USD looks back on Lyons’ legacy


On November 16, 2003, University of San Diego’s incoming president, Mary Lyons, expressed her hopes for the university during her inaugural address at the Jenny Craig Pavilion. Quoting Mother Rosalie Hill, one of USD’s founders, Lyons illustrated her desire to expand and improve the campus.

“We are striving to add beauty to our schools and colleges,” Lyons said. “We must, however, remember that material beauty begins with an appeal to the senses, but ends with an appeal to the spirit.”

Lyons will conclude her presidency this June after 11 years of service. Lyons said she is leaving her office because the timing is right. Looking back on her time as president, students and faculty remember Lyons’ accomplishments, as well as some unpopular decisions that have been made during her presidency. Though Lyons’ successor is still unknown, interviews for her replacement begin this month.

Monsignor Daniel Dillabough, who serves as vice president of University Mission and Ministry, has worked at USD since 1998. He believes that Lyons has positively influenced the university during her time here.

“Dr. Lyons brought to USD a rich experience in Catholic higher education that gave her the ability to articulate not only what it means to be a Catholic university, but also how to live out the values of our mission and religious identity,” Dillabough said.

Dillabough feels that Lyons’ accomplishments in expanding USD have not been her greatest contribution to the university.

“[Lyons’] administrative and personal leadership skills and wisdom in guiding us always with a commitment to ethics and compassionate service stand out for me as an even greater contribution,” Dillabough said.

Dillabough observed Lyons’ promise to creating a university that encourages reflection, debate, collaboration, compromise, and peace and justice.

Sarah Zakaria, the associate director of Alumni Relations, also believes that Lyons will leave USD with an impressive legacy.

“With over a decade of service and leadership at USD, Dr. Lyons’ legacy is woven into the fabric of USD’s character,” Zakaria said.

She believes that the most important part of that legacy has been the USD endowment fund. This fund is the collection of donations from benefactors that give to USD. The endowment fund primarily helps pay for financial aid, as well as new buildings around campus.

Zakaria explained how the fund’s significance grew during Lyons’ presidency.

“Mary Lyons oversaw the creation of a 10-year Endowment Growth Plan envisioned to benefit student scholarships and academic initiatives,” Zakaria said. “In 2000, USD’s endowment was $100 million and in 2013, under the Presidency of Dr. Lyons, USD’s endowment reached $400 million.”

By achieving such a substantial increase during the economic crisis, Zakaria believes that this has been Lyons’ most significant contribution to USD.

However, in an interview with Lyons, the president said the fund was a community effort.

“It is not something I can personally take pride in, but being part of a community of faculty and students that make up the identity of this university, and [the endowment fund] has been a point of pride for all of us,” Dr. Lyons said.

Even though Lyons sees the endowment fund as a communal effort, she still has high hopes for its future after her retirement.

Lyons believes that by June of next year the fund will have reached $500 million, her goal for the fund upon beginning her presidency at USD.

Colby Edson, senior at USD and member of Alcalá Club, believes another accomplishment, the expansions to USD’s campus, has also come into fruition because of Lyons’ presidency.

“Since she came into the presidency the campus has seen numerous additions and upgrades, from the Student Life Pavilion, to the Shiley Center for Science and Technology, to the new School of Engineering, and to the developing Beyer Institute for Nursing Research,” Edson said.

Despite the accolades from students and faculty, Lyons has faced some controversies during her presidency. First, there was Tina Beattie, a British theologian, who was scheduled to speak at USD in November of 2012. Beattie publically announced her support of same-sex marriage before her visit to USD. On Oct. 27, 2012, Lyons rescinded the invitation, which angered many faculty and students in the USD community.

Lyons actions resulted in a ‘no-confidence’ vote by the College of Arts and Sciences, which believed that Beattie’s academic freedom had been violated by Lyons’ disinvitation.

Lyons later encouraged the Harpst Center to extend an invitation to Beattie to speak at USD, but many students and faculty saw this as a last-ditch effort to salvage her reputation.

Another event that has created conflict during Lyons’ presidency is the USD drag show. Lyons supports the drag show, and will allows its continuation at USD during the spring 2015 semester. This support continues to anger some Catholic community members.

A final controversy in Lyons presidency came last year, when Lyons and athletic director Ky Snyder announced to the USD football team that they would be forfeiting the team’s chance to earn the league championship title. The forfeit was forced because of a mishandling of financial aid awards to players. According to the Pioneer League Football, USD football players had been given too much financial aid. Many in the USD community found this oversight to be a mistake within Lyons’ office.

Despite such controversy, senior Colby Edson believes that Lyons has held fast to the university’s mission.

“I firmly believe that she has always had student interest at heart,” Edson said. “Every decision that I have seen her make has been directly influenced by her fervent pursuit to uphold the university’s mission.”

Lyons believes in the mission to teach, create and conduct research and serve the greater community.

In addition to her 11 year presidency at USD, Lyons has held a presidential position for a total of 25 years in total, with presidencies at California Maritime Academy, and the College of St. Benedict. This June will conclude her final presidency.

President Lyons believes that it is her time to go, as she has already stayed an extra two years than she had originally planned.

“I never expected to be here this long anyway,” Lyons said. “My philosophy is that presidents should never stay too long.”

Lyons is looking forward to the change, and plans to use it doing what she loves to do.

“I will be taking more personal time to rediscover the things I used to love, like teaching,” Lyons said.

Lyons used to teach rhetoric and homiletics, studying the nature of sermons, at the California Maritime Academy, and is considering the possibility of teaching at USD. She also hopes to spend more time with her grandchildren.

During her presidency, Lyons has tried to focus her attentions on USD’s community. These attempts have mirrored her hopes of inclusivity made in her inaugural address. However, Lyons believes that the work is not done, and that there is always more to do.

“USD needs more affordability, [the endowment fund] should be at 1 billion, so that USD is affordable for any qualified student that wants to come here,” Lyons said.

Along with a heavy agenda of things left unfinished, Lyons hopes that in the future USD will continue to create a strong culture.

“What’s left to distinguish USD? It already has so much going for it,” Lyons said. “One thing left is to be known for a culture of care and kindness. It is already prevalent, but there are still glitches to be fixed. By embracing the USD way as a community, and seeing every encounter as a sacred encounter, and going beyond answering questions to really help, would then truly distinguish USD.”

As the search for Lyons’ replacement continues, Constance Carroll, chair of the Presidential Search Committee, believes that Lyons has exemplified the criteria for what universities look for in their presidents.

“Dr. Lyons fully meets the requirements outlined in the presidential profile,” Carroll said. “Dr. Mary Lyons has been an extraordinary president and the university has been fortunate in having her at the helm.”

Carroll said she is looking for similar attributes in the next president. She believes that the next president of USD should strive to advance academic excellence, embrace diversity and inclusiveness, and to connect with the San Diego community outside of the university.

Meanwhile, the search for the next USD president is still underway. Interviews for Lyons’ successor will begin this month, followed by the appointment by the Board of Trustees in the early spring. The next president will take office this July.

Carroll is confident that the search will result in finding a worthy new president.

“The university has been fortunate in its history of effective, dedicated, and long-serving presidents, including President Lyons,” Carroll said. “I am confident that this tradition will continue with the selection of the next president.”

USD will be paying close attention as Lyons concludes her time here, as well as following the search for USD’s next president.