Dr. Joseph J. McGowan was appointed Bellarmine University’s third president in 1990. He came to the position uniquely qualified, having served for twenty-one years at Fordham University in New York as vice president and dean. Before that he was an admissions and financial aid officer at the University of Notre Dame. He received his doctorate in higher education from Columbia University in New York and earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Notre Dame. He was also a graduate of Harvard University’s Institute for Educational Management.
Dr. McGowan led the transformation of Bellarmine College to Bellarmine University, which has been named as one of the region’s best comprehensive schools by U.S. News and World Report for 21 consecutive years. Bellarmine University is included in the Princeton Review’s “Best Colleges,” and the Kiplinger Report names Bellarmine one of the nation’s top 100 best values for the dollar in private higher education.
With the creation of five new schools and centers, and more than 30 new academic programs, Bellarmine has experienced dramatic, sustained enrollment increases, including a 62 percent increase in the number of first-time full-time students over the past 10 years – while maintaining the 12-1 teacher student ratio that is the hallmark of Bellarmine’s liberal arts experience.
Student life has been enriched by the establishment of Campus Ministry, a Student Counseling Center, Health Center, and Commuter Student Center. Since 2005, the number of students in residence has grown from 476 to 1,100.
Under Dr. McGowan’s leadership, providing resources for Bellarmine has been very successful as efforts have resulted in an increase of more than 15% in the University’s operating budget revenue over a 3-year period ending in 2014, as well as a 122% increase in the University’s endowment since 2005. The beautiful 175-acre campus has seen an increase in the number of buildings from 15 in 1990 to 57 buildings today, including four new residence halls, providing 940,000 square feet of teaching and living space.
In addition to his leadership on the Bellarmine campus, Dr. McGowan was active in the civic and service life of the community, Commonwealth and nation. He served on the boards of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of which he was a past chair, the American Council on Higher Education, the Council of Independent Colleges, the Executive Committee of Greater Louisville Inc., the Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities, Kentuckiana Metroversity, the Frazier International History Museum, Norton Healthcare and the J. B. Speed Art Museum.
In Vision 2020, Dr. McGowan envisioned Bellarmine University as the premier independent Catholic university in the South and thereby the leading private university in the Commonwealth and region, and was involved in building the University’s faculty, academic and student life, and building the resources to realize Vision 2020.