their funding comes from research grants brought in by faculty members and post-graduate fellows. Quinnipiac was not about to abandon its teaching-first mission to accommodate a typical medical school.

Again, the timing was fortuitous. Given the direction health care was going, both the medical community and the accrediting body, the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME), were comfortable with the idea of a new medical school that was not research dominated.

“In fact,” says Lahey, “they kind of liked the idea.” Quinnipiac’s medical school faculty would have to do some research research for the school to be accredited, but not nearly as much as a traditional medical school.

As the plan came together, the missing piece was the investment needed to fund the school. But having Bill Weldon ’71 on the board of trustees helped that cause. Like his fellow trustee, Murray Lender, Weldon did not come from a privileged background — a basketball scholarship enabled him to attend college.

Planning to become a doctor, Weldon had majored in biology, but financial considerations prompted him to reconsider his career choice. He took a job selling pharmaceuticals for Johnson & Johnson. A few decades later, he was appointed the company’s sixth CEO and chairman of the board.

Before Weldon was named CEO, he was worldwide chairman of pharmaceuticals for the company. It was at this point that a member of J&J’s board, whom Lahey had gotten to know through his Yale connections, described Weldon as a man on the way up. “He told me, ‘You know you really ought to get this guy on your board; he’s got a future,’” Lahey recalls.

He knew how valuable it would be for the university’s health care endeavors to be able to say that the head of J&J Pharmaceuticals was a trustee. And it was. As valuable as his own work and personal contributions to Quinnipiac were, Weldon’s role on the board was a game-changer.

A medical student examines a 20-month-old patient at a pediatric office in Cheshire, Connecticut

Clinical experiences

Brian Wasicek, a student in the Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine, examines 20-month-old John Fuller at Pediatric Associates of Cheshire. The School of Medicine has many clinical partners that provide hands-on learning experiences across diverse settings and patient populations throughout Connecticut.

The final puzzle piece was Lahey’s growing relationship with Edward Netter, a major figure in the world of insurance and finance. Lahey had gotten to know Netter over a 20-year period as he served on the boards of both The Independence Holding Company, an insurance company Netter owned, and The Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy, a philanthropic venture Netter and his wife, Barbara, had founded and funded.

Indirectly, Quinnipiac’s pioneering efforts in online education had helped cement Lahey’s relationship with Netter. When a local Connecticut bank merged with Aristotle Corp., a developer of computer-based training programs, an acquaintance of Lahey’s, John Crawford, asked if the university president would join the board.

Aristotle, Crawford told Lahey, had become interested in developing training programs that could provide online continuing education, and he was eager to have someone with Lahey’s experience with online learning on the board. Not long after Lahey accepted the position, Netter acquired Aristotle and asked Lahey to remain as a member of the board. Lahey agreed. Several years later, Quinnipiac inducted Netter into its Business Leader Hall of Fame.

As their relationship deepened, Lahey learned that Netter’s first cousin had been one of the foremost medical illustrators in the world. Dr. Frank H. Netter, a surgeon and the so-called “Michelangelo of Medicine,” continues to be known throughout the medical profession for his incredibly detailed and beautiful illustrations of virtually every system in the human body.

So it was that Edward Netter, who did not attend Quinnipiac, and his wife, Barbara, agreed to help fund the new medical school with a major gift, resulting in the now flourishing Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University. The school graduated its first class in 2017, and all 58 members matched to residency programs.

Off-Campus Learning Opps

While librarians re-settled Quinnipiac’s book collection into new stacks in the summer of 2000, a technical revolution was taking place at some progressive-thinking universities, and Lahey became convinced that online courses were going to become an important part of higher education. Few at Quinnipiac shared Lahey’s conviction. In fact, many viewed the idea with disdain.

“Online classes were not very popular on college campuses at the time,” recalls Lahey. “They were viewed much as correspondence education has always been viewed: not as good as live instruction.” He saw the benefits that online learning could offer working adults who wanted to earn advanced degrees but could not fit traditional on-campus classes into their schedules. And he saw a possible synergy between classroom work and additional instruction outside of class. Some faculty worried the new technology would take their place, and staunchest of all in its opposition to the new medium was the faculty union, still strong at this point.

Given this opposition, Lahey set up the online initiative as a separate entity. He delegated responsibility for the new enterprise to Richard Ferguson, his newly hired chief information and technology officer. Ferguson recalls that in his first annual review, Lahey told him to get started right away on distance learning. “He told me it was something we needed to do, that if we didn’t learn to play the online game, we could be in real trouble. He was way ahead of his time,” Ferguson recalls.

Ferguson hired Cynthia Gallatin to direct the new entity — Quinnipiac University Online. Today, she is vice president and chief operating officer of online programs. She looked in particular for pioneers — tenured professors who were seriously interested in innovation. Ferguson points out that this group offered the added advantage of being highly respected professors, which helped lend the new program credibility. The online program made money from the beginning, and Gallatin recalls every faculty member in that first group saying they actually re-thought how to teach their on-campus classes based on their online teaching experiences.

Former Ireland Prime Minister Enda Kenney looks at a sculpture with John L. Lahey at Ireland's Great Hunger Museum

Global reach

Former Ireland Prime Minister Enda Kenny toured Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum in 2015 with John L. Lahey.

Another off-campus teaching opportunity was presented in the form of Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum, Múseam An Ghorta Mhóir, which houses the largest collection of paintings, sculpture and literature devoted to the tragic period in Irish history from 1845–52 when more than a million people died and more than 2 million fled Ireland. Taoiseach Enda Kenny, former prime minister of Ireland, visited in 2015, and other Irish political dignitaries visited when it opened, among them the contemporary artists whose work is displayed there.

