The red devil with the pointy white ears and pitchfork — University of the Sciences’ mascot — has been gracefully retired, along with the school colors and name.
Now, those devils are hawks — St. Joseph’s University Hawks — and as the saying goes: “The Hawk will never die.”
The merger of the health and sciences university into the Catholic university — about 18 months in the making — is now official. Click on the USciences website, and it redirects to St. Joseph’s. USciences’ board of trustees no longer exists, though four of its members — two of them coincidentally St. Joe’s alumni — are now on St. Joseph’s board. USciences’ signs and banners are being replaced with St. Joseph’s signs and banners. There will be a single alumni association. And in June, new students to both campuses will have a unified orientation, with breakout sessions at the campus where they will live.
“We’re at that point right now where we’re ready to go,” said St. Joseph’s president Mark C. Reed, who will be departing in August to become president of Loyola University Chicago.
The new combined St. Joseph’s will hold a news conference at the University City campus Wednesday morning, and by evening, Boathouse Row, the Peco building, and other city landmarks are scheduled to be lit in St. Joe’s colors of crimson and gray in celebration.
By adding USciences, St. Joseph’s automatically has 26 new programs in its repertoire “that have the ability to transform our institution for the future,” said provost Cheryl McConnell, who will become interim president when Reed leaves.
They include programs in pharmacy, physician assistant, physical therapy, and occupational therapy, all cornerstones of a USciences education. Genomics, cancer biology, and neuroscience are among other adds. And the university already is talking about potential programs that could be developed, such as pharmaceutical marketing, pharmaceutical engineering, and “nutraceuticals” — the combination of food and pharma.
Combined, the institutions will enroll more than 9,000 undergraduate and graduate students, employ nearly 400 full-time faculty, and have an endowment in excess of a half-billion dollars, an operating budget over $300 million, assets of $1.2 billion, and an alumni network of nearly 100,000.
“I’m incredibly optimistic and hopeful that this ultimately will lead to a wave of innovation, creativity, and accomplishments that we can’t even possibly conceive of at this point in time,” Reed said.
But Reed said he understands that the merger isn’t fully in swing just because a date on the calendar flipped.
“It’s going to take time for people to experience the university as a single entity, and we’re aware of that,” he said. “Students who applied to USciences only visited there. That’s where they expect to live and spend the majority of their time, and that’s what will happen. But over time, we certainly expect and foresee much greater integration.”
The culture of a Catholic university may take some adaptation, too. Some students expressed anger in April when USciences’ student health center said it no longer would dispense birth control once the merger took effect. But Reed said St. Joseph’s Jesuit identity was known from the start and a drawing point for USciences.
It was USciences that initiated merger talks with St. Joseph’s, which was on the hunt for health and science programs. In February 2021, the schools announced they were exploring a merger to help them grow and thrive in an increasingly challenging higher-education market. A little less than a year ago, their boards voted to proceed with the process — and a process it has been.
The merger required a series of approvals, including a nod from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, which came in March, and another from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, which just came in May. Even the U.S. Department of Justice had to sign off, given the size of the schools and the value of their assets, Reed said.
The universities’ email, phone, and computer systems, and policies and processes, had to be evaluated and integrated. Even their policies governing intellectual property had to be combined. Some practices of USciences will be incorporated into St. Joseph’s. St. Joseph’s, for example, is adapting USciences’ human resources, finance, and payroll system as its own.
In mid-May, Reed signed off on faculty handbook policies and procedures developed by educators at both schools, including a process for non-tenure track faculty appointments, which USciences had in place. Known as professors of practice in some institutions, they are faculty who are experts in their fields but didn’t train as professors.
“We didn’t just take one or the other,” McConnell said. “We really came up with a better policy going forward.”
There will be one student government and combined student activities. USciences’ sports program, which was Division II, will no longer exist; St. Joseph’s is Division I. But scholarships already in place for USciences’ athletes will continue to be honored, Reed said, and combined club sports will continue.
Under the merger, both campuses, which are less than five miles apart, will be retained. The St. Joseph’s campus, which straddles the Philadelphia/Lower Merion border, will be known as the Hawk Hill campus, and USciences will become the University City campus.
Interest in the merger from other universities has been building, Reed said, so much so that later this month, Reed and McConnell will present a webinar on what they learned. It will be hosted by Stephen Spinelli Jr., who had been president of the former Philadelphia University when it was merged with Thomas Jefferson University in 2017. Spinelli had served as chancellor of Jefferson after the merger and then in 2019 became president of Babson College, an entrepreneurship-focused school in Massachusetts.
“People are intrigued by it, and impressed by it, and they kind of want to know how it came about,” Reed said of the St. Joseph’s merger.
St. Joseph’s is having conversations with other potential partners, too, though no one on the scale of USciences, Reed said.
“We have been talking very openly on our campus about nursing being a fit at St. Joe’s,” Reed said. “Is that something we can start ourselves or can we acquire it from another entity or some other partnership?”
But at least for a day, Reed and McConnell will relish the birth of a new era at St. Joseph’s, one that didn’t come easy. When the merger talk started, employees brainstormed on all the things that would have to be done and filled up multiple whiteboards and then went about tackling them one by one.
“We knew it was going to be hard work, and it was,” McConnell said.