The Richmond Register

February 24, 2012

EKU provost named first male president of women’s Catholic university

By Ronica Shannon
Register News Writer

RICHMOND — A long-time administrative figure at Eastern Kentucky University has made history by being named the first male president of a Baltimore Catholic women’s college.

James Conneely, EKU’s Associate Provost and Vice President for Student Affairs since 2003, will preside over Notre Dame of Maryland University beginning July 1.

The university is the first Catholic women’s college to award baccalaureate degrees and was founded in 1895 by the School Sisters of Notre Dame.

Conneely, 55, has been recognized in the past as a leader on women’s issues on campus and for advancing women into leadership and non-traditional roles.

“I congratulate Dr. Conneely on this career milestone, but an even bigger congratulations goes to the search committee and board of trustees who identified and hired him,” said EKU President Doug Whitlock. “They have hired an outstanding higher education administrator who has contributed much to our university and to the central Kentucky area. While I regret losing Dr. Conneely, I wish him all the best in this next phase of his professional journey. We will be working together to ensure a smooth transition.”

Notre Dame of Maryland University is an independent, liberal arts institution with an enrollment of approximately 3,000, split almost evenly between undergraduates and graduate students. The university launched its first doctoral program in 2004 and established a School of Pharmacy in 2009.

The decision by the university’s board of trustees on Feb. 16 was unanimous, according to Nancy Carr, spokesperson for Notre Dame of Maryland University.

“While we were open to the possibility of a man as our 12th president at the start of the search process, probably none of us was expecting that we would select a man as Notre Dame’s next leader,” said Patricia J. Mitchell, 1969 board of trustees chairperson. “Some have asked, ‘Couldn’t we find excellent women candidates?’ The answer is a resounding ‘yes’ – we were fortunate to have many extraordinary female candidates emerge in our national search. But the absolute best candidate, the individual who represents the right fit for Notre Dame at this distinctive time in our history, is Dr. Conneely.”

He met in multiple venues with students, faculty, staff, alumni, trustees, donors and members of the School Sisters of Notre Dame when he visited the Notre Dame campus in early February as a finalist for the presidency.

“Their assessment of his candidacy was highly enthusiastic,” Carr said. “They observed that he is an inspirational leader prepared to take the university into the next bold chapter of innovation and growth.”

Conneely and his wife, Becky, who holds a Ph.D. in counselor education and is a lecturer at EKU, have two daughters, Jessica, a first-year student at Converse College, a women’s college in South Carolina, and Caitlin, who attends Lexington Catholic High School, where Conneely serves as chair of the board of trustees.

Ronica Shannon can be reached at or 624-6608.