Father Dennis Dease is grateful for many things that have happened during the past 21 years he has served as president of the University of St. Thomas.
“Right near the top would be opening the doors here at St. Thomas to a number of international students, particularly from some African countries,” said Father Dease, who announced May 10 that he we will retire June 30, 2013.
“I feel very good that we have had 40-some Ugandan students in the last 10 years or so [12 graduated this year],” he said.
The University of St. Thomas, he said, educates students to think critically, act wisely and work skillfully to advance the common good.
“It’s amazing how many of our students have developed projects to do just that,” he said. “One of our [African] students brought electricity to his whole village by installing solar cells. . . . Another student started a maternity pediatric hospital.”
It’s not just the African students that are inspired by Catholic social teaching, he said, but many UST students who are giving back to their communities.
Father Dease said “the timing for my retirement next year will be right for a number of reasons.”
“We will complete our $500 million Opening Doors capital campaign this October,” he said, “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.
“I am not ready to spend my days watching The Weather Channel,” he said “I look forward to pursuing something close to my heart.” 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 included open forums May 14 and May 17, where faculty, staff and students voiced 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.
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.
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. “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.
“I see the mission statement etched in bronze on the wall outside my office every day when I walk in,” he writes in the magazine.
“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.”
The Catholic Spirit News Editor Pat Norby contributed to this article.