St. John’s University president announces retirement after 2020-21 term

Dr. Gempesaw_headshot
St. John’s University Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw will retire after six years at the private and Catholic university.
Photo courtesy of St. John’s University

St. John’s University President Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw will be retiring at the end of the 2020-21 term.

Gempesaw was appointed president of the private and Catholic university in 2014, becoming the first layperson to lead the institution.

“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 stated. “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, an immigrant from the Philippines, will be concluding a 36-year career in academia once his term ends next year.

When he arrived at St. John’s University — its main campus is located at 8000 Utopia Parkway in Jamaica — he enlisted representatives from various sectors of the university’s community to develop four strategic priorities, which focused on “ensuring student success by 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.”

According to the university, since Gempesaw began his tenure in 2014, St. John’s has seen impressive growth. After five years of steady growth in the size of first-year class and first-year retention rates, a record total enrollment was achieved in 2019. Graduation rates have also increased, with the four-year graduation rates for the May 2019 and May 2020 graduating classes as the highest in the last 30 years.

Data from student surveys show career placement rate of graduates has averaged 94 percent during the past four years, according to the university.

St. John’s University it known for offering substantial financial aid, and in the 2019-20 academic year, the university provided close to $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 tenure came with a paramount commitment to fiscal responsibility. The university instituted measures to prioritize expenditures and allocate its resources carefully to control the rising cost of education. But the university also undertook substantial capital improvement and deferred maintenance projects to enhance teaching and learning environments, with more than 90 percent of all general-purpose classrooms and laboratories receiving upgrades.

St. John’s spokesperson Brian Browne said Gempesaw’s retirement shouldn’t affect the university’s plans to return to campus in the next academic year beginning in the fall.

“Gempesaw is committed to finishing his term,” Browne said. “It’s going to be business as usual, as much as you can say ‘usual’ in these times.”

The university has developed a cross-functional task force of administrators to create a comprehensive re-opening model, following the school’s closure and transition to remote learning in March, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Details about the national search process for St. John’s University’s 18th president, which will include outreach to faculty, students, employees and alumni, will be announced in the near future.

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