Looking back on 23 years of success

Phila. University bloomed under its retiring president.

Posted: August 06, 2007

In his 23-year run as president of Philadelphia University, James P. Gallagher presided over nothing short of a transformation.

Enrollment nearly doubled. So did the campus acreage. Applications grew fourfold. What was once a textile and science college became a university, with new academic programs. Up went several recreational and academic buildings, and a virtually nonexistent endowment reached nearly $30 million.

So perhaps it's fitting that, in his final months, the 66-year-old native West Philadelphian - who recently emerged as one of the most highly compensated college presidents in the country - has decided to focus on the finer points of collegiate management.

The finishing touches.

The polish.

Enter the 1.5-ton, 9-foot-tall bronze ram near the entrance off Henry Avenue.

Gallagher couldn't bring himself to leave the 3,250-student East Falls school without a manifestation of its mascot, something students had been asking for. So he commissioned an artist in Wyoming to make one. And out came the ram in May - two months after he announced his pending retirement.

"We hauled this thing all the way from Wyoming," Gallagher said on a recent tour of the 100-acre campus, which he will leave at the end of the month.

Also on his final things-to-do list was a soon-to-be released, 110-page history of the school, which was founded in 1884.

And in April, at Gallagher's behest, the college named the plaza between the new athletic center and campus center for his hero, Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who helped rescue Hungarian Jews from the Nazis. Gallagher's lifelong fascination with Wallenberg started when he wrote a report on him as a Catholic grade-school student.

"The place has exceeded my expectations. My work is done," said Gallagher, who plans to take time off, then look for a new challenge - not a college presidency.

His replacement, Stephen Spinelli Jr., Jiffy Lube cofounder and former vice provost of Babson College in Massachusetts, starts Sept. 1.

In 2004-05, Gallagher was the second-highest-paid president of a private master's-degree-granting institution across the country, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, which conducts an annual survey. He received $837,158.

But that really isn't what it seems, noted Elizabeth Gemmill, president of the board of trustees. His base salary was $285,424, and most of the rest was a retirement payment, she said.

"The mistake the board made originally was not providing for his pension, so we were in the position of playing catch-up," she said, noting that the retirement payments have been made over the last few years.

As a result, Gallagher's compensation package rose from $354,512 in 2001-02 to $601,043 in 2002-03 and to $830,750 in 2003-04, according to 990 nonprofit federal income tax filings.

Gemmill, a longtime board member who was on the committee that brought Gallagher to the school, praised him, saying he met goals he and the board set. "He does it in a way that you can grow without disrupting an organization," she said. "He's very disciplined."

Gallagher pointed out that he ran surpluses every year. Never a deficit, he said.

It's no surprise, then, that Gallagher, also a member of the School Reform Commission, which oversees the Philadelphia School District, clashed with former district chief Paul Vallas after a deficit emerged last fall. He wanted Vallas out long before Vallas left in June to run schools in New Orleans.

Gallagher declined to discuss the school district.

He holds a bachelor's degree in education and history from St. Francis College, a master's in education from Duquesne University, and a doctorate in higher education from Catholic University of America, and previously held administrative jobs at Holy Cross College, Georgetown University, St. Joseph's University and American College in Bryn Mawr.

His first presidency was at Mount Aloysius College in Western Pennsylvania. He was the first non-nun lay leader in the school's history.

Gallagher also served as commissioner for higher education under former Gov. Dick Thornburgh and as chair of the State Board of Education from 1995 to 2002.

He has four children, three of them adopted from Seoul, Korea. His oldest, Sara, 40, is an administrator at the University of the Sciences, followed by Jim, 38, a state trooper; Brian, 36, a banker; and Rachel, 29, a pediatric resident at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. He lives with his wife, Anne, in the two-story colonial president's home on campus, but they will leave there soon.

One of his most important assignments as president - on which he estimates he spent half his time - was fund-raising.

"If a donor called me today and wanted to see me in San Francisco, you go," he said.

During his term, several buildings have gone up with key donations, including the Kanbar Campus Center, with help from 1952 graduate Maurice Kanbar. Academic offerings have expanded to include areas such as architecture, business and health.

The city school has a bucolic feel: The campus is full of trees, including one that was hit by lightning and carved into a statue of students sitting atop a stack of books. Gallagher got the idea for it after he saw one in his travels.

He speaks passionately about the job: The joy of seeing the school's fledgling women's scull team fare well in the Dad Vail Regatta. The importance of being there for students at all hours. The fun he had visiting other countries and dining with students studying overseas.

About 10 years ago, he began to push overseas experiences for students and faculty to broaden perspectives.

"We want 10 percent of our students to be living overseas at all times," he said.

Looking ahead, Gallagher said the school needs to build another dormitory, academic building, theater, track and field facilities, and a walking bridge across Henry Avenue and School House Lane, where two students were hit by cars in the last year.

An upgrade of campus security also is expected, he said. After the Virginia Tech massacre, the university hired a consultant, which recommended more security cameras, a swipe-card system, and small, wireless communication boxes throughout campus.

Staff and student leaders speak highly of Gallagher.

A college committee put him in the school's athletic Hall of Fame in 2004, a boon to Gallagher, a self-described "sports nut" who admits to average athletic ability.

Students found him personable, genuinely interested in them, and reliable, said Vincent Lattanzio, 22, a 2007 graduate who now works for a New Jersey advertising and marketing firm.

Lattanzio, who was student government president in 2006-07, recalled his first meeting with Gallagher last fall. The two discussed how they wanted to get a ram statue, and made it their goal.

"He gets it done," Lattanzio said.

James P. Gallagher

Age: 66.

Family: Married with four grown children and one granddaughter.

Education: Undergraduate degree in education and history. Master's in education. Doctorate in higher education.

Career: 40 years in higher-education administration, the last 23 as president of Philadelphia University.

Last book read: "All Quiet on the Western Front," by Erich Maria Remarque.

Favorite musician: James Galway.

Favorite food: Penne all'arrabiata.

Favorite vacation spot: Chebeague, Maine.

Heroes: Raoul Wallenberg and my parents.

Favorite TV show: "The Unit."

Favorite movie: "Field of Dreams."

Favorite activity: Celebrating life with my family and friends.

All-time favorite book: "Democracy in America," by Alexis de Tocqueville.

Philadelphia University

at a Glance

Founded: 1884.

Location: East Falls section of Philadelphia.

Size: 100 acres.

Applications: About 5,000.

Enrollment: 3,250 students at the bachelor's, master's and doctorate levels.

Endowment: About $30 million.

2007-08 tuition: $25,386.

Room and board: $8,570.

Find out more about Philadelphia University via

Contact staff writer Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or ssnyder@phillynews.com.

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