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The former senior assistant dean at the University of San Diego School of Law will oversee continuing discussions and planning between St. Bonaventure and Hilbert College about the possibility of a merger.

Teresa O’Rourke has been appointed executive director of the strategic alliance study being done by the two Catholic colleges.

The institutions have been engaged in talks for nearly a year about how they can partner to become more efficient and offer students a better, more affordable education.

The hiring of O’Rourke, who will be paid with funds from a John R. Oishei Foundation grant, marks another step in that direction, although her addition doesn’t mean the schools have agreed yet on an alliance or merger.

“Teresa is here to facilitate this process going forward,” said Cynthia Zane, Hilbert president. “What we have determined after in-depth discussions over the last 10 months is that this is an idea still very much worth exploring.

“But we’re not done listening,” she said. “One of Teresa’s primary goals, especially early on, will be to compile feedback from a variety of constituent groups at both campuses, including faculty and staff.”

Hilbert has 1,100 students at its campus on South Park Avenue in Hamburg. St. Bonaventure enrolls about 2,300 students on its campus near Olean.

Administrators at the two schools said they needed help to continue the process.

“Her presence will enable the leaders of both institutions to provide adequate direction to both the primary duties they have for their own campus and the increasing work load created by the alliance study,” said Sister Margaret Carney, president of St. Bonaventure. “We remain responsible for the overall conduct of the process, but as important as this potential alliance is, it’s equally important that we’re able to maintain the day-to-day functionality of our own campuses.”

O’Rourke was assistant dean and then senior assistant dean at the University of San Diego School of Law for the past 12 years.

Prior to her appointment in San Diego, she worked as a consultant providing strategic planning and fundraising support to nonprofit and religious organizations.

O’Rourke will maintain offices at both campuses.

email: jtokasz@buffnews.com