M.U. president reflects on tenure, looks forward

President Paul Gaffney to retire in 2013 after steering decade of growth


 Seen walking across campus and cheering on the Hawks, Monmouth University President Paul G. Gaffney II has steered the university through a period of growth and expansion during his 10 year tenure. Seen walking across campus and cheering on the Hawks, Monmouth University President Paul G. Gaffney II has steered the university through a period of growth and expansion during his 10 year tenure. I t’s been said that when you get to the end of an experience, you start thinking about the beginning .

Monmouth University President Paul G. Gaffney II will be retiring on June 30, 2013, but he still remembers his first impression of the university when he visited the campus in the fall of 2002: classy and magnificent.

“I thought when I came here, because I had two great presidents that preceded me, that this was a great place. All they needed to do was to take the lampshade off the light and let it shine a little bit brighter,” said Gaffney in an interview March 2.

“I thought that if we found areas where we were very strong and developed centers, we might be able to go out and get some additional money and influence the local area.”

The university’s seventh president took office in 2003, and during his tenure the university has established Centers of Distinction, including the Monmouth University Polling Institute, Urban Coast Institute and Rapid Response Institute.

“We have an Urban Coast Institute that looks at coastal policy issues, and we have our Rapid Response Institute, which depends on our very strong undergraduate and graduate software engineering program. They have been able to raise more than $10 million from the federal government to do research for the Defense Department,” Gaffney said.

The president also oversaw the largest capital campaign drive in Monmouth University’s history, which raised $50 million. Gaffney spearheaded the construction of the $57 million Multipurpose Activity Center, debt-free, and increased the caliber of first-year students to a 3.4 GPA; the first doctoral program was also established under his tenure.

The university has also raised money to install lights on the soccer field and is in the process of building a new art building and gallery that is 100 percent paid for by a donor.

“The challenge is always the money side and trying to raise money when the economy’s been down. We’ve done very well but it’s difficult,” said Gaffney, who spends a great deal of time improving relationships with surrounding towns and local residents.

From hosting athletic events and concerts in the new arena to featuring art shows, lectures, cultural programs and musical events in the theaters, Gaffney said the university has tried to open its campus and show that it is a valuable part of the community.

“I think it’s gotten much better. It’s something that I have to spend some time on very frequently, and it goes from working almost my entire time here on issues to try to help the future of Fort Monmouth to [social] relationships to zoning and planning. All three of those are important,” he said.

“In my opinion, a community is only as good as the institutions in that community. When we get better, the whole community gets better.”

As relations continue to improve, the university is seeking to expand its campus in the surrounding areas like the West End or along Route 36 or even Fort Monmouth, but only if there were an opportunity to acquire affordable property, Gaffney said.

However, because Fort Monmouth property is being sold at fair market value, the university cannot afford any of the land for additional housing or a potential satellite campus.

“We don’t have enough cash on hand to go over and build a satellite campus there,” he said. “There’s not really been any talk about a satellite campus.”

Gaffney, a retired U.S. Navy vice admiral, said he has more than 30 years’ experience dealing with base closures and served as the head of the Commission to Support and Enhance New Jersey’s Military and Coast Guard Installations that fought the fort’s closing.

“I wasn’t surprised,” he said about the fort’s closure. “I was very upset with the decision that was made.”

Gaffney noted that, in a departure from previous practice, the fort’s land was not made available to nonprofits.

“In the previous base closures, when they closed the base, they were allowed to actually give the land away for beneficial uses like universities and hospitals and homeless people and those kinds of things. But when they did this latest round of base closings and the decision was made in 2005, the law said that the land must be sold at fair market value,” he said.

In the meantime the university is still looking to acquire additional property, especially since it recently set in motion a plan that would establish a physician’s assistant program.

“We’re always looking for something that we can afford because we would like to be able to get a little bit bigger. The campus that we’re on right now is completely full, and we try to keep our debt very low. [Our debt is] among the lowest of any university in New Jersey, public or private, so we’re very conservative that way,” he said.

Gaffney said he has enjoyed every minute of his typical 80-100- hour workweek at Monmouth, which includes attending various social events, fundraisers and school athletic competitions. His greatest take-away, however, is the opportunity to be around the students for 10 straight years.

Gaffney said his experience as a vice admiral and his former position as the president of the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., for 2000-03, helped his transition to Monmouth. “My career is not typical for a Navy admiral. But if you think about it, it’s a management and leadership job. The 6,000 or so people around here — the average age is 20 and they’re all high school graduates. What’s the Navy? It’s 250,000 sailors, all high school graduates whose average age is 20,” he said.

The president and his wife Linda have no future plans beyond Monmouth, which continues to keep them both busy. Gaffney said the two probably wouldn’t even start thinking about what’s next until after homecoming and football season.

“We’ll make this decision ourselves; there’s no rush. I have a Navy retirement, I can go and play golf all day someplace, but I’m healthy and active on several national boards, and I could go on and do something else,” he said.

While many will reflect on Gaffney’s accomplishments during his tenure as president, he knows that every ending is just another beginning.

“Our motto here is, ‘Leaders look forward,’ so frankly I’m hoping people don’t look back too much on what I’ve done and they look forward on what they can do in the future,” he said.

“This is the seventh time I’ve been the chief executive of some organization from small to big, so I’m used to coming in, trying to do a good job and hopefully accomplishing a little bit, then moving on and leaving the place better for the next person that comes in so he or she can leave the place even better.

“And that’s been the legacy here at Monmouth. The last two presidents, Sam Magill and Becky Stafford, did great things at this university. They set it up nicely for me to advance the ball a little bit down the road, and I expect the next person coming in will do the same thing.”

Contact Kristen Dalton at kdalton@gmnews.com.