Lahey made the story of the Great Hunger the theme of the 1997 New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade. He was grand marshal that year, and it was the 150th anniversary of Black ’47, the worst year of the Famine. The Lender brothers, and especially trustee Murray, heard several of his speeches on the topic and were taken with the compelling nature of the story.

“Murray was someone who appreciated immigrant groups and the variety of people who make this country so great, who suffered discrimination when they gave up country and home to come here and start a new life,” Lahey says. He notes that Lender “made his money on the bagel, the quintessential ethnic food that he turned into a universal food.” When Lahey asked the Lenders for a gift to support the new Arnold Bernhard Library in 2000, Murray asked that some of it be used to educate people about the Great Hunger, and that led to the creation of the Lender Family Special Collection Room. As the collection grew and became more valuable, the Lenders supported its expansion into the museum that opened in 2012 and allows the general public to experience the story of the Famine through art, video and articles.

During Lahey’s era, an undergraduate minor in Irish studies was established and renown Irish historian Christine Kinealy was appointed to direct Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute. He said all these efforts advance the university’s commitment to educate more and more people about the lessons to be learned from this terrible human rights tragedy. And, it placed Quinnipiac once again in the company of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning, many of which possess significant university art collections and museums, he notes.

“It’s an Irish story but with universal applications and similarities to other ethnic groups and another example of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man,” Lahey says, adding: “While I had something to do with Murray personally learning about the Famine, I regard the museum as the fulfillment of Murray’s wish that the story be told.”


An aerial view of the Mount Carmel Campus quad on a clear fall afternoon

Scenic New England view

Quinnipiac's Mount Carmel Campus in Hamden, Connecticut showcases its beauty during the autumn months.

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Time to Think

Come July 1, Lahey intends to indulge in his “first love,” philosophy, and do some reading and thinking. He also has the option to return here to teach philosophy, which he did for 25 years. The Laheys will divide their time between their retirement home in West Palm Beach, Florida, and visits with their sons, one on each coast, and two grandchildren.

He is bequeathing to the president-elect a group of alumni 50,000 strong. They are older, wealthier and more successful than when he began, he says, with more discretionary income. “I signed 80 percent of their diplomas — more than 40,000 over the years,” he reckons.

Months before announcing his decision to retire, Lahey asked the board of trustees to approve an initiative to grow the endowment by $500 million to reach the $1 billion mark by 2029, the 100th anniversary of Quinnipiac, “or sooner if we can.” The plan is to accomplish this via a major fundraising campaign, appreciation of assets and a transfer from operations.

“We have the alumni out there who I think will have the wherewithal to support us — I know them well and they’ve been terrific,” he says. “That is my gift to the new president.”

Once the billion-dollar goal is attained, he would recommend transferring 5 percent a year from the university's endowment into its operating budget, as many schools do. “That would add $50 million a year, and I’d suggest doing two things: using $25 million for scholarships to attract and retain the best students and using the other $25 million to create 100 endowed faculty chairs. That would add 11 new full-time faculty members to each of our nine schools.”

Although Lahey generally found much support for his initiatives, a few raised eyebrows, such as his decision to eliminate the faculty union in 2006. “Getting rid of the union was a high-risk, high-reward decision, with much strategizing and laying out plans about what to do if it didn’t go well, but the board ultimately supported it,” Lahey says.

William Spears remembers, “We held serious discussions when John resolved to end negotiating with the union.” He explained it was part of a three-year plan in which faculty came to realize they were indeed part of the management team. “John didn’t want to leave the unionized faculty issue for the next president to deal with,” Spears says.

The outgoing president considers himself fortunate to have had a very strong senior management team, with many cabinet members serving 20 years or more. Faculty are known to be skeptical by nature, “but if my team was skeptical, I took it more seriously. You can come up with a great idea, but you need people to execute and believe in it as well. If they thought it was worth pursuing, if I could convince that core, then the second key was the board of trustees,” he asserts.

Lahey’s leadership ability is legendary, and he asserts that he has never made a decision based on personal preferences. “It’s always been my judgment of what I thought was in the best interests of the university — not what John Lahey likes, but how does this fit into making Quinnipiac a major university and move us to the ranks of the top 100 universities in America.”

Raymond Foery, a professor of film, video and media arts, characterized Lahey as a good listener. “I can’t say that I have won every argument with him, but I have on occasion, accompanied by reams of persuasive research, persuaded him to modify a previous position.”

Foery left a non-tenure track position at Dartmouth 36 years ago to come to Quinnipiac, “then a little college in Connecticut, the name of which I could neither spell nor pronounce.” After a few years, he thought about finding a job at a “real university,” and in his fifth year, John Lahey arrived.

“He proceeded to create the very ‘real’ university I had been seeking. I have never looked back and have never looked elsewhere since his arrival. The little local college is now a nationally recognized university, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the transformation. John Lahey, like Pericles, made no small plans. Not every single one of them has succeeded, but most of them indeed have. He has put this place on the map,” Foery declares.

President John L. Lahey poses and smiles with a group of students in the student center on the Mount Carmel Campus

Celebration time

President Lahey and students celebrate the announcement of a headliner for the upcoming spring concert on Tuesday, January 23, 2018 in the Carl Hansen Student Center on the Mount Carmel Campus.

Excerpts and some quotes included in this article were taken from a book by Jon Miller titled, “Quinnipiac: The Lahey Years,” published by Quinnipiac Press in December 2017.