Connecticut's Quinnipiac University, after 30 years, will not march in the 2019 New York St. Patrick's Day and is considering its commitment to its Great Hunger Museum and Great Hunger Institute.
This year’s New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade will be minus one popular contingent that has marched for nearly 30 years, as Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut has canceled both its annual sponsorship and its place in the line of march.
But more worrying, several sources told the Irish Voice are questions surrounding Quinnipiac’s future commitment to its Great Hunger Museum and Great Hunger Institute, both of which were established by Dr. John Lahey, the former president of Quinnipiac who retired last June.
Lahey’s replacement, Judy Olian, assumed the presidency on July 1, 2018, after spending 12 years as the dean of UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. Sources have told Irish Voice that Olian, 67, a native of Australia, has shown little to no interest in preserving the significant commitment to Irish scholarship that Lahey championed and which greatly helped the school with its outreach to Irish Americans in the tri-state area and other states like Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
“It seems like she doesn’t see the value of the work that John did with Irish studies and the Irish American community. Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum is a world-class facility and one of the things that Quinnipiac is best known for. It would be an absolute shame if it didn’t survive under President Olian,” a source told Irish Voice.
When contacted by Irish Voice for comment on Quinnipiac’s future plans for the Great Hunger Museum and Great Hunger Institute, Olian replied on Tuesday with a one-sentence statement:
“We are evaluating all our programs to determine how we can best address the needs of our students.”
Lahey, now the president emeritus of Quinnipiac, is currently living in Florida. In an emailed statement to Irish Voice on Tuesday afternoon about the future of the museum, he said, “The Irish Great Hunger Museum has been an important part of Quinnipiac’s growing international status as an academic institution, and I would hope it remains open on campus.
“With 20 percent of the student body identifying as Irish and 62 percent as Catholic, it is an important reminder of the historical factors that have created this country. And at a time of growing controversies over immigration, it puts down a marker that Quinnipiac welcomes all at a time when that is not always the case in the halls of power.”
Lahey served as president for 31 years and transformed the once small university, increasing enrollment from 1,900 to 10,000, growing the endowment from $3 million to $530 million and creating law and medical schools.
Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum opened in 2012, and the building about a mile and a half off campus contains the world’s largest collection of art related to the Irish Famine. The museum is open to the public and offers many educational and cultural events. It has hosted a number of Irish dignitaries, including President Michael D. Higgins and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
Lahey, the grandson of Irish immigrants, was inspired to delve deeper into the Irish Famine after serving as grand marshal of the New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade in 1997, the 150th anniversary of the Famine’s most tragic year, 1847.
The vice president of Quinnipiac’s Board of Trustees at the time, Murray Lender, was even more dedicated to making sure that Quinnipiac told the story of the Famine that killed one million Irish and forced another million to flee on coffin ships. Lender, famous for Lender’s Bagels, provided financial support for the Lender Family Special Collection Room at Quinnipiac which contains “hundreds of rare volumes on the Famine and related issues,” Ctpost.com reports.
The Great Hunger Institute is on campus at Quinnipiac and “offers lectures, conferences, courses, and publications to provide a deeper understanding of the causes and consequences of the Irish,” according to the university’s website. The director is Dr. Christine Kinealy, the world-renowned Irish historian and expert on the Famine.
“People are really hoping that President Olian takes time to experience and understand the value of all the work that John Lahey and others undertook to making Quinnipiac an authority on the Irish Famine, and how the university has benefitted,” a source told Irish Voice.
As far as the New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade goes, Olian not only put a stop to sponsorship, which was in the low six figures, but she also sent notice that Quinnipiac would not have a marching unit in 2019. The move caught many off guard as the university took part in the parade for nearly three decades.
Earlier this month Quinnipiac sent out an email which said, “After nearly 30 years as a proud supporter of the New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade, the university will not be marching this year. The university has decided to reallocate its resources toward initiatives that we believe will further enhance the student experience. Thank you to everyone who has celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with Quinnipiac over the years.”
Quinnipiac has prominently featured on the WNBC TV live coverage of the parade in past years, and Lahey is the former chairman of the parade’s board of directors. Under his direction, the parade finally put to rest the contentious issue of gay marching units with the 2015 admission of NBC’s LGBT employee group, OUT@NBCUniversal; the Irish Lavender and Green Alliance were admitted the following year.
Several of Quinnipiac’s marchers are furious that the annual tradition of heading to Fifth Avenue to take part in the parade has been nixed, especially since contingents are required to pay only $200 in application fees. They also point to Lahey’s decisiveness in opening up the parade to gay marchers and finally eliminating all the negative headlines and boycotts that their exclusion generated every year. Quinnipiac should be proud of its former president’s role in securing equality, many sources point out.
“It’s like she wants to wipe away all of Dr. Lahey’s Irish achievements, but for what? Getting rid of our parade banner after President Olian hasn’t even served a year is grossly unfair,” a source said.
“How will reallocating the $200 fee enhance the student experience? Quinnipiac’s involvement in the parade should be celebrated.”
The university has done just that in prior years, with plenty of photographs of happy marchers on its social media feeds. “Several hundred Quinnipiac alumni, parents, and friends represented the University this afternoon in New York City's St. Patrick's Day Parade in what has become a beloved decades-long tradition,” one Facebook posting from 2016 said.
“We regret the loss of Quinnipiac as an affiliated marching group and sponsor. Under the leadership of former parade chairman and former Quinnipiac President John Lahey they developed a strong Irish American alumni base with deep ties to our community,” Lane said.
“We have several friends working there and know many proud graduates with Irish American heritage. The Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac commemorates one of the worst human tragedies of the 19th century, the Irish Potato Famine. It would be a big loss for the Irish everywhere if rumors of its closing are true.”