Seton Hall University President Joseph Nyre eats lunch in the campus dining room, visiting with students and faculty members.
“I am a student-focused president so I dine in the dining hall,” Nyre said in an interview with NJBIZ. “I spend time walking through campus and talking with students. I have a lot of administrative responsibilities and fund-raising responsibilities, and I speak almost on a daily basis on campus and off campus to share the good work of Seton Hall and to recognize the hard work of Seton Hall. I spend a fair amount of time off campus cultivating our alumni base and working with our leadership team to advance strategy and solve problems and to be visible for students. I think that’s what a strong Catholic university can do.”
Seton Hall scheduled an investiture for Nov. 15 to welcome Nyre and emphasize the school’s commitment to showing the world what great minds can do. A native of Beloit, Wisc., Nyre is a first-generation college graduate. He earned three advanced degrees and completed pre- and post-doctoral studies at the University of Missouri, the University of Kansas and Harvard Medical School.
Nyre is starting the Great Minds Dialogue to explore academic freedom and the importance of civil, reasoned discourse, and how the state, religion and Seton Hall University fit together.
“I believe that the great challenges of society will either emanate from a university or quickly find its way to a university, and it should,” Nyre said. “And how we engage one other will define our democracy. Many argue that we have seen a reduction in civility in our country, whether in the halls of Congress, or on the debate stage, or on the national stage. Some have pointed their fingers at higher education for being a place where civility has been on the wane. Our goal is to engage in the great conversations about the great challenges of our times by bringing in recognized experts, by engaging in a civil process.”
Nyre was previously the president of Iona College, a Roman Catholic institution in New Rochelle, N.Y.
He is heading a strategic planning process to prepare for at least five years into the future. The planning process involves students, graduates, faculty members and other employees.
“It will guide our decision-making from which new academic programs we are launching on which campuses to which buildings need renovations to where our capital investments will be, how we will address college affordability to help students focus on their future rather than pay for their past,” Nyre said. “How do we help more students graduate in a timely fashion and go on to obtain careers to ensure they live lives well-lived?”
Nyre said he wants to knit the university community together. “We are focused on our Catholic identity and student engagement and retention. We are sharing with our grateful alums how much we appreciate their commitment to their alma mater.”
To that end he is making efforts to keep in touch with Seton Hall graduates.
“We recognize that our most recent alums may not feel that they are able to contribute as much to Seton Hall financially but they do inspire other students to succeed,” Nyre said. “Seton Hall was recently ranked the number one private university in New Jersey for employment. We are very proud of that.”
Nyre considers his greatest challenges to center on higher education in terms of its costs, value, and accessibility. Seton Hall received more than 23,000 applications last year and welcomed its largest freshmen class in its 164-year history.
Recruiting students from across the country is another goal.
“Sharing the heart and soul of Seton Hall with students from coast to coast is critical and we see students applying from almost 50 states to come be part of Seton Hall,” Nyre said. “Our school of diplomacy is nationally recognized. We are ranked number one in leadership in the country.”
The Seton Hall University Stillman School of Business offers a focus on leadership including the Gerald P. Buccino ’63 Center for Leadership Development. This program matches the most gifted students with business professionals who provide mentorships.
Nyre hears from community members about that these Seton Hall students are making a beneficial impact.
“The proof is really in the outcomes and in the quality of the people,” Nyre said. “It is really significant and we are quite proud of the program. It remains a national model.”
Nyre grew up in a blue-collar Catholic family, and used to admire Seton Hall from afar. Since becoming the University president in August, Nyre has learned that Seton Hall practices its Catholic faith in service and education. He sees it in priests, seminarians, faculty members, and students.
“I see students balancing incredibly busy schedules while often working full-time jobs,” Nyre said. “I see pride in the university and a university that is forward-leaning in understanding the role of higher education in growing a great Catholic university.”
The new president has been pleasantly surprised by how Seton Hall students gave water to Newark residents who cannot drink from their taps due to lead in the pipes.
“They brought available water to Newark to serve and support the people of the city,” Nyre said. “That was an immediate response to a current need and it happened almost overnight. Our students give back their time and their resources. They lead in the community in service to others.”
Besides technical skills, Seton Hall teaches students ethical skills to develop a strong moral compass.
“We think it is critical to communicate, listen, learn, then lead, and work well with others,” Nyre said. “Critical thinking is key. We are educating students now for careers that they will have in 10 years that do not exist today. Those critical thinking skills, the ability to analyze a situation or circumstance, the capacity to think ethically with a strong moral compass is vital for a healthy democracy and a healthy economy.”