Dease updates faculty, discusses next capital campaign, mission and vision, and major challenges facing university

Dease updates faculty, discusses next capital campaign, mission and vision, and major challenges facing university

Editor's note: Father Dennis Dease, president of St. Thomas, spoke to faculty and administrators at the annual academic convocation Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 6, in St. Mary's Chapel. In case you missed the convocation, Dease’s remarks follow. Or, listen to them here.


It’s a great pleasure for me to welcome new and returning faculty and professional staff to the beginning of another academic year. I know that there are members of the faculty who have been teaching through much of the summer, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them.

I also want to offer a special greeting to a retired faculty member who has joined us today: Dr. Harry Webb. I know I speak for everyone here when I say that it is always a pleasure to see members of our emeritus faculty and staff back on campus.  


Many of you have been asking what St. Thomas is doing to help those who have lost their homes and their universities to Hurricane Katrina. We have offered our relatively few open seats in undergraduate courses to those who were planning to attend colleges that are now closed due to flooding. We are making this as cost-neutral as possible to the students by matching whatever financial aid they were to have received from Xavier, Loyola or any other New Orleans area university. Several students have taken us up on this offer and will be here this fall as non-degree, temporary students. We will keep you updated on our efforts through Bulletin Today.

Construction projects
If you have spent much time on our St. Paul and Minneapolis campuses this summer, you have seen a lot of construction cranes, trucks, backhoes and workers busy on many projects. It has been, perhaps, the busiest summer we ever have had in terms of construction activity. Four major projects should be noted here:

  • Electrical loop: We installed a new 13,800-volt electrical feeder system for the main campus in St. Paul. The old 4,160-volt system had outlived its usefulness, and we have been living on borrowed time. We chose to bury the new electrical vaults instead of placing them above grade, and as a result we had to dig five large holes near Aquinas Hall, O’Shaughnessy Educational Center, Dowling Hall, Brady Hall and St. John Vianney Seminary. The project cost $3 million.
  • Selby Hall residence: About 435 additional undergraduate students are living on campus this fall because of the opening of a new apartment-style residence hall on Selby Avenue and the availability of apartments in the Child Development Center on Finn Street.

    The 418-bed Selby Hall is part of our effort to encourage more students, especially juniors and seniors, to live on campus. About 90 students who lived off campus last year have returned to live in Selby Hall, which also will be home for more than 300 students who otherwise would have moved off campus.

  • Schulze Hall: The first classes will be held tomorrow in Schulze Hall, which is home to the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship in the College of Business on the Minneapolis campus.

    The $22 million, 86,000-square-foot building has wireless access and includes 11 multi-functional classrooms, a 320-seat auditorium, labs for students who are launching businesses, offices for our entrepreneurship faculty and our expanded Food for Thought dining facility.

    We will dedicate the building on Oct. 20, when Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Richard Schulze, the founder of Best Buy and a St. Thomas trustee, will speak to students. It was Mr. Schulze’s gift that made possible the new building and school.

  • Business education building: Construction is under way on a new business education building on the southwest corner of Summit and Cleveland avenues.

    The three-story, 75,000-square-foot building will be constructed atop a one-level, 120-space underground parking garage. College of Business faculty will move into the new building next summer.

Record first-year class
I would also like to thank everyone whose work has enabled us to accommodate a record freshman class, 1,325 strong. This is 155 more students than we ever have had in a freshman class.  

This freshman class is a very talented group whose academic credentials are as strong as any we have admitted. Although we do not expect in future years to admit as many first-year students, the opportunity provided by our exceptionally deep applicant pool and additional housing will enable us to make a substantial dent in recent budget deficits. 

The next capital campaign:
What it will mean for students and faculty

In recent months we have been quietly preparing to embark upon a highly ambitious effort that will advance the University of St. Thomas to a whole new level of access and excellence.   Making our way to this new plane will not be easy. It will require, in addition to seven years of hard work on the part of our talented and dedicated institutional advancement staff, an unprecedented degree of involvement and leadership from deans and directors, extraordinary leadership from our trustees, unparalleled generosity from benefactors, and the wholehearted support of faculty and staff. I am speaking, of course, of our next capital fund-raising effort.

