Graham gives an early goodbye

The longest-serving president in Xavier’s history will retire on June 30, 2021

Pictured here, in varying shades of Xavier blue across his 36-year tenure, Father Michael Graham will be stepping down as university president on June 30, 2021. The search for his replacement will begin this summer.

Father Michael Graham, president, has been at the helm of Xavier University for more time than most firstyear students have been alive. On June 30, 2021, he will no longer be in that position.

On Monday, Graham announced his retirement at the Spring Convocation in Cintas Center and then through an email to the student body with an attached letter explaining his decision. He became Xavier’s 34th president on Jan. 1, 2001, and is the longest serving president in the university’s history.

However, according to Graham, it is time to pass the reins to someone else.

“Whatever I can give to the institution, I’ve done that,” Graham said. “It’s time for me to say, ‘Time for somebody else to do that.’” The decision, while surprising to some around campus and in the broader community, is not new.

“I began discussing it several years ago with Barb Howard, then Chair of our Board of Trustees, and subsequently with the Executive Committee and with my Jesuit superiors, both here and in Chicago,” Graham said in the letter. “Together, we finalized the date nearly two years ago.”

The decision was made in part due to what Graham calls the life cycle of the job. This life cycle is made up of different administrative initiatives like strategic planning, facilities planning, master campus plans, capital campaigns and more. According to Graham, a cycle typically lasts between five and eight years.

“I could keep doing this job for a couple years, but not five to eight. So to bow out at the end of a cycle made sense to me,” Graham said. “I tried to say this in my remarks (on Monday), but I think it’s time for the university to have a fresh set of eyes. Because it needs somebody who doesn’t see this place in the same way I see it, whose thoughts about it won’t run in the ruts in which my own run.”

There is no immediate idea of who Xavier’s next president will be. A committee of 11 Xavier community members will begin the search, including former Student Government Association Vice President junior Desmond Varner, physics professor Marco Fatuzzo, president and CEO of Fifth Third Bank and Xavier Trustee Mike Michael and more.

However, following a change to Xavier’s by-laws a handful of years ago, it is no longer required for the president of the university to be a Jesuit.

If a non-Jesuit were chosen, it would not technically be the first time that Xavier would have a non-Jesuit as president, considering Michael Conaton held the job as interim president for short period before Father James Hoff assumed the position in 1991.

There are currently 15 Jesuit universities with lay presidents, compared with 12 who have Jesuit priests at the helm.

“The fact of the matter is that there’s fewer of us (Jesuits) nowadays,” Graham said. He went on to say that the job has become much more complicated and the smaller amount of Jesuits around has led to less interest in positions in higher education.

“The job’s more complicated, there’s fewer men to do them who have the training to be able to do them,” Graham said. “…I think it’s highly unlikely (that the next president will be a Jesuit).”

Xavier has partnered with the Isaacson, Miller search firm to find the new leader. The search will begin during the summer, according to a letter to the campus by Search Committee Chair Barbara Howard, ‘76, and Board of Trustees Chair Vincent Caponi, ‘72.

“Unlike many institutions, Xavier University has been fortunate enough to not have been through this kind of search in quite some time,” the letter said.“You will recall that Fr. James Hoff began his tenure in 1991 and made a smooth transition to Fr. Graham in 2001. Xavier has not had the need for a presidential search in nearly 30 years.”

In that time, however, things have changed according to Graham.

“The Xavier University that Jim Hoff came into in 1991 wasn’t remotely what Xavier University is today,” Graham said.

The biggest changes in Graham’s perspective are not the new buildings that have popped up around campus in the last 20 years or the larger numbers in Xavier’s capital fund: It’s the outlook of the institution and the campus culture. “We’ve become, in a whole lot of ways, a far more forward looking, outward looking, self-confident organization that knows it can accomplish big things by working hard and dreaming big,” Graham said. “That was not a part of Xavier when I first came here. It was a very inward focused, safe kind of institution.”

When asked about what kind of legacy he wants to leave behind, Graham said that it’s not his choice, but he hopes it’s along the lines of the change he has seen. “That’s something for someone else to figure out,” Graham said. “I just want to think that I’ve somehow contributed to this entire culture we have on campus.” Nonetheless, a Xavier without Graham will be a new notion and while Graham is ready to have some time off, saying good-bye will be difficult. “It’s hard in many ways, Graham said. “I was telling somebody that this was going to be happening (and he) said that he’s never known a Xavier without Father Graham, and I just kind of laughed and said, ‘Well that’s kind of funny because I’ve scarcely known a Mike Graham without a Xavier. I don’t know what it means to be Mike Graham without the presidency here.”