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St. John's University names interim president

Rev. Joseph L. Levesque, former president of Niagara

Rev. Joseph L. Levesque, former president of Niagara University, has been named the interim President of St. John's University. (July 10, 2013) Credit: Handout

St. John's University trustees Wednesday announced the election of an interim president to replace the Rev. Donald Harrington, the Queens institution's longtime leader who is retiring at the end of the month amid a corruption probe.

The Rev. Joseph L. Levesque, former president of Niagara University, a Catholic college of about 3,300 students in western New York, will take the helm at St. John's on Aug. 1.

St. John's board of trustees chairman Peter P. D'Angelo announced Levesque's appointment Wednesday in a letter posted on the university's website and sent to the campus community, including alumni. University spokeswoman Elizabeth Reilly confirmed the announcement.

According to the letter, trustees will launch a national search over the next several months to permanently fill the president's job.

D'Angelo wrote that the board is "confident of a seamless transition" as Harrington steps down as president at the end of this month. He said they know that Levesque "will continue to build on his outstanding record of accomplishment."

Levesque, 74, a native of Sleepy Hollow in Westchester County, was ordained as a Vincentian priest in 1967. He taught religious studies at St. John's Preparatory School in Brooklyn and at St. Joseph's Seminary in Princeton, N.J., before being assigned to Niagara in 1970 as a lecturer in the religious studies department.

In addition to his more than 40 years at Niagara University as an administrator and lecturer, Levesque served in the 1990s as chairman of the board of St. John's and Niagara universities.

Harrington, 67, president of St. John's for 24 years, announced his retirement in May after admitting he had received lavish gifts from a former dean who killed herself during a federal fraud trial last year.

The dean and head of the Asian Studies Program, Cecilia Chang, 59, was found dead in her Jamaica Estates home in November, a day after she testified in her own defense on charges of embezzling $1 million and using foreign students as her personal servants.

Harrington and his chief of staff, Rob Wile, became the subjects of an investigative series in New York Magazine that detailed financial improprieties at the university, including a real estate deal the two men had together and $370,000 in interest-free loans Wile received from the school.

D'Angelo's letter Wednesday gave the investigation passing mention: "The board is in the process of completing its internal investigation and will update the university community concerning that matter later this summer," he wrote.

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