You and I have been setting the stage for this endeavor for several years now, most notably through our work on the Self-Study Report published in August 2003, for the 10-year visit by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. The commission noted:

What particularly impressed the team was the deep awareness of [the] challenges which were openly discussed in the institution’s very candid and self-critical Self-Study . . .

As a result the Self Study at St. Thomas is, in fact, functioning as the Higher Learning Commission and the Consultant-Evaluators have long advocated.   The Self-Study is now the model at UST for forward planning . . . 1

The knowledge gained from that self-examination has served as a most useful springboard to a process of envisioning the future of the University of St. Thomas, given sufficient resources. The vision can be summed up in two words: access and excellence. To achieve that vision will require a sizeable infusion of funding.  

Last May our board of trustees authorized a new capital fund-raising effort. Each of our previous campaigns has changed the institution dramatically. I have no doubt that success in this new effort will result in an even more remarkable transformation, impacting this university in ways we can yet scarcely imagine. How will St. Thomas change? What will that next level of success look
like? There will be:

  • An increase in applications across the university
  • More student financial aid for deserving students and less pressure to increase the level of tuition discounting
  • Stable enrollments in a time of demographic change
  • Higher retention and graduation rates
  • Sufficient resources to recruit and retain the very best faculty, and
  • Better facilities.

In other words, our forthcoming campaign will be aimed not as much at brick and mortar or program expansion as in the past. We can now focus our attention on assuring access to future students and deepening the quality of our faculty and programs. In short, this capital fund-raising effort will focus on access and excellence, thereby enabling us to carry out our mission more effectively.

What will it take to achieve these noble goals? The answer can be summed up in one word: endowment. An examination of any university that as emerged as a center of excellence will reveal that its quality has been made possible through endowment. As of June 30 our invested portfolio totaled about $352 million, and the portion that functions as endowment was $249 million. Though this may seem to be a lot of money, it is actually rather modest when one considers the endowment dollars per full-time equivalent (or FTE) student.

What do I mean by excellence? I realize that excellence can be an over-used word in higher education, but I think virtually every one would agree it is a function, on any campus, of the quality of the people who form an academic community. Excellence is about recruiting, retaining, developing and nurturing the very best teachers and scholars. Excellence is about attracting, enrolling and graduating gifted students of diverse backgrounds and academic interests. Excellence is about shaping a vibrant, challenging “life of the mind” environment on campus that not only spurs the intellectual and affective development of its members, but builds character and enhances the integration of faith and reason among students, faculty and staff.  

This type of excellence cannot be achieved through operating revenues alone, but also requires a larger endowment. That endowment is needed to fund chairs and professorships. It is needed to fund research and provide enterprise dollars for schools and academic units. And, perhaps most important, it is needed to fund scholarships and financial aid for worthy and needy students. That is the issue, the increasingly important issue, of access.  

In order to provide that access and to successfully recruit the type of student we want, we are developing an undergraduate scholarship program that we are tentatively calling the “Community Builders Scholarship.” The objective is to make a St. Thomas education available to those who are most likely to use their skills to advance the common good and work toward the betterment of society. 

I am happy to report that two outstanding trustees, Dick Schulze and John Morrison, have agreed to chair our capital campaign. I am also pleased to announce that Gerry Rauenhorst, Guy Schoenecker, Gene Frey, Harry McNeely and Dave Koch, all longtime trustees and benefactors, have agreed to serve as honorary co-chairs. I could not be happier with or more confident in the leadership that has been assembled to assist us at this time in our history as we pursue significant additional resources to more effectively carry out our mission.

Mission and vision

Our mission
One of the recommendations of our Self-Study was to revise our mission statement. Since such a task requires the “buy-in” of all of the university’s constituents I feared the process might take the better part of a decade – to be candid. Fortunately, however, under the extraordinary leadership of Gene Scapanski and the Mission Task Force, that undertaking was accomplished in a year’s time. That newly revised mission statement reads:

Inspired by Catholic intellectual tradition, the University of St. Thomas educates students to be morally responsible leaders who think critically, act wisely, and work skillfully to advance the common good. 2

This statement captures the spirit of our mission. Students “think critically” because they are liberally educated. They “act wisely” because they have been enriched by an environment that respects the role of faith in modern life. They “work skillfully to advance the common good” because they have received a first-rate professional education.

