In the Minnesota thesaurus, “different” is listed as a synonym for “over my dead body.”
But different is coming to St. Thomas. The next president will not be Dennis Dease. We will have to get used to that.
When someone commented to Father Dease that he noticed more than a few teary eyes when he announced his upcoming retirement, Father Dease said, “Yes, but I hated to have to break out the pepper spray.”
Easy for the about-to-be retiree to joke about this, but not so easy for the rest of us. We haven’t had to break in a new president for more than two decades. We are nervous. The main topic of lunch conversation is the search – and no one asks which search.
A new president is not the only thing we have to be nervous about. Higher education is facing great challenges these days. Concerns about rising tuition, student debt and gainful employment after graduation come from students, families and the federal government. There also is pressure from expanding online course availability. Young faculty are certain to face a different set of expectations as their careers progress. Some universities will likely fail.
How can St. Thomas survive and thrive as the environment and president change?
In a way we can do what we have always done – we can be open to possibilities. Perhaps our future lies in a basket of solutions. Perhaps our new president will be a woman. To find our best president and to pursue our best strategy, we have to analyze the challenges and think through potential solutions. We have to share ideas, talk to each other, trust each other.
And we have to be true to our mission.