The first lay president of St. John’s University, Conrado Gempesaw, announced June 10 that the 2020-21 academic year will be his last before retirement.
Known to the community as “Bobby,” Gempesaw boasts a 36-year-long career in academia, the last six of which included his tenure as the university’s 17th president.
“It has been the privilege of my life to serve as president of St. John’s University, and this decision was a difficult one, reached after much reflection and prayer,” Gempesaw said in a statement. “I am very grateful to have spent the past six years working with the St. John’s family — including our dedicated faculty, administrators, staff, alumni, Board of Trustees and Board of Governors — in advancing the University’s mission of providing a quality and affordable education for our students and serving those most in need.”
Gempesaw began his presidential tenure by developing four strategic priorities to ensure student success: improving recruitment, retention, graduation and career placement rates; hiring outstanding faculty, administrators and staff; enhancing the teaching and learning environment; and expanding domestic and global partnerships.
As a result of his leadership, the university saw five years of steady growth in the size of the incoming first-year class until a record total enrollment was achieved in 2019, as well as increased first-year retention rates. The six-year graduation rates for the May 2019 and May 2020 graduating classes marked the highest in the last fifteen years and the four-year graduation rates for those two classes mark the highest in the last thirty years.
Additionally, St. John’s said that the career placement rate of graduates has averaged 94 percent during the past four years, according to data based on responses to student surveys. During the 2019-20 year, the university provided nearly $275 million in direct financial aid to students, which is among the largest amounts of institutional aid provided by any private college or university in the country.
Gempesaw’s penultimate year was marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to St. John’s shutting down its campus on March 10, becoming the first Queens educational institution to do so, and the Black Lives Matter demonstrations
In response to the protests, Gempesaw, an immigrant from the Philippines, along with other university figures, released a June 6 statement promising anti-racist reform on the university campus, including partnering with the Office of Equity and Inclusion to review academic and administrative policies and procedures across all departments, especially enrollment strategies, hiring, safety and mentoring practices. They also promised to support mental health counseling and restorative healing circles designed for black students and employees processing racial trauma.
St. John’s will announce information about its national search for Gempesaw’s successor in the coming weeks.