Dr. Laurie M. Joyner is the 20th president of Chicago-based Saint Xavier University (SXU). The inspirational legacy and core values of the Catholic institution’s founders, the Sisters of Mercy, attracted President Joyner. Shortly after becoming president in January 2017, she championed a number of strategic directions that have positioned SXU for a strong future.
As president, Dr. Joyner has advanced mission integration efforts, inclusive excellence initiatives, and the alignment of organizational structure and resources to improve educational quality and institutional results. Under her leadership, SXU has shifted its enrollment management strategy, expanded academic and athletic offerings, initiated a range of revenue-generating efforts, and launched an award-winning rebranding campaign.
Saint Xavier University in Chicago
In the 1840s, the Sisters of Mercy arrived in Chicago at the invitation of Bishop Quarter to help meet the educational and health needs of the city’s immigrant population. Founded in 1846 and chartered in 1847, Saint Xavier holds the distinction of being the oldest Mercy institution of higher education in the world.
A federally designated Hispanic-Serving Institution with a diverse student body, SXU educates students for competence, character, and career success through its high-quality curricular and co-curricular experiences. The University recognizes that the true measure of its success is how well it helps students on their path to building meaningful lives while preparing for fulfilling careers.
SXU’s mission reflects the Sisters of Mercy heritage – to educate persons to search for truth, to think critically, to communicate effectively, and to serve wisely and compassionately in support of human dignity and the common good. The institution achieves its mission through the efforts of its talented faculty and staff who are committed to creating a diverse, inclusive, and equitable learning community.
Operating During Pandemic to Cater the Best Possible
Throughout the pandemic, President Joyner and her team kept the campus safe and their community healthy. Multiple mitigation efforts resulted in consistently low COVID-19 positivity rates on campus.
“Mitigation efforts included de-densifying campus early in the pandemic, instituting systematic symptom checking, enhancing cleaning protocols, and requiring masking and social distancing,” Dr. Joyner says.
The University’s Information Technology professionals ensured that all community members had the technological resources needed to continue University operations, especially the teaching and learning enterprise. Dr. Joyner points out that SXU’s extraordinary faculty quickly shifted from face-to-face instruction to remote instruction, ensuring no interruption of students’ educational progress. Other areas across campus also leveraged technology to serve students, including admission, student life, student services, advising, financial aid, and health services.
“Competitive grant awards have allowed us to provide enhanced technology resources to students and faculty while innovating online course content to ensure its delivery meets the diverse learning needs and styles of our students,” Dr. Joyner says.
“We are the proud heirs to the noble legacy created by the Sisters of Mercy who instill in us the tenacity to stay true to our mission of serving others while rising above any challenge,” she adds.
Finding Inspiration for Education
Dr. Joyner discovered her passion and purpose as an undergraduate student at a faith-based institution similar to Saint Xavier. “It is not an exaggeration to say that my undergraduate education completely transformed my life as a first-generation student,” she says. “It helped me figure out who I was and what I valued, and to understand that I wanted to pursue a career in higher education.” Her dream of becoming a professor was born while sitting in a classroom as a sophomore in college.
After completing her Ph.D. in sociology at Tulane University, she followed the opportunity to serve as a professor at Loyola University New Orleans, her alma mater. She eventually earned tenure and promotion and then served as Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. At the time, her portfolio included faculty development, the first-year experience for students, and accreditation efforts for the college.
Initially, Dr. Joyner was reluctant to serve in an administrative role, but she quickly realized that the position provided the opportunity to influence more students and faculty across the entire University in a positive way versus just those in her home department.
After serving as Associate Dean for four years, the dean of the College encouraged her to pursue her first academic deanship. “I ended up serving as an academic dean and in multiple vice-presidential positions,” Dr. Joyner says. “These roles helped shape my understanding of the higher education ecosystem.”
“My life’s purpose is to help ensure that the same amazing learning opportunities I had remain available to hardworking, talented, and diverse students regardless of their backgrounds,” Dr. Joyner adds.
Success and Hurdles
In Joyner’s mind, success means discovering one’s values, passion, and purpose in life and then aligning those things with one’s calling or vocation. “In this way, it is possible to create an integrated personal and professional life,” she says. She describes organizational success as effectively stewarding and achieving the organization’s mission by aligning actions and resources with the institution’s core values and purpose.
There are many challenges a leader has to overcome before achieving success. Dr. Joyner sees them as inevitable. “The most important thing is how one response to such setbacks,” she says. “Reframing the challenge of working toward an effective course of action is important to building perseverance and resilience,” Joyner adds that she has been fortunate to have had talented mentors and valued colleagues with whom to collaborate through tough times and difficult challenges.
Future Endeavors of SXU
Over the past five years, SXU has achieved several positive milestones, including recruiting four of the largest and most diverse first-year classes in the 175-year history of SXU, increasing first-to-second year student retention four consecutive years, and securing nearly $16 million in federal grants to support student engagement, learning, and success. SXU will continue to build on these achievements.
Dr. Joyner says that the dramatic improvement in SXU’s operating performance has enabled the University to pay down its long-term debt by nearly half, more than triple the endowment, and produce the strongest financial ratios in more than a decade. “These positive results have allowed us to invest in our talented faculty and staff in the form of across-the-board salary increases as well as equity and merit awards,” Dr. Joyner adds. Moving forward, Dr. Joyner and her team want to continue on the current incredibly positive trajectory while doubling down on their efforts to develop a stronger value proposition, create high-demand offerings that diversify and expand SXU’s current reach and build even stronger internal processes to enhance educational quality.