La Salle U. chooses its first female president

New La Salle University president Colleen M. Hanycz poses outside the Peale House on campus on Feb. 17, 2015. ( DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer )

La Salle University on Tuesday named the first female president in its 152-year history.

Colleen M. Hanycz, head of Brescia University College, a Catholic school in London, Ontario, will take the helm of the 6,200-student La Salle on July 10.

The Canadian educator will be the first layperson to lead the Philadelphia university, whose previous presidents have been Christian Brothers.

"I can't tell you how excited I am at having this opportunity," said Hanycz (pronounced Han-ich), 48, who traveled to the Philadelphia campus for the announcement of her appointment. "It is really a tremendous opportunity for me."

Hanycz, a lawyer with a bachelor's degree in history, is a native of Toronto and has spent her entire career in Canada. Early on, she did work in the securities exchange in Toronto. She is only the second lay president at Brescia, where she has served since 2008 and is in her second term.

Under her leadership, Brescia experienced a 60 percent jump in enrollment to 1,500 full-time equivalent students, which she calls one of her top accomplishments. She also cited a boost in community partnerships that put students in prime service-learning positions and a focus on leadership among young women.

Her selection caps a 21-month search that failed to turn up a new president last year and had to start anew.

Hanycz replaces Brother Michael McGinniss, who retired last spring after serving 15 years. James Gallagher, a former president of Philadelphia University, has been serving as interim leader.

"This is a pivotal moment in La Salle's history," William R. Sautter, chair of the university's board of trustees, said in a statement. "She is an innovative academic leader with an impressive record as an agent of positive change. She is ideally suited to maximize La Salle's potential while continuing to honor our distinctive mission and values."

Hanycz was one of two finalists announced by La Salle earlier this month. The other was Anthony Joseph Aretz, president of Mount St. Joseph University, a Catholic school in Cincinnati.

She has previous ties to the Christian Brothers; she attended a high school they ran in Toronto.

"I understand that the educational charism of the Christian Brothers emphasizes a commitment to academic rigor, a strong sense of social justice and service, and dedication to a transformational educational experience," she said.

"I am eager to work with the entire La Salle community to build upon La Salle's strengths and to position it as a leading Catholic university."

In addition to her bachelor's degree in history from the University of Toronto, she earned a bachelor of laws from Dalhousie University, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and a master of laws and a Ph.D. from York University in Toronto.

Before Brescia, Hanycz was assistant dean and associate professor of law at York University's Osgoode Hall Law School. Previously, she worked as a securities and employment litigator in Toronto.

La Salle is not the first Christian Brothers university to turn to a lay leader.

Of the seven run by the De La Salle Christian Brothers throughout the United States, three are now led by lay presidents for the first time in their history, a result of declining numbers among religious vocations.

La Salle made it clear that it would consider only a practicing Catholic for the post, and Hanycz, who describes herself as a "cradle Catholic" with a social-justice perspective, fit the qualification. Her husband, Peter, is an insurance executive, and the couple have three children, 18, 15, and 11.

Hanycz was one of 50 candidates for the job and had visited La Salle earlier this year to meet with faculty, staff, students, alumni, and others.

One big change for Hanycz will be the addition of sports. Brescia has student athletes, but they play for the University of Western Ontario.

"I realize that Division 1 athletics play a key role at La Salle, and I want to understand that better," she said. "I'm going to start going to games.

"I have a family that is sports crazy," she added.

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