Dr. James McCarthy is the ninth president of Suffolk University who began his tenure at Suffolk on Feb. 1. He came to the university after serving for five years as provost and senior vice president at Baruch College of the City of New York. He is first and foremost an academic with a Ph.D. from Princeton University, an M.A. from Indiana University and an A.B. from the College of the Holy Cross.
He takes over the presidency of Suffolk at a seminal moment in its long history. There is an ongoing effort to reduce the University’s presence in the Beacon Hill residential neighborhood; a Board of Directors backed alumni participation and engagement effort he will spearhead; and an effort to give added shape and form to Suffolk’s coursework and educational programming aimed at nurturing academic excellence.
Dr. McCarthy understands the human predicament. He is a thoroughly modern man coming from New York to Boston and loving it. While the university may be easing its presence on the Hill, the new Suffolk president will be one of its newest residents – he plans to move to Mt. Vernon Street in May. He is an affable sort, very bright, self-assured, and unambiguous and he’s got a point of view he is not afraid to express.
The following Q & A with Joshua Resnek took place during the second week of March.
Q.What makes you the right fit for Suffolk University?
A.I have spent virtually my entire career in urban universities, including 19 years in New York. I think I have a very good sense about the challenges Suffolk faces and what urban students face in urban universities.
Q.What do you see as Suffolk’s role in the community, not just as a university, but also as a downtown university?
A. One of the main reasons I was attracted to Suffolk is because it is located in the middle of the city, but also because the university is so deeply involved and connected with Boston. Suffolk is unique in that regard. It is part of the fabric of the city. I want to preserve that history, tradition and place and build on it. Being a good neighbor is crucial to Beacon Hill and to downtown.
Q.You are an academic by training. Tell us about your background and interests.
A.I’ve worked in universities all my life. Workforce development issues always have my attention and this is especially so today. Focused research on the community is another. The study of law, business, and the arts and sciences – educating students for professions and careers is a real interest of mine. Linking education with careers and the search for a job has always been very strong with me throughout my career and will be equally strong here.
Q.What are the challenges, the direct difficult complex challenges immediately as the new president of the university?
A.First, keeping tuition costs as low as possible – this by itself is an extraordinarily complex challenge. Second, finding the space we need for our academic programs and our students. This is another extraordinary challenge. Third, reengaging Suffolk’s 65,000 alumni into the life of the university. We’ve lost track of too many of them. Fourth, we are committed to continuing the process of moving Suffolk’s center of gravity away from Beacon Hill and toward those areas of downtown that are identified in the university’s Master Plan. We hope to make concrete progress on getting this process started as soon as possible.
Q.Talk about the importance of maintaining good relations with government leaders as well as Suffolk’s neighbors in communities such as Beacon Hill, Downtown Crossing and the North End.
A.There is no doubt in my mind that as the president of the university my plan is a recommittal to the historic imperative the university brings to the table as a part of downtown Boston. We need to maintain and enhance relations with our neighbors. I am going to live in the Beacon Hill neighborhood. I’m looking forward to that.
Q. How does Boston compare to New York City?
A. It is much quieter, even downtown, and obviously much less densely populated. Boston has all the services and amenities of a big city. However one of the biggest problems is that you can’t get every restaurant in the neighborhood to deliver. Boston needs to work on this.