Jim Cawley Leads the Way at Rosemont College

Jim Cawley just might be the guy to lead Rosemont College out of crisis mode.

Jim Cawley describes himself as a patient man—and here’s proof: He met his wife, Suzanne, in 1987, during senior week in Wildwood, but she didn’t agree to go out with him for the first time until 13 years later. “She asked me out,” he says, laughing.

In 2021, when he had to withdraw his name from consideration for Rosemont College’s president spot to help care for Suzanne and their son, Nicholas, Cawley figured it was just another instance of his professional career slowing down for a moment. Certainly, something else would arise. “My wife said to me, ‘Maybe Rosemont will call back,’” Cawley says.

That seemed unlikely. Jayson Boyers, the man who took the job, had a five-year contract. Cawley was probably headed for the private sector, perhaps as part of a law firm or lobbying concern.

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But Rosemont did indeed call back. On June 1, 2022, Jim Schultz, vice chairman of the college’s board of trustees, asked Cawley if he’d have time to speak with board chair Maria Feeley. Boyers had given his notice, and Rosemont needed a president.

In the nine months since Cawley had removed himself from consideration, Suzanne had made significant progress in her fight against early-stage breast cancer, and Nicholas was thriving in high school. “The trustees were meeting at noon the next day,” Cawley says. “I gave Maria permission to put my name in front of the board. At 12:30, Maria called and said, ‘When can you start?’”

The appointment had capped a year of uncertainty for Cawley. It began when new Temple University president Jason Wingard informed him that he would no longer be vice president of institutional advancement, a job he’d taken four years earlier after directing the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey. As Cawley negotiated his family’s health challenges and surveyed the professional opportunities available, he never stopped thinking about Rosemont. As he went through the application process the first time, he “fell in love with the place.”

Cawley
Jim Cawley. Tessa Marie Images

Now, he’s intent on helping the small Catholic institution survive and grow in a challenging time for higher education—one filled with mergers and buyouts between schools, various enrollment crises, and a growing student pushback against high costs. Cawley must increase fundraising, improve academic rigor and sell students and their parents on the idea that spending four years there—“not five or six”—will result in a defined career path and an education that helps them thrive. Cawley is committed to making that happen. “We’re going to continue to raise academic rigor and attract the best faculty we can,” he says.

During the pandemic, people working at Temple University would look forward to online meetings when Cawley was in the mix. “You’d get on and have a genuine, fun conversation,” says Ken Kaiser, Temple’s COO. “Afterward, you’d feel better about the outlook for Temple and believe that the pandemic would pass. He wasn’t acting. That’s who Jim is.”

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A graduate of what’s now Conwell-Egan Catholic High School, Cawley became the first member of his family to earn a college degree—from Temple in 1991. While there, he served in student government as speaker of the student assembly and decided to trade a potential career in TV journalism for law school. He graduated with a law degree from Temple in 1994. Instead of heading right to work in the field, he entered politics, first as a campaign aide and later as a chief of staff for state senator Tommy Tomlinson.

Rosemont’s current enrollment is just 1,000 students. Cawley wants to increase that number by 25%.

In 2001, Cawley and a few friends started Rudolph, Pizzo & Associates. (“I was the associates,” he quips.) He left the firm in 2005 to become a Bucks County commissioner. Six years later, he was elected Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor, despite being relatively unknown outside the area. “In 2009, there was a big article in the Philadelphia Inquirer about all the people running for lieutenant governor and a little bit of handicapping the field,” he recalls. “You know who wasn’t in there?”

Take a guess. But Cawley won anyway, joining Tom Corbett in Harrisburg. Four years later, after Tom Wolf took the spot, Cawley was again looking for opportunities—and one found him. As a United Way CEO, he helped expand opportunities for early-childhood learning. He was also a trustee at Temple—so when his alma mater offered him the development job, “it was like being called home,” Cawley says.

Now at Rosemont, he’s invigorated by the challenges. The school’s current enrollment is just 1,000 students. Feeley says its small size makes it “more nimble.” But there’s no question that Rosemont and other Catholic schools in the area are immersed in an unstable environment, as Villanova University’s recent purchase of struggling Cabrini proves. Though Feeley says Rosemont is comfortable with its enrollment, Cawley wants to increase student numbers by 25%. He also wants the school to continue offering opportunities for first-generation students to move ahead. He hit his first-year fundraising target ahead of schedule, and he’s helped put a strategic plan in place.

Feeley and the rest of the search committee members were disappointed when Cawley dropped out in 2021. “Honestly, I feel like this is how it was supposed to have happened all along,” says Feeley, a Rosemont alum who’s been a board member since 2012. “So much in life is timing and luck. This is perfect timing.”

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