Hap Ridley: an intellect with pizazz He'll soon take over as Loyola president

September 23, 1993|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Staff Writer

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- For 20 years, the Rev. Harold Edward Ridley has shown every sign of actually enjoying the company of college students.

He's one of the few professors at Le Moyne College here to live in the dorms, and year after year he's volunteered to counsel dozens of freshmen. Smoking a cigar, he's been a fixture at Le Moyne sporting events, even practices, sometimes traveling hundreds of miles for important games. And countless times, when Le Moyne recruiters needed a Jesuit representative to go sell the college to a group of high school students, they turned to Father Ridley.

"He's very marketable," says campus spokeswoman Eileen Hathaway. "We use him all the time."

Now, Baltimore's Loyola College has decided to tap into the marketability of "Hap" Ridley, hiring him last week as its new president.

In some ways, the choice carries some risk since the role of president will, in large part, take the 54-year-old priest and professor of English literature out of the classroom and dorms and into a circuit of administrators, alumni, politicians -- and potential donors. That was a role played beautifully by the late Rev. Joseph A. Sellinger, the president of Loyola for 26 years until his death in April, who became known more as a fund-raiser and community leader and less as a campus presence as his tenure progressed.

Loyola trustees say they are confident that Father Ridley has the tools of intellect and personality to make the transition when he ,, arrives on the North Baltimore campus next summer. A host of friends and colleagues at Le Moyne agree.

"He always struck me as being articulate, personable, having all the gifts a successful administrator should have," says the Rev. Richard Blake, an English professor at Le Moyne who first met Father Ridley in seminary in 1960. "He should make a superb president."

Father Ridley will be asked to build on the significant change Loyola has undergone the last two decades, during which it grew from a local, all-male commuter school into a regional, 5,750-student co-ed college with extensive graduate offerings.

Loyola is now considered one of the "hot" Jesuit schools, financially secure with an attractive campus and a growing reputation. The trustees hope to build on that the next few years by attracting a better crop of students, achieving Phi Beta Kappa status, expanding the college's recruiting zone out of the Middle Atlantic and raising another $10 million for endowment and projects.

Le Moyne, which opened its doors in 1946, is an enclave of lush green spaces, neatly aligned maple trees and undistinguished brick buildings perched on a hill on the outskirts of Syracuse. Named for a 17th-century Canadian missionary in the Syracuse area, it is one of the lesser-known Jesuit colleges, overshadowed by Marquette, Fordham and Holy Cross.

It also must be one of the friendliest campuses in academia. Classes are small, professors are approachable and students seem more or less content.

When Father Ridley arrived at Le Moyne in 1973, he had been studying academics and theology for a dozen years but was still two years away from finishing his Ph.D.

For seven years he fit right in, teaching British literature and becoming a popular figure among students and faculty. In 1980, he left teaching to be chief academic dean, the No. 2 post on the 2,500-student campus.

It was a natural move for a man who seemed destined to become a campus president someday. It was also anything but easy.

As dean, Father Ridley was buffeted from below by discontented faculty members who were upset by the answers they got from their former colleague on everything from budgets to course loads. There were regular battles with one department chairman over the future of the college's business offerings.

There were also struggles with his boss, a president who disagreed with his dean on several controversial tenure decisions, was fixated on establishing a Polish studies department and had the disconcerting habit of breaking into songs such as "We Are the World" during public occasions.

Five years of that was enough for Father Ridley and he returned to the classroom as a full-time teacher in 1985. The president, the Rev. Frank Haig, left Le Moyne soon after and now, ironically, teaches physics at Loyola.

Father Ridley chalks up his decision to leave the dean's office to "professional disagreements."

"It was a serious learning experience," he says. "You got into some pretty tough brawls. It's a harder job, I think, in some respects than being president."

There have been other rough times at Le Moyne, including votes of no confidence in two other presidents. Each time, Father Ridley played an important role, either publicly or behind the scenes within the Jesuit community. Many of his colleagues were impressed.

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