Father Dennis Dease reports on fall Board of Trustees meeting

Father Dennis Dease reports on fall Board of Trustees meeting

Amid all of the excitement on campus last month with the announcement of our Opening Doors capital campaign, the University of St. Thomas Board of Trustees held its fall meetings and took action on a number of important issues.

The board met Oct. 24-25 on the St. Paul campus, and I want to take this occasion to report to you on the highlights of committee meetings on the first day and the board's plenary session on the second day.

Several committees heard reports about the progress of the $500 million campaign and several building projects, including the Anderson Student Center, improvements to athletic and recreational facilities, and a parking ramp on the south campus. The board is enthusiastic about those projects, made possible by the extraordinary gift from trustee Lee Anderson and his wife, Penny, of $60 million.

Trustees are deeply committed to the campaign's largest priority: to raise $130 million in endowed funds for financial aid to make a St. Thomas education more accessible to future generations of students. Other campaign priorities, including endowed chairs and named deanships, also are generating a positive response.

The trustees complimented the professionalism and the beauty of the campaign kickoff events.   Unanimously, the board passed a resolution thanking all the students, staff and faculty who contributed to this success.  

The board made a difficult decision about a proposed medical school with Allina Hospitals & Clinics. As compelling as the need is to train more primary-care physicians, the board agreed that St. Thomas has higher priorities at this time with the Opening Doors campaign and should devote all its energies to raising funds for those needs.

St. Thomas and Allina agreed to continue their dialogue on an informal basis and did not rule out future collaboration in the creation of a medical school should sufficient resources becomes available. I expect we will work together through the National Institute of Health Policy, which is based at St. Thomas, and other venues to examine ways to broaden the accessibility and quality of medical care in Minnesota. The institute is ideally suited to participate in this effort because it offers a neutral forum for stakeholder collaboration in the examination of health-care policy issues.

One very upbeat moment during the plenary session came when the board saluted Archbishop Harry Flynn for his leadership as chairman since 1995. The board presented him with a framed certificate of appreciation that said: "Champion of Catholic higher education and model of servant leadership, intellectual and moral courage, you exemplify caritas, the greatest of all Christian virtues. You do us honor, and we thank you."

Implementing a process the Board Affairs Committee began last February, the board also elected Archbishop Flynn to a five-year term as chairman of the board after making appropriate changes to the university's bylaws which heretofore had stipulated that the ordinary (head) of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis serve ex officio as chairman.

The changes were made to recognize the increasingly important role that Archbishop Flynn has at St. Thomas. He has been a very active chairman, meeting regularly with faculty, staff and students, attending campus events and serving on committees such as the one that wrote our new mission statement. More recently, he has agreed to serve as an honorary co-chair of the Opening Doors campaign. After he retires as ordinary next year, he will move into the late Monsignor Terrence Murphy's office in the O'Shaughnessy-Frey Library Center.

The board also removed ex officio references from two other board positions. Father Kevin McDonough, vicar general of the archdiocese, will continue to serve as vice chairman and was elected to a five-year term. The board elected me to five-year terms both as a trustee and as president of St. Thomas.

These changes as well as others made previously reflect recommendations made to us five years ago by the Association of Governing Boards of Colleges and Universities when it reviewed with our board best governance practices. One AGB recommendation was to conform our bylaws to what is now the common practice among Catholic colleges and universities: to elect the board's chairman and vice chairman.

In other activity, the board or its committees:

  • Approved the audit for the 2006-2007 fiscal year, which ended on June 30. St. Thomas had a strong financial performance last year, including an investment return of 17.8 percent.
  • Heard a presentation from Thomas Mengler, dean of the School of Law. Dr. Mengler reported on the health of the law school, which has a record enrollment of more than 474 students in its seventh year. He also shared the good news that the Princeton Review has ranked the St. Thomas School of Law No. 2 in the United States for "best quality of life" among students. St. Thomas ranked first in the survey the previous two years.