A chapter in Gonzaga University’s 122-year history closes today as Jesuit Father Robert J. Spitzer’s 11-year presidency ends, but another chapter opens as Dr. Thayne McCulloh becomes interim president. Both men share an abiding love for alma mater Gonzaga, and great respect for each other.
McCulloh, 44, earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology here, magna cum laude, before receiving his Ph.D. in experimental psychology from Oxford University. This scholar’s steady, 19-year journey has taken him through nine different positions, most recently a two-year stint as academic vice president.
Before that, McCulloh was vice president for administration and planning, associate academic vice president, dean of financial services, a psychology faculty member, dean of student academic services, assistant dean of students, and several other jobs within student life.
McCulloh becomes Gonzaga’s second non-Jesuit president; the first being the late Harry Sladich who was interim president twice: in 1991 and 1997-’98.
For McCulloh, who intends to expand Gonzaga’s current prosperity, this is both a day to be thankful for all the University has accomplished, and a day to look forward. As interim president, McCulloh seeks collaboration, academic excellence and innovation, as well as continued inspiration. He believes strongly in the increasingly distinctive nature of Jesuit education and believes Gonzaga’s mission statement will guide the University.
“We, as a community, are going to be led first and foremost by our University mission, which unites us and allows us to remain focused and faithful to the charge that has been given to all of us. It is a beacon to which all can look for guidance,” McCulloh said. “Our fundamental mission is to educate men and women in an environment that is both academically rigorous and distinctively Jesuit and Catholic. To me, that directs us to take time to reflect, and to focus. My goal this year is to join together with the Gonzaga community and to examine how well we are fulfilling that mission.”
Because Gonzaga is a complex institution with many people, programs and entities vying for limited resources, identifying institutional priorities will remain a complex challenge, he said.
“As a community, I think we will continue to discover what we are good at, what we want for ourselves, what we think our institutional priorities should be, and where we have shortcomings that we are obligated to address,” he said. “I think one of the most important things I can do is to listen to people and ask them key questions around how we are doing. This then will inform our priority-setting and the way we pursue those priorities.”
Also crucial is recognition of the central role that faculty and staff play in Gonzaga’s vibrancy, he said. “A president is a servant as well as a leader,” said McCulloh. “I will work every day to ensure that our faculty and staff have what they need to make every day the best day for Gonzaga, and those we serve.”
McCulloh continued to explain that, in this way, Gonzaga is in a constant state of preparation for its next Jesuit leader – so that individual will find Gonzaga in an even better place than it is today.