Ethical university presidentJohn Lo Schiavo

After growing up in San Francisco, in 1950 Lo Schiavo was hired at the University of San Francisco to teach philosophy. After a brief stint at another university, he returned to USF as the Dean of Students, then the Vice President of Student Affairs and then, in 1977, as the university’s President. The school was famous for its basketball team: over three years starting in 1954, the USF Dons won a record-setting 60 games in a row, a record that stood until UCLA broke it in the 1970s. But the team was beset by scandals, including over recruiting, and had been suspended by the NCAA twice. Then a player was arrested after sexually assaulting a female student in her room; he pleaded guilty to aggravated assault. Then the student admitted in court that a school booster had paid him $5,000 for a “no-show” job. Despite the fame — and money — the basketball program brought to the school, Lo Schiavo said that was “the last straw” and shut down the basketball program at the school indefinitely. “It was an agonizing decision,” says USF’s Then-Vice President of Academic Affairs, Joe Angilella. “But [President Lo Schiavo] maintained very strongly that what we were about at USF and all Jesuit schools was terribly important for our society: that people should be trained thoroughly in ethical principles and be able to say, ‘This is what we stand for.’” School boosters were outraged. “This school will cease to exist without basketball,” one told a reporter. “Our president should have stood up to the NCAA. He should have taken his beating like a man.” But Lo Schiavo, a Jesuit priest, stood firm.

When Queen Elizabeth II visited San Francisco in 1983, she was introduced to Lo Schiavo — and recognized his name. “When are you going to bring back basketball?” she whispered to him. The school president making an ethical stand in the face of popular sports had made worldwide news, and sparked a dialogue about the role of athletics in schools and society. Lo Schiavo didn’t let the team re-form until 1985. Rather than his stand costing the school a fortune, USF’s endowment grew almost 10-fold during Lo Schiavo’s 15 years at the helm, and he was able to purchase another nearby university to give USF room to grow. “I was bound and determined to not let this possibility pass us by,” Lo Schiavo said in 2009. “I didn’t want my successors 50 years from now to think, ‘Who was this jackass who passed up the opportunity to buy the most valuable piece of real estate in San Francisco?’” Father Lo Schiavo suffered from dementia, and died May 15. He was 90.

From This is True for 24 May 2015