Marian University locks up president with 10-year contract

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The longtime president of Marian University who has elevated the profile of the Catholic institution by raising millions of dollars has agreed to lead it for another 10 years.

Marian announced on Friday that trustees of the Indianapolis college awarded the 58-year-old Dan Elsener a 10-year contract, which could extend his run there to a total of at least 20 years.

Board Chairman Bill Eckman, a 1974 graduate of the university and co-founder of GEO Specialty Chemicals in Lafayette, said both Elsener and the board welcomed the opportunity to continue the partnership.

“Having stability of leadership was very important for Marian,” Eckman said. “The board felt very confident in the direction he has taken the school and the leadership he has exhibited. It was a pretty easy meeting of the minds.”

Elsener, a former executive director of the Christel DeHaan Family Foundation, arrived at the small, private school in August 2001. Giving soon surged. Annual fundraising grew from $2.4 million in the 2002 fiscal year to $6.8 million the following year.

Marian’s most ambitious capital campaign, however, started in October 2007 with a $68.2 million effort that has grown to total more than $140 million. The campaign will conclude in 2012—75 years after the university movedto Indianapolis.

The Sisters of St. Francis founded the institution in the southeastern Indiana town of Oldenburg in 1851, but later moved it to Indianapolis so they could train lay women in teaching. Marian College moved into the former Allison mansion on Cold Spring Road on the city’s west side in 1937.

Part of the $140 million campaign includes a $48 million gift from AIT Laboratories founder and CEO Michael Evans. Marian broke ground in August on the Michael A. Evans Center for Health Sciences. The building will house the university’s School of Nursing and the new College of Osteopathic Medicine. The first class of 150 students is set to begin in the fall of 2013.

Evans, a graduate of Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, said he has come to know Elsener well the past 10 years.

“He’s a very dynamic, positive leader,” Evans said. “He’s got a mission, and he’s got a vision of where he wants to go.”

That vision seems to be resonating with potential students. Enrollment has roughly doubled since Elsener’s arrival, to 2,500, and could grow to as much as 4,000 in the future.

Elsener admitted he receives a lot of calls from headhunters, but said finishing what he started is important.

“To go from a small liberal arts college to a big Catholic university is a mammoth haul,” he said. “If I didn’t think there was a big challenge there I wouldn’t have [agreed to extend my contract].”

Others are taking notice as well. Gov. Mitch Daniels on Thursday recognized Elsener’s accomplishments by presenting him with a Sagamore of the Wabash award.

And Marian’s fledgling football program, formed just six years ago, is making noise, too. The No. 2-ranked Knights of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Conference knocked off the No. 6-ranked University of Saint Francis Cougars on Saturday to improve to 8-0 this season.


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