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Many among Barry University’s board of trustees prefer not to discuss the retirement of university president Sister Jeanne O’Laughlin. “Nobody wants to face that at Barry,” says Bill Heffernan, president of Miami-based Totalbank, and a member of the North Miami, Fla., school’s board of trustees. “How do you fill those shoes?” After all, in the past 20 years, the private Catholic university has grown in enrollment from 2,100 students to 8,200. Its budget has multiplied more than tenfold from $9 million to $97 million, and its endowment has grown from $500,000 to $22.5 million. It owns the broadcast license for two public broadcast outlets. In 1999, it went through a major growth spurt: the $14 million purchase of a small, unaccredited law school in Orlando, Fla. All that has happened under one president, Sister Jeanne O’Laughlin, better known as Sister Jeanne, and the fifth president to lead the 49-year-old institution. Nonetheless, the board of trustees is facing the prospect of her retirement. Sister Jeanne, now in her early 70s, had said she would retire in 2000, then canceled those plans in 1999. That was the year the university bought the Orlando law school, and at the urging of the board of trustees, she agreed to stay on until the law school gets accredited, a process that is still ongoing. She renewed her contract with the trustees through 2003. Says Heffernan: “That issue went away, but it is hanging there.” In fact, the executive committee of the board has drafted a course of action for the inevitable. “There’s a whole written succession plan which will be orchestrated at some point,” says R. Kirk Landon, vice chairman of Barry’s board of trustees. The plan calls for a national search as well as for consideration of Barry employees. It allows a year to complete the search and implement the new president, says Landon, who wouldn’t disclose any other details of the plan. Throughout the years, Sister Jeanne has worked closely with a team of senior administrators at the university, such as assistant president Sister Peggy Albert, also Barry’s executive vice president for its new law school, and Tim Czerniac, the university’s senior vice president for business and finance. Are any of them being groomed for succession? Through a spokeswoman, Sister Jeanne said there is no heir apparent to succeed her. The private, Catholic university is affiliated with the Dominican order of Adrian, Michigan, to which Sister Jeanne belongs, as did the university’s four previous presidents. Would the next president have to be a nun from that order? Not necessarily. “We’ve had five presidents so far and they’ve all been Adrian Dominican sisters, but it’s not in the by-laws,” says university spokeswoman Michelle Morris. “There are other Dominican universities who have lay presidents.” Sister Jeanne, meanwhile, continues working to get the law school up to the standards required for accreditation, which it failed to obtain last year when its application came up for review. Through a spokeswoman, she declined to discuss retirement. Whoever the successor is, what will be his or her challenges? “It depends on when we would pull the trigger,” Landon says. “Challenges change daily, weekly, monthly, yearly.”

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