Our vision
What this all means is that we will take significant steps toward achieving those aspirations so clearly spelled out in our Vision Statement, also revised last year. It states:

We seek to be a recognized leader in Catholic higher education that excels in effective teaching, active learning, scholarly research and responsible engagement with the local community as well as with the national and global communities in which we live. 3

We will achieve this vision by making St. Thomas an excellent teaching university and by making it affordable – in other words, by providing access and excellence to a diverse pool of students.  

A teaching university
Do all of the changes mean that the St. Thomas of the past will cease to exist?  

There is no doubt that St. Thomas has changed. It is clearly no longer the small, men’s liberal arts college it once was. It was recognition of that evolution that prompted the institution in 1990 to change its name from “College” to “University.” With this advancement has come a new emphasis on the importance of faculty engagement of the profession, and some faculty ask, “Is St. Thomas evolving into a basic research university?” The answer is “no.” That simply is not our mission. St. Thomas is a teaching university where, as our vision statement affirms, “effective teaching” and “active learning” remain our top priorities.  

It is true that there is a higher expectation today regarding faculty scholarship than there was a generation ago. Scholarship, understood in the context of Ernest Boyer’s expanded definition of the term, 4 is important if faculty are to model the increasing importance of lifelong learning.   It is also essential if faculty are to remain vital in the classroom. Faculty research, too, contributes to a better understanding and more effective addressing of this region’s complex social and economic challenges.  

Nevertheless, St. Thomas continues to be an institution of higher learning where priority is given to teaching and student learning. We are today, as Dr. Thomas Rochon has said, a “teaching university.” 5

What is a teaching university? A teaching university is a place of active, inquiry-based learning that effectively combines liberal and professional education. The faculty are about to engage in a collective consideration of what it means to be a teaching university and how we can more fully embody this hybrid model, which is neither a classic libe
ral arts college nor a traditional research university. 

Although there will be different emphases in the sciences, the humanities, the social sciences and the professional programs, key elements of the teaching university include broad emphasis on active, inquiry-based learning, on service and community-based learning, and on faculty research that fosters student learning. We learned this past summer that the Bush Foundation has approved a new grant of $450,000 enabling us to continue the work to enhance inquiry-based learning that has been underway here for three years under the very able leadership of Dr. Robert Werner. This will transform the curriculum, strengthen teaching, and enhance student learning. 

If we are a teaching university today, what will we be tomorrow? Tomorrow we shall be an even better teaching university! The research carried out by our faculty serves that end. It also flows from the “urban” commitment of St. Thomas. Our faculty often direct their research toward a better understanding of the vexing challenges facing our community. Our “urban” commitment also means that our curricular agenda, especially in the area of professional education, is influenced by the community’s ever-changing educational needs. In turn, the city contributes to the education of our students by serving as a rich laboratory for learning.  

This university also remains steadfastly and enthusiastically committed to liberal learning as both the foundation and the inspiration for its entire curriculum at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. This is part of what makes us distinctive and remains as important to our mission today as it ever was. Of course, at the undergraduate level, the core curriculum serves as the base of that foundation, and I strongly encourage the Core Curriculum Review Committee and the faculty to complete their thorough review of the core. I also suggest the careful consideration of adopting a first-year experience that will increase retention and more importantly, contribute to even greater curricular coherence by giving our students a better understanding of the meaning of a Catholic, liberal arts education.

