Faith, service and liberal arts: Newman’s next president looks to the future

Jun 25, 2020

Newman University recently announced Kathleen S. Jagger, Ph.D., as its 12th president. The former president of Thomas More College in Crestview Hills, Kentucky will begin her duties as Newman University president effective July 1.

Jagger comes from a health science background and carries a passion for liberal arts higher education. She describes public health as the “archetype of interdisciplinarity involving the integration of virtually all liberal arts disciplines along with many fields of health sciences.”

Kathleen S. Jagger, Ph.D.

During her last semester as president at Thomas More, she had the opportunity to teach a public health course and found it to be interesting and engaging to teach such a course during the COVID-19 pandemic. She said even in a remote delivery format, her students gave her their undivided attention and showed great interest in the coursework.

Jagger has taught courses in microbiology, immunology, public health, global health and bioethics. She said she is looking forward to working for a university well-known for its sciences, nursing and allied health academia.

She also looks forward to learning more about the Wichita community and its current and potential partnerships with Newman. She said the possibilities are enormous, even outside of the medical fields.

“The advantage of Newman students studying the sciences is that they also have a liberal arts grounding, which helps them work across and connect disciplines easily and which leaves them eager to continue learning,” said Jagger. “Liberal arts students are known to be inquisitive, quick learners who do not think in narrow, siloed manners.”

The Newman mission and core values only added to that attraction and are one of the main reasons Jagger decided to pursue the presidency at the university. She was raised Catholic and attended Catholic schools through most of her younger education and said she hopes to spend the rest of her career serving a Catholic university because it allows her to live her faith through all that she does.

She said the Newman mission and its emphasis on service carries an important personal meaning and she connects well with the goals of the university.

“To empower students to transform society is an action-oriented objective that requires we educate students, expand their frames of reference, introduce them to some of the great thinkers of all time, teach them valuable critical thinking, speaking and writing skills but also inculcate in them the responsibility that comes with that education to change the world through a lens of critical consciousness that hungers for peace and justice. There is no better education for these times than a Catholic, values-based, liberal arts education.”

Sister Ellen Kehoe worked with Jagger at the Holy Spirit Parish and Newman Center in Lexington, Kentucky, where Jagger served as eucharistic minister and lector. Kehoe said Jagger brings a unified approach to life and carries respect for others and a passion to serve them.

“Her gifts of natural brilliance and academic achievement are integrated with a spirituality that manifests in relationship and service to others,” said Kehoe. “I have seen her relate to faculty, students and the marginal. Each person is treated with dignity, respect and value. She listens well and with her systemic, organizational thinking is able to lead boards and committees to new visions. With her care and seemingly unlimited time for others she gives students a new sense of self-esteem, a ‘can do’ attitude that also carries them into their future.”

Before Thomas More, Jagger served in several roles at Transylvania “Transy” University, a private university in Lexington, Kentucky. Her positions at Transy included profesor, associate dean of the college, associate vice president and finally interim vice president of academic affairs (VPAA) and dean of the college.

Her VPAA predecessor, William Pollard, said Jagger is a great fit for Newman.

“Kathleen possesses an extraordinary combination of keen intelligence, selflessness and work ethic,” explained Pollard. “Her focus and energy are seemingly limitless in service to others. She is devoted to the liberal arts and sciences as major fields and as support of other more vocationally-oriented programs.”

Kehoe added that Jagger’s lifelong commitment to service shows through leading student mission trips, building houses with Habitat for Humanity, helping with homeless shelters and agencies that help the impoverished.

“She will be a witness to Newman University’s code of empowering graduates to transform society,” Kehoe said. “That has been her lifelong mission.”

Jagger emphasized that her faith has always been an important and top priority in her life. Being able to combine her career and love for God by helping others through their own faith journey is something she anticipates with great joy.

“I have served most of my academic career at small, liberal arts colleges that have the power to transform the lives of emerging adults,” she said. “My faith is of primary importance to me and I believe that asking students to explore their own faith tradition, or lack thereof, is an essential part of a liberal education and becoming an adult who is focused on serving the needs of others. 

“Therefore, serving a genuinely inclusive Catholic institution with a strong tradition of liberal arts and intentional preparation of students for diverse careers through a critical consciousness to be sensitive to the inequity and injustices in our world, is an extraordinary opportunity.”