Father Dennis Dease, president of the University of St. Thomas since 1991, has announced he we will retire June 30, 2013.
The priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, who turns 69 this month, informed the St. Thomas board of trustees and faculty May 10 about his decision, the school said.
“The timing for my retirement next year will be right for a number of reasons,” Father Dease said. “We will complete our $500 million Opening Doors capital campaign this October, and our preparation for our decennial accreditation visit by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association will conclude next year. Also, I will turn 70 next May, and I have other interests I would like to pursue.”
Father Dease said he plans to continue his work with health-care projects in Uganda, with projects related to Armenian culture and education, and work with the University of Havana in Cuba. He will maintain an office on the St. Paul campus.
Trustee John Morrison will chair a search committee for a new president. The committee — comprised of nine trustees, three faculty members and one staff member — will be appointed by early next month.
Initial steps in the search will include seven open forums May 14 and May 17 for faculty, staff and students to voice their opinions on the qualities they want in a new president.
The university’s bylaws allow only a Roman Catholic — priest, religious or layperson — to serve as president. All 14 presidents of St. Thomas have been priests.
Father Dease is the second-longest-tenured president in St. Thomas’ 127-year history. He succeeded Msgr. Terrence Murphy, who held the office for 25 years.
Long list of accomplishments
During Father Dease’s tenure, St. Thomas continued to evolve into a regional, liberal arts Catholic university with increasing national recognition for its academic programs. His accomplishments include the following:
• Three rounds of strategic planning — in 1994-95, 1999-2000 and 2005-2006 — guided St. Thomas and led to the development of the strategic directions of access, excellence and Catholic identity.
• Degree programs were created in areas such as business (full-time MBA), Catholic studies, educational leadership, electrical and mechanical engineering, entrepreneurship, health-care management, law and organizational development.
• Two capital campaigns have raised more than $700 million. The Ever Press Forward campaign, which concluded in 2001, raised $250 million. The Opening Doors campaign, which will conclude in October, has raised $455 million toward its $500 million goal. Invested assets, including pledges, increased from $100 million in 1991 to $451 million in 2011.
• Twenty building projects led to a $350 million bricks-and-mortar investment. The Minneapolis campus expanded from one to four buildings in a decade, and St. Paul campus projects included four classroom buildings, a student center, an athletic and recreation complex, two apartment-style residence halls, a child development center and a parking ramp.
• St. Thomas has become more racially and ethnically diverse, and international programs have grown. The student-of-color population has tripled (to 14 percent) and three times as many international students are enrolled. Greater study abroad opportunities exist, with four times as many students studying abroad.
• The Center for Catholic Studies was founded to strengthen the university’s Catholic identity. Other initiatives included the opening of the law school and the Rome campus and the expansion of the Murray Institute, through which 700 teachers and principals in archdiocesan schools have received tuition-free graduate degrees.
Focused on mission
Father Dease said the school’s “culture of service” is what drives him, and he sees the same interest among the school’s faculty and staff.
“They love to interact with students — to teach, to mentor, to advise and to coach,” he writes in his “Up Front” column in the spring issue of St. Thomas magazine, which will be published later this month. “They unselfishly share a common goal of providing the best possible education for each and every student.”
He said he always has viewed his job through the lens of how best to advance the university’s mission.
“That is a lofty charge, and one I have never taken lightly,” he writes in the magazine. “For over two decades it has inspired me and motivated me. I truly believe that as long as the university remains focused on this singular objective, it will continue to render its optimal service to society: to change for the better the lives of students, and in the process to change the entire equation.
“I see the mission statement etched in bronze on the wall outside my office every day when I walk in. It has been for me a constant reminder of what we’re about. At times it has even served as an examination of conscience — for me, and for the institution.”