Major challenges facing St. Thomas

The daunting challenge of affordability
As our 2003 Self-Study articulates so well, serious challenges will confront the University of St. Thomas in the years ahead. We will need to find new ways to assist students to overcome what Microsoft founder Bill Gates has called one of the greatest barriers to a college education: the inability to pay for it. 6

A phenomenon that began unfolding in the United States in the 1980s and has been accelerating since 1999 is the sorting of higher education enrollments by family income and social class. According to research reported by

What is emerging is a well-defined system of class-based higher education opportunity in the United States . . . Students from low and lower middle income families are increasingly concentrated in 2-year colleges, especially public 2-year colleges. Students from upper middle and high income families are increasingly concentrated in 4-year colleges. 7

One of the distinguishing features of American higher education is that it has long served as a powerful engine of social mobility. That, however, is changing. Again, as reports:

A person from the top quartile of family income was nine times more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree by age 24 than was another person from the bottom quartile of family income. Moreover, since the late 1970s the bachelor’s degree attainment rate by age 24 has increased by 30 percent for those from the top family income quartile, but has not increased at all for those from the bottom family income quartile. 8

Our analysis of recently released Census Bureau data portrays a consistent and powerful relationship between family income and school enrollment. More income leads to earlier and later school enrollment, it increases probability for private school enrollment and it increases probability of enrollment in 4-year collegiate institutions compared to 2-year colleges. 9

To be more specific, the share of 18- to-24-year-old dependent Americans from households with annual income between $20,000 and $30,000 enrolled in college is 43.5 percent. The share of 18-to-24-year-old dependent Americans with annual household incomes between $100,000 and $150,000 enrolled in college is 81.4 percent. 10

Indeed, one of the major challenges we face at the undergraduate level is to maintain the affordability of a St. Thomas education. Government investment in grants and subsidized loans has remained flat since the 1980s while the actual costs of higher education have increased at twice the rate of general inflation due to expanded student services, rising health care costs and the staggering investment in our information technology infrastructure. 11  

Our ability to serve the undergraduate population at our current enrollment levels will be further tested by striking changes underway in Minnesota and its surrounding states.   According to the latest findings from the Minnesota Private College Research Foundation, between 2003 and 2013 in our five-state region the number of high school graduates will decrease by 11.7 percent. In Minnesota they will decrease by 10.3 percent. There will be an 18.7 percent decline in the number of white high school graduates, but the number of high school graduates of color will grow by 51.9 percent. The percentage of the state’s high school graduates who are students of color will grow from about 12 percent to almost 20 percent. 12

We are also facing a whole new set of challenges resulting from globalization. As anyone who has read Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Flat” columns in the New York Times or his most recent book by the same title knows we are living in the midst of an epoch change. According to Friedman, globalization is “fundamentally reshaping our lives much, much more quickly than people realize.” He writes:

In 1492 Christopher Columbus set sail for India , going west . . . He never did find India, but he called the people he met “Indians” and came home and reported to his king and queen: ‘The world is round.’ I [Friedman] set off for India 512 years later . . . I went east. . . . And I came home and reported only to my wife and only in a whisper: ‘The world is flat.’ 13

Friedman had traveled to the Indian high-tech capital, Bangalore, to work on a story about outsourcing. He met, as he says, “Indian entrepreneurs who wanted to prepare my taxes from Bangalore, read my X-rays from Bangalore trace my lost luggage from Bangalore and write my new software from Bangalore.”

Friedman goes on to explain that outsourcing is just part of a much larger revolution that has occurred in the last four years or so. Business leaders in Bangalore told him about how the massive investment in technology made possible by the bubble era resulted in the development of broadband connectivity around the world and the laying o
f undersea cables.   Computers became more affordable at the same time as the explosion of e-mail software, search engines like Google and “proprietary software that can chop up any piece of work and send one part to Boston, one part to Bangalore and one part to Beijing, making easy for anyone to do remote development . . . [creating] a platform where intellectual work, intellectual capital, could be delivered from anywhere. 14

As the CEO of Infosys in Bangalore put it to Friedman: “The playing field is being leveled.”   What he meant, according to Friedman, is that “countries like India were now able to compete equally for global knowledge work as never before – and Americans had better get ready for this . . . The playing field is being flattened . . . My God, he’s telling me the world is flat!” 15

How will a “flat world” impact St. Thomas? For one thing, it means that students who just a few years ago were coming here from Pakistan and India by the hundreds for master's degrees are now taking those same degree programs in places like Bangalore. Our graduate programs in software have felt the impact of competition from these new players. As our graduate faculty and deans have known for some time, to be enterprising is no longer a luxury or an option. It is how we will survive. And survive we will. For one thing, we have the talent. In our nationally recruited faculty we have the kind of concentrated brain-power that most corporations can only dream of. What we need is the attitude, the orientation, the drive to constantly look for ways and niches to add value to our community through education.  

