New President, New Problems

January 15, 1995|By DAVID FOLKENFLIK | DAVID FOLKENFLIK,Sun Staff Writer

New Loyola College President Harold "Hap" Ridley Jr. does not want to talk about filling shoes. He does not want always to be looking back at Loyola's recent past under "Father Joe."

In three decades as president, the late Rev. Joseph Sellinger succeeded in his driving ambition: turning a commuter school known little beyond greater Baltimore into a regional liberal arts college.

So the question becomes: What becomes the replacement of a legend most?

For Father Ridley, a soft-spoken scholar who until last fall spent almost his entire career at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., the answer will always be academic.

"The faculty wanted to see a faculty-type person here," Father Ridley said, and in this gangly 6-foot-4 student of Victorian poets they have one. When interviewed by trustees for the job, Father Ridley recalled he sensed the college "needed above all else someone who would be visible on campus, present to faculty and to students, who would be someone who had been a teacher, someone who really -- how can I put this? -- was an academic person."

English professor Robert Miola, for one, was impressed that Father Ridley was willing to become Professor Ridley, stepping in to lecture on Shakespeare for a course taught by Provost Thomas Scheye.

It was a signal from the top, Dr. Miola suggested, that the work done in the classroom is every bit as important as the duties of administrators cloistered in the corridors of Loyola's Maryland Hall. At Le Moyne, Father Ridley stepped down as provost, or chief academic officer, after five years in 1985, and returned to teaching in the English department. It was like having a hobby for which someone was willing to pay him, Father Ridley said. Nevertheless, he agreed to become president of one of the nation's 28 Jesuit campuses.

Those who know Father Ridley said he makes decisions deliberately but that he is willing to take risks. On any given decision, "he would seek out the best advice possible, reflect on it, measure it against his own feelings and try to make a decision," said Sister Judith Ridley, who as a child called her baby brother "happy" so frequently the word stuck as a nickname.

Born to an engineer and a schoolteacher in Jersey City, N.J., Hap Ridley, now 55, was raised in a Catholic family that did not emphasize religion in its life. When considering entering a seminary, he was told by a Jesuit priest he sought for counsel to list all the pros and cons on a sheet of paper. "I had only one column," Father Ridley recalled recently. "They were all cons. I couldn't articulate the reasons why I wanted to do it."

Instead, he thought back to Cardinal John Newman's writings, in which the 19th-century English theologian mused on how people acquire faith. "It's a treatise against rationalism," Father Ridley explained. "The whole man moves. Crucial life decisions are not decisions which happen in a minute, but it's a gradual sense that you have with emotional, intellectual, psychological underpinnings."

Loyola officials have many decisions to make. The school's enrollment has climbed to roughly 3,000 undergraduates, most of whom live in campus housing, and 3,000 graduate students. As institutional immaturity has given way to academic adolescence, Loyola now faces a new set of problems.

The school is juggling the highly practical education of its business school and other professional master's programs with the more intellectual structure of a liberal arts undergraduate education.

The college must also determine what religious instruction means in an era when only 9 of 222 full-time faculty are Jesuits. In the earliest days of the Sellinger era, three out of every four instructors were Jesuits. Those questions have been, on the whole, deftly deflected, campus officials said.

The school has not as easily sidestepped an issue that has polarized American campuses for the past 25 years -- how to make the student body reflective of society itself.

On Nov. 9, a group of 30 black students denounced the school for dragging its feet on racial issues, saying it was indifferent to African-Americans on campus.

Among the protesters' demands: that the college assemble a team of admissions officers devoted solely to recruiting blacks and other minority students; that the college fire any professor -- tenured or not -- who makes racially insensitive remarks; and that the college establish "special interest" residential quarters, where students could choose to live in areas built around themes like African heritage.

Loyola officials are disinclined or unable to accept these resolutions whole. "I don't think any of us are sanguine about the possibility of achieving all those things in the short term," said Dr. Scheye, who served as interim president for a year before Father Ridley's arrival on campus. "Those of us who work at it understand that progress will come in terms of inches."

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