WorkinCT: End of an era with Lahey’s retirement from Quinnipiac

HAMDEN -- John Lahey knew this day was coming five years ago when he signed what would be his last contract with Quinnipiac University.

“For a very practical level, I wanted to make sure I did retire when I was as close to my A game as possible,” said John Lahey, outgoing President of Quinnipiac University.

On Saturday, June 30, he’ll leave his office and pass the reigns to Quinnipiac University’s next president, but he’ll look back on his 31 years of leading the school with pride.

“I had a very clear vision for Quinnipiac. I didn’t have all the details 31 years ago, but I knew we had to grow, knew we had to expand. I knew we needed to add some new schools. I knew we had to get known better outside of Connecticut because we were 80 percent Connecticut then,” he said.

To do that, in 1988, he started the Quinnipiac Poll as a way to recruit students outside of Connecticut. He eventually set it up in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida and watched the student body expand.

“If you were to follow the growth of our applications from back in 1987 we about a thousand applications. Now we have 23,000 applications, you would see the growth following the poll,” said Lahey.

Quinnipiac went from 1900 students in 1987 to 10,000 students today. Eighty percent of those students now come from outside Connecticut.

“You attract students from outside of the Connecticut, they’re going to be residential students so you need to build more dormitories. Obviously as you grow and you add new schools, you need to have facilities for those schools, new classrooms and all the rest. Athletics was another important part. All of the best universities or most of the best universities are all Division I. We were only Division II, so I knew we needed to make that move,” said Lahey.

And he did, not only moving Quinnipiac sports to Division I, but going from three to nine professional schools including a new medical school.

“What dictates what you need to be doing in those schools are the changes that are going on in the profession,” said Lahey.

“I’ll tell you a little secret I have that very few people know about. I spend time every year going to Silicon Valley in California. I’m a New Yorker, born and raised, but I’ve learned most new ideas, good and bad, come from California. It’s like the wave coming East,” he added.

That eye on the future is one thing that has made Lahey successful as he looks back at the changes he’s made at Quinnipiac and the partnerships he’s brought into the university.

“The students refer to all these buildings, the Hansen Center, the Bernhard Center, the Echlin Center, the Lender Center, and to them they’re just names. To me they’re people,” he said as he walked the campus.

It’s the people who make the school. That’s why President Lahey signs each and every degree for graduation.

“I think I stayed focused about what’s really important about being a college president, and that is staying close to students and staying close to faculty,” said Lahey.

Lahey will take a year off before returning to Quinnipiac to teach philosophy, as he did for many years while he was president.

He said he wants to give his successor the space she needs to come in and do her own thing at the school without being in the shadow of his 31 years.