It also means that if the United States is to remain competitive in this world it will be on the basis of our ability to innovate continuously because as soon as a new design or program or service achieves success it will be emulated elsewhere; therefore, we as a university will need to be enterprising in our programming, and we will need to teach our students at all levels the skills that will enable them to be creative and innovative.

It is in this context that we open Schulze Hall, the new home for our Schulze School of Entrepreneurship within the College of Business. It is my hope that this wonderful new asset will not only better serve our students studying in the field of entrepreneurship, but will also stand as a symbol of this university’s commitment to prepare students for lives that are full and productive because they are creative, innovative and enterprising.  

Friedman repeatedly refers to the emergence of this new, flat world as “the beginning of a crisis” and cites Stanford economist Paul Romer, who says, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” 16 What an appropriate way to frame the question we need to ask ourselves here at the University of St. Thomas: How do we not waste this crisis?  

For one thing, it means that it will become all the more important for prospective students from underrepresented communities right here in the Twin Cities to be prepared to make a decent living in this new economy. In a letter to the editor of The New York Times, former U.S. education secretary Richard Riley and former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, who served as co-chairmen of the National Commission on Accountability in Higher Education, wrote:

Thomas L. Friedman's columns about the “flat” world illustrate an increasingly clear fact: the life chances of our people and the viability of our economy now depend on widespread, successful participation in higher education, with no compromise on quality.

At a minimum, this is what it will take. Higher education needs to increase productivity, focus more on improving teaching and learning, and focus less on competing for a bigger market share of bright students. Students must take more rigorous, demanding courses in high school, and state and federal policy makers must face up to the fact that more money is required, especially for student aid and early outreach programs to working-class students. 17

To which I say, “Amen.”


The University of St. Thomas has arrived at a critical moment in its history, in the sense that we believe we are poised to make a tremendous leap forward. We know who we are. We know our strengths. We know our challenges. We know where we want to go. We know the crises we will face in the years ahead. And, lastly and by no means least importantly, we know from our feasibility study that our generous supporters are prepared to back us all the way.

I look forward to working with all of you as we take our leap forward. Please join me in that journey.

End notes
1 Mark S. Davis, et. al., ASSURANCE SECTION: Report of a Comprehensive Evaluation Visit to the University of Saint Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota, 20-22, October 2003, for The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, p. 11.

2 Mission Statement approved by the Board of Trustees of the University of St. Thomas, October 21, 2004.

3 Vision Statement approved by the Board of Trustees of the University of St. Thomas, October 21, 2004.

4 Ernest Boyer, Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professorate, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (Princeton , 1990).

5 Thomas Rochon, Remarks for the Annual Meeting of the University of St. Thomas Faculty, May 10, 2005.

6 Bill Gates, Remarks, National Governors Association/Achieve Summit, February 26, 2005.

7 Postsecondary Education OPPORTUNITY (October, 2003), pp. 3-5.

8   See Postsecondary Education OPPORTUNITY (June, 2005), online at  

9 Postsecondary Education OPPORTUNITY (August 22, 2005 ), p. 2 of 3, and online at

10 Ibid.

11 See Financing Higher Education Today: How 2002 Graduates Paid for and Perceive the Benefits of Their Education, Executive Summary, by The Minnesota Private College Research Foundation and the Independent Colleges of Washington (May, 2005), p. 1.

12 Legislative Recommendation: 2005, Minnesota Private College Council, p.1.

13 Thomas L. Friedman, “It’s a Flat World, After All,” The New York Times (April 3, 2005), p. 1 of 8.

14 Ibid.

15 Thomas L. Friedman, The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005), p. 7.

16 Ibid., p. 8.

17 Richard W. Riley and Frank Keating, “The College and Our Economy,” The New York Times (June 9, 2005).