Hamden Mayor Lauren Garrett and QU President Judy Olian’s conversation establishes thriving relationship

Amanda Undari, Contributing Writer

Quinnipiac University President Judy Olian and Hamden Mayor Lauren Garrett spoke Feb. 14, about the challenges they have faced as women in leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. The event, which was held in the Mount Carmel auditorium, also worked to showcase improved relations between Hamden and Quinnipiac officials.

The fireside chat, moderated by Dean of the School of Business Holly Raider, focused on Olian’s and Garrett’s experiences with changing demands of leadership during the course of the pandemic and the ways they adapted to those changes. They also shared their perspectives as women in leadership and how they’re using their power to enact inclusion in their hiring processes.  

President Judy Olian (middle) and Hamden Mayor Garrett (right) spoke about their leadership styles during the pandemic. (Jack Spiegel)

Raider’s first question focused on how the pandemic has affected the way leadership is executed.

“There are two aspects of leadership: The here and now, and the tomorrow,” Olian said. “And you can’t forget about either. It was easy to be consumed by the here and now.”

Olian compared leading during the pandemic to a game of whack-a-mole.

“You’re really responsible for the well-being of a community that lives together, learns together and plays together, and you want to be sure that you’re doing the right thing,” Olian said. “Sometimes what we did was not just about our own community, but about the community in which we live, Hamden.”

Garrett, who was sworn in as Hamden mayor in November, said her experience has been a little different.

“It is challenging to have to build connections when sometimes we were reduced to 50% of staff in the building at a time,” Garrett said. “The way that we’ve been doing it is by being extremely present and approachable. We’re there early and staying late.”

Hamden Mayor Lauren Garrett’s conversation with Quinnipiac President Judy Olian shows the progress of the relationship between Hamden and Quinnipiac. (Jack Spiegel)

As the conversation flowed, it moved in the direction of how the pandemic has affected women, and specifically women with young children.

Attributing a report by McKinsey & Company, Olian said four in 10 women think about changing roles due to challenges presented by the pandemic and the unpredictability of kids’ involvement in school.

Garrett, who is the first female mayor of Hamden to be sworn in since 1999, said that men “always have a supportive team behind them.”

“They typically have a wife who’s taking care of all the responsibilities at home, dealing with children and household issues, and women may not have that supportive team or may be doing that supportive work already in addition to being an executive,” Garrett said.

The conversation eventually steered toward diversity in hiring processes, and Garrett said she has multiple female and minority counterparts alongside her.

“By putting people in leadership roles who are absolutely lovely to work with and know so many people, they really help to shape the community,” Garrett said. “We’re bringing more diversity into the town of Hamden.” 

Once the forum opened for questions from attendees, David Tomczyk, associate professor of entrepreneurship and strategy, asked about the new partnership between Garrett and Olian.

“I think this is the first time I’ve actually seen Hamden and QU in the same room with no screaming,” Tomczyk said. 

Dean of the School of Business Holly Raider (right) facilitated the discussion between Garrett (middle) and Olian (left). (Jack Spiegel)

Tomczyk is referring to tensions between former Mayor Curt Leng and the administration at Quinnipiac. According to a Chronicle article published in 2017, the Hamden-Quinnipiac relationship worsened after the medical school was expanded in North Haven and not Hamden. 

Although the meeting was open to the public, no Quinnipiac students attended. This is indicative of an issue of involvement between QU students and the Hamden community, pointed out by Tomczyk.

“Students in the Hamden community have always been pretty much separate,” Tomczyk said. “There isn’t an ongoing partnership where the students feel like they are part owners and that they truly have value in the community.”

Improving the relationship with Quinnipiac is a priority for Garrett, as she said doing so would better the whole community. 

“I know that in the past, the mayor has put in the revenue line that assumes QU will be making a donation to the town,” Garrett said. “This is the first year where we are not going to be putting in a donation line.”

I know that in the past, the mayor has put in the revenue line that assumes QU will be making a donation to the town. This is the first year where we are not going to be putting in a donation line.

— Lauren Garrett, Hamden mayor

According to Garrett, her and Olian have been communicating about the intentions of Quinnipiac’s donations.

“President Olian and I have had discussions about this, and I am aware that QU wants to be able to put their stamp on a project, not just give a blank check,” Garrett said. 

Garrett also said she plans to assist Quinnipiac with its master facility plan by communicating with her staff about commitment to the projects.

“Quinnipiac has a really big goal for this next year with the master facility plan, and I want to make sure that I’m there to help them through the process and that my staff is committed to the projects,” Garrett said.

Tomczyk, who has been working at Quinnipiac for 12 years, said that seeing the mayor come to Quinnipiac and sit down with the university’s president was “a truly awesome and groundbreaking thing.”

“I was super fascinated to see how Hamden and Quinnipiac are getting along,” Tomczyk said. “Over the past 12 years, the relationship has been more contentious.”

After seeing Garrett and Olian interact, Tomczyk said the two women are, “actively seeking to listen.”

“At the end of the day, the messages that we heard from both Judy and Mayor Garrett is that they are both open to new possibilities, and that’s something that we haven’t had for a very long time,” Tomczyk said.

Update 2/16/2022: The Chronicle reported that no Quinnipiac students attended the event, the organizer said there were students in attendance and that the event’s invitation went out to all students, faculty and staff.