Students weigh in on presidential search

The search is on for the next St. Thomas president.

A crowd of more than 50 students attended a student forum Monday, May 14, afternoon in Schoenecker Arena to voice what qualities they want in the next potential university president. Current university president the Rev. Dennis Dease announced last week that he will retire after the 2012-2013 school year after serving 22 years as university president.

Students like junior Nick Sacren put an emphasis on finding someone who understands how to accommodate different departments and classes for students.

“What was unique about St. Thomas and why I decided to come here was the integration of liberal arts with the business program,” junior Nick Sacren said. “If it wasn’t for that integration… I could have chosen (University of Minnesota) Carlson.”

Sophomore Nathaniel Binversie said he almost transferred to the University of Wisconsin but chose to stay at St. Thomas because of its mission and vision. One thing that he said he’d like the future president to make a priority is “Tommie pride.”

“One of the many free T-shirts I remember seeing being handed out was a T-shirt that read ‘Tommie Pride,’” Binversie said. “This school is low, very low, when it comes to Tommie pride among students. If you can’t see that, you haven’t been to a playoff football game or playoff basketball game.”

The Rev. Dennis Dease announced his retirement Thursday, May 10. (Courtesy of St. Thomas)
The Rev. Dennis Dease announced his retirement Thursday, May 10. (Courtesy of St. Thomas)

Biniversie also said he doesn’t expect the next president to be a member of the clergy, but he said that he believes that students expect and desire candidates who will stay true to the St. Thomas mission statement.

Several students also expressed a concern for the lack of student body campus involvement. Many would like to see an increase in Greek life on campus and the sense of family and community that Greek life offers.

Dennis Barton, a representative from the executive search firm Witt/Kieffer, is in charge of finding possible candidates. He said this is the third start-up for a presidential search he has performed in the last three weeks, and said the forum had a high student turnout.

“From my perspective, that’s an index of the degree to which you and your fellows out there in the student body care about the future of this institution,” Barton said.

Barton said a presidential search website will launch within the next few weeks where students and other community members who weren’t able to attend the forum can offer their opinion on what qualities they would like to see in the next St. Thomas president.

“I want you to know your voice is heard and respected in this process,” Barton said. “The future of this institution is your future.”

Kristopher Jobe can be reached at

10 Replies to “Students weigh in on presidential search”

  1. This article misses/misrepresents a couple of important things about the forum. First, there were only two students out of the fifty or more who said anything about Greek life, which doesn’t count as “many” by anyone’s standard. Second, this article misses (for some odd reason) the fact that most of the students who had input made it clear that an important quality in the next president was dedication to the Catholic identity of UST.

  2. Is this a joke? Students cite the ability to integrate liberal arts and business, staying true to the St. Thomas mission, support for Greek life, and the promotion of Tommie pride as what they want most from the new university president. We’re not selecting a student services representative; we’re talking about the president of the university. Integration is a programmatic issue and staying true to the mission isn’t exactly a high threshold to meet. Support for Greek life is a minor social concern and there’s a reason why Tommie pride is low—for many students St. Thomas was their safety school and they really want to be elsewhere. The next president needs to be a serious academic of the highest caliber, with national and international standing. Anything less and St. Thomas will not get the respect it craves within the academy. There’s a reason why the peer assessment scores for St. Thomas are so low. Few serious academics outside the Twin Cities know it exists. We can talk all we want about the value of a St. Thomas education, but many within academia view us as mediocre.  We need a strong figurehead who can represent St. Thomas well in the highest of academic environments and take the university to new heights, all while retaining what makes the place special.  …

  3. The most important quality we need in Fr. Dease’s successor is a devout Catholic, loyal to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church and the unique mission  and responsibilities of a Catholic university. We need someone who is proud of UST’s Catholic identity and who will work to strengthen and safeguard it. This should be the paramount issue when choosing Fr. Dease’s successor, and I hope and pray Archbishop Nienstedt will be consulted and have a say in the process.

  4. Michael: Devotion shouldn’t be the primary criterion by which the new president is selected. If this were the case, then large swaths of the Catholic student population at St. Thomas would be highly qualified for the position. Would selecting a highly devout student for the office of president be a good idea? Devotion alone doesn’t make for a competent administrator and that’s why selecting a devout St. Thomas student for the office of president would be unwise.

    An argument could be made that such an emphasis on devotion actually demeans the faith. We are seeking a professional educator to lead St. Thomas. Once we turn Catholic devotion into a professional credential, touted by candidates in the same way they would work history and advanced education, we move it into the realm of the ordinary.

    We need to find a group of candidates who are serious academics of the highest caliber, with national and international standing. Once this group has been identified the question of their devotion could come into play. We might even want to say that a successful candidate must be devout, but this shouldn’t be the starting point. Archbishop Nienstedt will likely be consulted on the matter, but he’s not an educator so his input will likely be at the edges.            

  5. To say that Archbishop Nienstedt is not an educator is a gross understatement.  However, I agree (with both of you) that the future president must first be of high academic caliber and understand and practice the teachings of the Catholic Church.  Lucky for us, this is not an absurd request.

  6. I totally agree with you Liz. That statement about the Most Reverend John C. Nienstedt was a gross understatement. I believe Archbishop Nienstedt will put great effort into this search for a new president. Also, we DO need someone who is a devout Catholic as well as high academic caliber. I mean, the last thing I want is a president donating funds to Planned Parenthood or telling us to protest Chick-Fil-A (if there is a future one in MN). I want a President where students are able to reach him and not his 3rd or 4th secretary. Also, I would prefer the tradition of private Catholic University’s priest being the President.

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