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Babson picks Kerry Healey as first female president

Ex-lieutenant governor to put politics behind

Kerry Healey

AP/File

Kerry Healey will leave a Republican committee post.

Former Massachusetts lieutenant governor Kerry Healey was named the next president of Babson College on Sunday night, making her the first woman to lead the college since it was founded nearly 100 years ago.

Healey said she hopes to turn the small business school in Wellesley into a global institution by forging relationships with colleges around the world, and to work to make undergraduate education more affordable and accessible.

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Healey, long a major player in the state and national Republican party, said she will step away from partisan politics and plans to resign her current position as the national committeewoman from Massachusetts on the Republican National Committee.

Her name was floated this year as a potential candidate for John F. Kerry’s Senate seat after he left to serve as Secretary of State.The position at Babson, she said, was “certainly a key factor” in her decision not to run.

“This is a particularly sweet moment for me, because I spoke to my mother this morning about this, and she told me that she was the first woman in our family to go to college,” said Healey. “So I feel particularly honored to be the first woman president of a college only 70 years after she had that honor in our family.”

Babson officials said they were drawn by Healy’s solid resume as a businesswoman and a politician. “We aimed high, and found a leader in Dr. Healey who has lived Babson’s entrepreneurial mission and who has a global network of relationships which can only add to Babson’s reach and influence,” said Joseph L. Winn, chair of the board of trustees.

Healy holds a PhD in political science and law from Trinity College, Dublin.

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Healey served as lieutenant governor under Mitt Romney from 2003 to 2007 and mounted an unsuccessful campaign for governor in 2006, losing to Deval Patrick. From 2010 to 2012, she served as both domestic and foreign policy advisor to Romney’s presidential campaign.

Asked if her retirement from politics comes at a cost to the GOP, she replied: “I leave politics secure in the knowledge that RNC chairman Reince Priebus will continue to pursue the goals laid out in the Growth and Opportunity Project Report, which I feel certain will lead the party forward.”

Healey, 52, will assume the duties of president July 1, and said she plans to stay at least through Babson’s 100th birthday in 2019.

“My first move will be to sit down with the faculty and staff and students and alumnae and hear thoroughly what their hopes and dreams are for Babson, for its second century,” she said.

One challenge the school will have to face: the rising demand for online education.

“I think every school is facing the question of how they interact in a world where online education becomes more available and more accepted,” she said.

Healey said she will also throw her weight into making a Babson education affordable. This school year, according to the college, undergraduate tuition is $41,888. About half of Babson undergraduate students receive financial aid.

“I’m someone who is fortunate to have attended college and graduate school greatly on scholarships,” she said. “I understand the importance of making eduation affordable for everyone.”

Healey said her major focus will be on widening Babson’s sphere of influence.

“What I would love to do, and I believe that Babson is focused on achieving, is to go from being a New England business school with a global reach to being a global institution at the forefront of entrepreneurial education with deep New England roots,” she said

Healey began her career in academia, she said, and she always expected to stay there. But she said that her passion was taking knowledge and turning it into action.

“I’ll be in the position to make sure we have students trained to meld that knowledge from the practical world in academia, to be entrepreneurs and move society forwards,” she said.

Since leaving office in 2007, Healey has led a national effort to reduce child homelessness for the National Center on Family Homelessness, brought humanitarian aid to schools for the disabled in Cuba, and has trained female Afghan parliamentarians in Kabul for the International Republican Institute, according to a statement from the college.

In 2008, she was appointed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as a founding member of the executive committee of the Department of State’s Public-Private Partnership for Justice Reform in Afghanistan, and she later founded a nonprofit to administer the partnership’s programs. Through the partnership, Healey works to promote the rule of law, human rights, women’s rights, and provide legal aid.

She is co-chair of the Parity Project, a bipartisan effort to elect more women to state and federal offices.

Healey was selected as the new president from a pool of more than 170 potential candidates, according to a statement from the college, and will replace current president Len Schlesinger, who will step down at the end of the academic year.

“Babson cares about the same things I do, which is to bring entrepreneurial vision and efforts to bear on the big questions confronting our society and our country,” she said.

Evan Allen can be reached at evan.allen@globe.com

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