Only three years after arriving at Boston College as a finance professor, he was appointed by University President J. Donald Monan, SJ, to the newly created position of executive vice president. As EVP, Campanella was now a chief administrator for a university beset by high fiscal uncertainty, growing student unrest and low faculty morale.
"Boston College was in such dire straits that there was a positive feeling on campus that someone was going to be the CEO and to take charge of the day-to-day operations of the University," recalled University Historian Thomas O'Connor, then a faculty member in the History Department. "I didn't know him personally, but I remember thinking, 'He'll have to prove himself by the priorities he sets to earn the respect of the faculty.'"
Twenty-seven years later, Campanella's trial run is coming to an end. His personal odyssey to save Boston College has indeed earned him the respect of the faculty, as well as the appreciation of trustees, alumni and students who are just beginning to fathom the depth of his contributions. In the 137-year history of Boston College, his accomplishments as a lay administrator may be second to none.
As he prepares for his final year as EVP and the sabbatical and return to the classroom that will follow it, Campanella said he is hopeful that he will be remembered for his fairness and loyalty both to Boston College and the various members of its community.
"I love Boston College and I am proud of what we have accomplished here," he said, interviewed shortly after announcing at University Convocation that he would step down as EVP at the end of this academic year. "I knew BC was the right place for me the day I came here. Thirty years later, I still feel the same way."
"Boston College owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to Frank Campanella for what he has done for this institution," said University President William P. Leahy, SJ. "We have all benefited from his integrity, wisdom and commitment. His track record as executive vice president speaks for itself."
Consider the numbers: In the fall of 1973, Boston College was bankrupt, with a negative net worth and an endowment of just $5 million. The University had experienced five consecutive years of major deficits, and faculty salaries, frozen for three straight years, were in the 50th percentile for Category I universities. BC was entrenched as a regional, commuter college with undergraduate applications at 8,400.
Frank B. Campanella: "I knew BC was the right place for me the day I came here. Thirty years later, I still feel the same way." (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
Today, Boston College is a vibrant, economically sound institution with a net asset value of $1.34 billion, an endowment of $1.1 billion and operating surpluses in each of its past 26 years. BC's faculty salary rankings average in the 90th percentile for Category I institutions, and last year the University attracted 21,000 applicants from a pool of students that encompassed all 50 states and more than 85 countries.
While Campanella is quick to credit this remarkable transformation to a pair of strong presidents, Fr. Monan and Fr. Leahy, aided by dedicated faculty and loyal trustees, he remains the one constant in the 27-year ascendancy of Boston College.
"Clearly," said Academic Vice President and Dean of Faculties John Neuhauser, a colleague and close friend, "he was meant for the job as much as the job was meant for him."
Born the son of a welder in Depression-era Boston, Campanella was one-and-a-half when his mother died, leaving him and his brother Paul to be raised by his father, Francis, and grandparents in Jamaica Plain. Lacking a formal education of his own, his father saw to it that his children attended Our Lady of Lourdes parochial school and Boston College High School, where Campanella encountered what he calls a "transforming educational experience." He won a Navy ROTC scholarship to study engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute before spending three years as a lieutenant in the Marines, followed by four years in the inactive reserves.
Upon fulfilling his military duty, an experience he cites as a "confidence builder," Campanella embarked on a five-year career in the construction industry that would teach him the hands-on skill necessary to develop the modern BC campus.
Frustration over low margins and market uncertainty caused him to abandon the field and pursue an MBA at Babson College and then a doctorate in business administration at Harvard University. He turned down offers from Boston and Northeastern universities, and joined BC's College of Business Administration faculty in September of 1970.
But Campanella's budding academic career soon took an unexpected, and life-altering, twist.
Following his Sept. 6 Convocation address, Frank Campanella is greeted by College of Arts and Sciences Dean Joseph Quinn and other well-wishers. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
Campanella set out to develop a financial plan to save BC that would eventually become the national model for colleges and universities. His plan was simple: build an operating surplus by increasing tuition rates and controlling costs; direct operating surpluses to the endowment; build debt capacity from the endowment and then use debt capacity to finance what would eventually become $456 million of new construction.
The end result would be a campus befitting a national university, one that now includes 30 residence halls, O'Neill Library, Merkert Chemistry Building, Robsham Theater and the Law School Library, as well as the newly renovated Fulton, Devlin, Campion and Higgins halls.
A modern campus, Campanella explained, would bring better faculty, who would attract better students. As a result, where once it had competed for students with state or regionally-oriented institutions such as the University of Massachusetts, Fairfield and Villanova universities, BC was now vying with national, elite universities like Harvard, Duke and Brown. Under Campanella's watch, BC had arrived.
"Among those who understand the business of universities, Frank Campanella is a legend," said Clare Cotton, executive director of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts. "He has been a true pioneer in the field who invented many crucial educational concepts such as enrollment management. We in education owe much to him."
Added another longtime colleague, Senior Vice President James McIntyre, "Frank is a person of tremendous integrity who truly cares about people. He is also so well versed in disparate issues from construction to academics that he can talk to anyone. That is the sign of a great leader."
For his part, Campanella is prouder of the camaraderie he has helped to create at BC than the campus he has labored to develop.
"What separates Boston College from other institutions is how people feel about the community," he said. "We have progressed as much as we have while improving the esprit de corps and the relationship between the faculty and the administration. Together, we have transformed the institution while keeping the culture of trust and community intact."
It is a point with which even potential adversaries would agree. "Our Faculty Salary and Benefits Committee meetings have to be the most civil of any university," said Assoc. Prof. John Lewis III (CSOM), who chaired the committee in 1997. "Frank Campanella is one of the fairest and most honest people I have had the privilege of knowing. Sitting across the table from him in negotiations is a pleasure."
Director of Dining Service Patricia Bando said, "Frank Campanella impresses you by his sheer presence. He walks into a room and commands respect. Yet you always felt that you could talk to him about anything."
"Frank Campanella was one of the first people to see the value and appropriateness of a Campus School at Boston College," said Philip Di Mattia, director of the Campus School, which serves children with multiple disabilities. "He's been a board member who has given freely of his time and expertise. To me, he exemplifies Ignatian values by seeing God in all things and finding the good in what people are trying to do. He's a man of few equals.
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