William P. Leahy

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This article is about the academic. For the naval officer, see William D. Leahy.
William P. Leahy, S.J.
President of Boston College
In office
July 31, 1996 – Present
Preceded by J. Donald Monan, S.J.
Personal details
Born Omaha, Nebraska
Alma mater Saint Louis University, Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, Stanford University
Religion Catholic

William P. Leahy, SJ (born 1948) is the 25th President of Boston College, a post he has held since 1996. He was born in Omaha, Nebraska and raised in Imogene, Iowa. He joined the Society of Jesus in 1967, and is a member of the Jesuits' Wisconsin province. Leahy earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy and a master's degree in United States history at Saint Louis University in 1972 and 1975, respectively. He then began studies at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley in Berkeley, California, where he earned degrees in theology (1978) and historical theology (1980). He was ordained a priest in 1978. He received a doctoral degree in U.S. history from Stanford University in 1986.

He began his academic career as a teacher at Campion High School in Wisconsin from 1973-1975. He served as a teaching assistant at Stanford in 1981 before joining the Marquette University faculty as an instructor of history in 1985. He became an associate professor with tenure in 1991, and in that same year became Marquette's executive vice president.[1]

Boston College presidency[edit]

Since becoming Boston College president, Leahy has accelerated the growth and development of the university initiated by his predecessor, now-chancellor J. Donald Monan. Boston College's endowment has more than doubled, it has expanded by almost 150 acres (607,000 m²), and undergraduate applications have surpassed 30,000. At the same time, its students, faculty and athletic teams have seen unprecedented success — winning record numbers of Truman, Marshall, Fulbright, Rhodes scholarships, and other academic awards; setting new marks for research grants; and winning conference and national titles.[2] In 2002, Leahy initiated the Church in the 21st Century program to examine issues facing the Roman Catholic Church in light of the clergy sexual abuse scandal. His effort brought BC worldwide praise and recognition for "leading the way on Church reform."[3]

In 2004, Leahy announced plans to merge with the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry to advance BC as the world's foremost Jesuit university and a leading center of Catholic intellectual thought. In athletics, Boston College left the Big East Conference and joined the Atlantic Coast Conference on July 1, 2005.

In 2006, after a two-year self-study involving more than 200 BC faculty, administrators, students and alumni, Fr. Leahy announced a $1.6 billion Strategic Plan that called for hiring 100 new faculty, adding a dozen new academic centers and spending $1 billion in construction and renovation projects to elevate Boston College to the highest echelon of premier national universities. The Plan set seven strategic directions for the University: To become a national leader in liberal arts education and student formation; to enhance its research initiatives in select natural sciences and in areas that address urgent society problems; to support leadership initiatives in BC’s graduate and professional schools; to expand international programs and partnerships; and to become the world’s leading Catholic university.

In 2008, under Leahy’s guidance, the Weston Jesuit School of Theology re-affiliated with Boston College to form the new School of Theology and Ministry. Leahy's stated goal was to establish Boston College as "the world's leading Catholic university."[4]

Most recently, Leahy’s effective fiscal governance has enabled BC to survive the economic downturn and emerge in a position of strength. The University has avoided layoffs, hired 80 new faculty and begun construction on Stokes Hall, a 183,000-square-foot (17,000 m2) administrative building for BC’ humanities departments.

The University’s endowment has risen to $1.6 billion, making BC one of the 40 wealthiest universities in the nation and one of the first to reach its pre-recession endowment level.[5]

Leahy's memberships include the American Catholic Historical Association, the American Historical Association, the History of Education Society, and the Organization of American Historians.


Condoleezza Rice receiving her honorary degree in 2006

Fr. Leahy's presidency has not been without controversy. He has fallen under much criticism for his inconsistent coherence to Boston College's Jesuit mission.

His Dean of Students declined to permit a dance sponsored by the BC gay and lesbian group, an event sponsored by the Boston College Woman's Health Initiative (pro-choice organization that is currently unrecognized by the university), and he has remained stalwart in his resistance to substantive changes to the university's policy toward groups that are contrary to Catholic teachings.

The move from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference resulted in a lawsuit and editorializing by some Boston sports writers, though eventually BC won the lawsuits and membership in the ACC resulted in greater financial reward and national exposure for the athletic department. (ACC schools received an average of US$10.85 million for the tax year ending June 30, 2006, Big East full members averaged a little more than half that at US$5,842,599.)[6]

The invitation of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to receive an honorary degree and deliver the 2006 Commencement Address evoked protest from a small number of the faculty members. While Dr. Rice received a standing ovation accompanied by extended applause at the 2006 Commencement Exercises, a small subset of faculty did turn their backs toward the stage as she was presented an honorary degree.

Published works[edit]


  • Adapting to America: Catholics, Jesuits and Higher Education in the Twentieth Century (Georgetown University Press, 1991)


Leahy has written a number of articles on Catholic higher education in the United States, including, among others:

  • "The Rise of Laity in American Catholic Higher Education," Records of the American Catholic Historical Society (1991)
  • "Academic Professionalism and American Catholic Higher Education," Assembly 1989: Jesuit Ministry in Higher Education (1990)

In addition, Leahy has authored numerous articles in the Dictionary of Christianity in America and book reviews in History, Journal of American History and History of Education Quarterly.