Photo provided by Misericordia University
Dr. Kathleen Owens is striving to get to know everyone in the community as she serves as the university’s interim president for the 2020-2021 school year.
Owens accepted the position after the departure of Dr. Thomas Botzman earlier this year, and she will serve as university officials conduct the search for someone to fill the position permanently.
She said despite the unique challenges of this school year, she is settling in.
“During my first two months, I have become acquainted with the campus and the neighborhood. Moreover, I had a chance to meet some of the faculty and staff before the start of classes. Because many people were working remotely, I did not have the opportunity to personally greet as many people as I would have liked,” Owens said.
Owens was the president of Gwynedd Mercy University in Gwynedd Valley, Pa. She said she would have liked to have special events for the students at the beginning of the academic year, as she has done in her previous position, but COVID concerns made that impossible.
“The most difficult aspect related to COVID 19 has been my inability to personally meet with students, attend athletic events, participate in the new student convocation program, meet with Highlander staff, join students in the dining halls,” she said.
She said she is treating her position as if she were here for the long haul.
“It’s truly a privilege to serve as President at MU this year,” Owens said. “I am well acquainted with the university’s mission and core values and welcome the opportunity to serve the MU community this year. It also means that I have the responsibility to provide leadership over the next many months to position the university for a bright future when Dr. Botzman’s successor is appointed by the Board of Trustees.”
Owens said she is energized by the passion of the students, faculty, and staff.
“Our small class sizes, our state-of-the-art facilities and our rich history in the liberal arts allow for reflective and integrating learning experiences for our students,” Owens said.
“We are large enough to offer a vibrant campus life but small enough so that professors can develop mentoring relationships with students. Excellent teaching is a hallmark of Misericordia, and I have found our faculty to be caring, competent, supportive, and available—both in-person and virtually.”
However, Owens pointed out that the pandemic is unavoidably limiting the fullness of a university community dedicated to service.
“I wish I could wave a magic wand to get rid of COVID-19. I regret that the pandemic will preclude the opportunity for students to engage in our usual service-learning trips during spring break,” she said.
Social unrest as a result of racial inequality is another societal challenge, and Owens hopes to spread awareness of racial justice issues and take action to create a more loving society.
“During this year of social unrest, I am conscious that I joined the university community at a critical moment in our nation’s long history of racial inequality. George Floyd’s murder has awoken something in America, causing both anguish and anger to rise to the surface. Because we are a university grounded in Critical Concerns of the Sisters of Mercy–which include recognizing and dismantling institutional racism–the issues raised by Black Lives Matter demand our practical response. I hope this year we can begin by making a significant commitment to listening that leads to real action,” she said.
She said she will meet with her cabinet and other representative community members in the coming weeks to discuss specific actions.
“The work ahead will not be easy, but I have the audacity to hope that, together, we can move closer to Dr. King’s vision of the Beloved Community,” Owens said.
Owens believes the vision she has for the university can help lead the campus to a better and brighter future.
“My immediate hopes and prayers are for the health, safety, and well-being for all members of the MU community,” she said. “I hope that our students will follow all the advice and guidelines set forth by the Cougar Care Team so that we all can stay on-campus and have a successful conclusion to the 2020-2021 academic year.”
She said her long term hope is that the university will sustain its commitment to the mission and core values of Misericordia University and the charisms of mercy, justice, service, and hospitality.
“At this time in our history, our world is in deep need of distinctive Mercy graduates who are well prepared to lead lives of consequence in their professions, their communities, and the world.”