Last updated: February 17. 2013 12:39AM - 244 Views

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WILKES-BARRE ‚?? Pomp and fanfare heralded the formal installation of Dr. Patrick Leahy as the sixth president of Wilkes University.

From a procession of more than 200 robed alumni, faculty and institutional delegates ushering Leahy into the F.M. Kirby Center; to references to ‚??Noble Truths‚?Ě of knowledge, awareness and integrity extolled in song by the university chorus; to the draping of a gilded silver chain of office around the new president‚??s neck, Wilkes welcomed Leahy in grandiose style.

Flanked on stage by members of the university‚??s board of trustees, university leaders and four of the five presidents that preceded him, Leahy, 44, outlined his plan to ‚??make Wilkes one of the top small universities not just in this region, but in the nation.‚?Ě

To thrive in the face of the daunting challenges faced by Wilkes and other colleges, Leahy said Wilkes must focus on features that set the school apart in a competitive higher education market.

Quoting Harvard business professor Michael Porter, Leahy said that ‚??the key to competitive success for businesses and nonprofits alike lies in an organizations ability to create unique value‚?Ľ to be unique, not best.‚?Ě

Its focus on individual student mentoring, mix of diverse course offerings and small class sizes, unique location at the intersection of downtown Wilkes-Barre and the Susquehanna River and a culture of innovation all set Wilkes apart, Leahy said, and the university must emphasize those aspects as it positions itself in the future.

Leahy‚??s installation comes at pivotal moment for Wilkes and for other universities in the Northeast and around the nation. The cost of a college education has ballooned by over 400 percent in the past two decades while recession has shriveled financial aid budgets and made students justifiably wary of student-loan debt. Shifting demographics have intensified competition for standout high school graduates in the college-dense Northeast, while technological advancements and a changing workforce have challenged schools to alter their traditional course models.

State Sen. John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Twp., said in welcoming Leahy on behalf of the state that the university and the community surrounding it are ‚??at a crossroads.‚?Ě

‚??Standing at that crossroads of these university and community challenges, is Patrick Leahy,‚?Ě Yudichak said.

In his installation address, Leahy acknowledged and enumerated each of these challenges. He named the questions of how to level tuition, adapt to shifts in market demographics and capitalize on the social transformations of technology as the three great challenges confronting Wilkes and other colleges.

‚??Gone are the days when colleges and universities can just continually raise tuition,‚?Ě he said bluntly. ‚??‚?ĽWe‚??ll have to rethink how we fund our institutions in the future.‚?Ě

But Leahy also noted that Wilkes has risen above challenges throughout its history ‚?? from initial struggles during the Great Depression and subsequent war that siphoned its students off to military service, through the collapse of the local coal industry in the 1960s, to the floods that buried its campus under nine feet of water and muck in 1972 and threatened again last summer.

‚??There were plenty of times when this institution could have ‚?? maybe you could argue, should have ‚?? folded,‚?Ě Leahy said. ‚??But at each turn members of this community; faculty, staff, students, alumni, members of the Wilkes-Barre community, responded. They decided that this institution is too important to this city and to this region‚?Ľ to the thousands of students whose lives have been changed because of it; they decided that Wilkes University mattered.‚?Ě

In welcoming the new president, alumni, faculty, staff, trustees and state and civic leaders expressed support in Leahy‚??s ability to lead the university forward.

Leahy came to Wilkes University from The University of Scranton, where he worked since 2004 as executive assistant to the president and later as vice president for university relations.

Trustee Virginia Sikes, chairwoman of the search committee that hired Leahy, said the board was impressed not only with Leahy‚??s record in Scranton ‚?? where he capped a $125 million capital campaign two years ahead of schedule and helped raise both applications and freshman class enrollment by double-digit margins ‚?? but also by the comments of his former coworkers.

‚??(He is) a big picture guy who‚??s all over the numbers,‚?Ě Sikes said.

Wilkes-Barre Mayor Thomas Leighton expressed confidence that the positive relationship between the city and the university would continue under Leahy‚??s leadership.

‚??He knows that for Wilkes University to prosper, Wilkes-Barre must prosper, and that Wilkes-Barre will not grow without Wilkes as a cornerstone,‚?Ě Leighton said.

Prior to his time at The University of Scranton, Leahy, originally of Maryland, worked in private industry. He co-founded Business Affairs Forum, an Ithaca, N.Y.-based distance learning community and worked for Allied Capital Corporation, Deluxe Corp. and Georgetown University. He holds a doctorate in higher education strategy and management from the University of Pennsylvania, a master‚??s in business administration from Cornell University and a bachelor‚??s in English literature from Georgetown University.

Leahy lives in Bear Creek Village with his wife, Amy, and four children: Grace, 13; Molly, 11; Jack, 7; and Brian, 6.

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