An Interview with President Margaret McKenna
“I’ve lived in Boston for a long time and I’ve always known about Suffolk. I admire its history and its mission, I love the story of how it was founded… [Suffolk] is a very, very important university in the life of the city and the state and the region.”
These are the words of President Margaret McKenna, tenth president of Suffolk and the first female leader of the university. In an exclusive interview with the Suffolk Voice, McKenna spoke about her aspirations for Suffolk University and the good qualities she hopes to expand upon.
McKenna expressed that Suffolk’s role in the Boston community is really what shines about this university. “There are public issues and Suffolk is part of the solution. Whether it’s criminal justice, sustainability, or entrepreneurship, we’re very much part of the dialogue of issues of today,” she said, “There are academic institutions who will do a lot of important research, but Suffolk does important activities that influence public policy and daily lives.”
In comparison to other higher education institutions in Boston, McKenna said she feels Suffolk stands out due to its combination of liberal arts and professional studies, along with the fact that a significant amount of our graduates stay in the area.
“BC, BU, Northeastern – a lot of those students graduate and scatter,” said McKenna, “Although 20% of our undergraduate students are international and they might scatter, a lot of our alumni are within 100 miles of here… When a third of the state legislature have Suffolk degrees, that’s influence. We have such an impact because we saturate Boston. This is what makes us different in that we have such a presence in government, business, and in the non-profit world.”
McKenna added that she’s proud to hear Suffolk students are “well equipped” and have “the right attitude” when they graduate, allowing them to find amazing opportunities in the work force.
Beyond the prospects that Suffolk can provide to students, McKenna is currently working towards clarifying Suffolk’s mission so that people know who we are, what we do, and what we have to offer. She emphasizes how Suffolk offers fantastic programs that people may not know about, and that it’s crucial that the university works on bringing this to their attention.
McKenna is aiming to make Suffolk better known and more diverse, as well working on increasing the endowment and creating a tighter community. Despite these planned changes, she wants to keep the size of the university.
“I like the size,” said McKenna, “We have other institutions in Boston that have an undergraduate class of 15,000 or 20,000 students, but I like our current range. It’s big enough to have everything but small enough to have small classes and a sense of community.”
With the adequate size, McKenna admits we have an inadequate amount of housing. She said she is working on creating and securing upperclassmen housing. According to McKenna, the university is “looking at a number of possibilities,” hoping to guarantee at least two years of housing.
“It’s hard to come here and not even be guaranteed two years of housing. We’re looking at various options and we have a couple under consideration,” she said, adding that space is the biggest issue right now. The lack of it has forced Suffolk to house students at MCPHS and Mass Art.
Above all else, McKenna says that one of the things that has impressed her the most about Suffolk has been the students. “The students have been incredibly welcoming and fun,” she said, “I’ve been to student government meetings, other student events, and the students in general have been incredibly open to coming up and talking to me, telling me about what their interests are, what they’d like to see, and that’s been great.”
Additionally, as Suffolk’s first female president, McKenna has a unique view of gender equality.
“I wish for a day when there will never be any jobs, anywhere, where people will say ‘you’re the first woman,’ but I’m honored to be the first woman,” said McKenna, “I think it’s important for young women and men to see women in positions of power and influence.”
Before coming to Suffolk, McKenna was president of Lesley University for 22 years. Her focus was on the school’s mission, which revolved around being authentic to what they stand for, increasing the diversity among students, faculty, and staff, and increasing the endowment. McKenna was able to transition the school from female-only to co-ed and increase the amount of students from 450 to 2,000.
McKenna said she knew that the experience she gained and the skills she learned at Lesley would translate well into Suffolk, and she wanted to make a difference here. As McKenna goes into her fifth month as Suffolk’s president, she holds true to these goals.