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Full text of Father Dennis Dease's convocation address, Sept. 4, 2012

Full text of Father Dennis Dease's convocation address, Sept. 4, 2012

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Published by USTNewsroom
Father Dennis Dease reflected on his 21 years as president of St. Thomas in his academic convocation address Tuesday afternoon in OEC auditorium. It was Dease’s final convocation speech, as he will retire next June 30.
Father Dennis Dease reflected on his 21 years as president of St. Thomas in his academic convocation address Tuesday afternoon in OEC auditorium. It was Dease’s final convocation speech, as he will retire next June 30.

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Published by: USTNewsroom on Sep 04, 2012
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 A Road Travelled
Some of you may have seen the announcement that Witt Kiefer, the firm assisting this university’spresidential search committee, posted in the Aug. 3 edition of the
Chronicle for Higher Education 
. As Iread the description of the University of St. Thomas, I was reminded that sometimes we need to seeourselves through the eyes of others to truly appreciate all that we have achieved and become. WittKiefer wrote this about St. Thomas:
 
 The largest private college or university in Minnesota and one of the largest and oldestCatholic colleges or universities in the United States …
 
 A teaching university that emphasizes active, inquiry-based learning, service and community learning, and faculty research that fosters student learning. The university’s distinctiveacademic program also encourages active inquiry and engagement regarding the role of faithand morality in human development, leadership and community contribution …
 
 A strong reputation and wide recognition in the higher education community, and nationally recognized for serving its region with excellence. The university has grown considerably inthe size and strength of its student body, facilities, academic program, faculty and staff …
 
In October 2012, it will celebrate the completion of its $500 million Opening Doors capitalcampaign. St. Thomas benefits from:
o
 
 A stable financial environment,
o
 
Beautiful and well-maintained campuses in two dynamic city centers,
o
 
Strong philanthropy,
o
 
 A dedicated and generous Board of Trustees,
o
 
 A large and powerful network of alumni, and
o
 
 An environment that embraces all individuals in the rich tradition of Catholic highereducation. This year will be an important one for the university. First, we will complete our most ambitiousfund-raising effort ever, designed to fund the university’s current strategic plan. Second, we willengage in an institutional self-examination in preparation for our decennial review by the HigherLearning Commission. And third, our Board of Trustees may select the next president by Christmas.St. Thomas has fared well over the years in part because it has not been afraid to embrace change. There has developed here an entrepreneurial culture and a “can-do” attitude. We have tried to steera middle course, guided by the wisdom of two American proverbs: “The early bird catches the worm” and “the second mouse gets the cheese.” In other words, we have been willing to takecalculated risks and as a result have experienced substantial growth and development.During my predecessor, Monsignor Terrence Murphy’s tenure, change took the form of programexpansion – or breadth. During the 21 years I have served, change has followed a pattern of building the infrastructure needed to support an expanded institution, and improving academic quality – ordepth. St. Thomas has matured as a university. The question going forward will likely be how as amore established institution, St. Thomas will maintain necessary entrepreneurial qualities. As Charles
 
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Darwin would remind us, “It is not the strongest species that will survive, nor the most intelligent,but the one most responsive to change.”During the two decades I have led our mutual stewardship, I have been blessed. I have had theopportunity to collaborate with extraordinarily talented people who are highly principled and whocare deeply about this university, its mission, its values and its aspirations. I doubt that any university president has been more fortunate. I am grateful for your competence and expertise, yourdedication, your values and standards of excellence, the priority you give to student learning, theculture of respect and civility you embody and – more personally – for your colleagueship andfriendship. We have shared a common, heartfelt commitment to an endeavor of enormous value tosociety and to its future: higher education.Since this is the last time I address this convocation, I would ask your indulgence while I reminisce abit.I began this job on July 1, 1991. From the beginning I emphasized the important role the liberal artsmust continue to play at St. Thomas. I also pledged to cultivate a vital Catholic identity rooted in the Judeo-Christian wisdom tradition that would address the developmental needs of the “whole”student – not just the mind, but the heart and the soul as well.I told a St. Paul Pioneer Press reporter the day of my election as president that I didn’t want to seeSt. Thomas turning out a bunch of yuppies. That line got a lot of attention. The day I was installed I told the audience that we would provide an exceptional liberal artseducation that not only would prepare students well for life and work, but also would focus on “theimportance of ethical behavior, of social responsibility, of simple, basic concern for others – for what Catholic social thought traditionally has called ‘the common good’.” Those words – “the common good” – became part of our new mission statement in 2004. TheUniversity of St. Thomas still aspires, purely and simply, to advance the common good.
Our Mission, Vision and Convictions
Our previous mission statement was much too long: 146 words. I had just one plea for the task force that assembled to revise the mission statement – keep it short enough to fit on the cover of amatchbook. That is precisely what they did. And I have still the matchbook to prove it. The new 30-word Mission Statement, now eight years old, reads as follows:“Inspired by Catholic intellectual tradition, the University of St. Thomas educates students to bemorally responsible leaders who think critically, act wisely, and work skillfully to advance thecommon good.” To put it another way, our mission rests squarely on four pillars: faith, the liberal arts, professionaleducation and community engagement.Nearly equal in importance are the Convictions and the Vision Statement that the task forcegenerated and the board approved. The former articulate the core values that define us, and the
 
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latter describes our aspirations: The seven convictions are:
 
Pursuit of truth
 
 Academic excellence
 
Faith and reason
 
Dignity 
 
Diversity 
 
Personal attention
 
GratitudeIn that year, 2004, we also described where we wanted to be in the years ahead. Our visionstatement reads:“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.” This has been our dream. It is my belief that we have achieved it, but more about that later.
 A Road to
 Access 
and
Excellence 
and
Catholic Identity 
 
My early efforts sought to incorporate into our life as a university our situation in the heart of athriving metropolis; I liked the words “urban university” because they suggested that St. Thomas was not only 
in 
the city, but also
of 
the city – that our relationship was not only geographic, butorganic and that our agenda was in some real sense shaped by the emerging educational needs of thecommunity. As Witt Kieffer pointed out in the recent announcement:“With more than 60 percent of its 95,000 living alumni based in Minnesota and involved in itsbusiness, arts and volunteer communities, St. Thomas has unparalleled opportunities to connectcampus with community. It does so through mentoring, externship and volunteer programs,employment opportunities and educational programs designed specifically for local organizations.Students and employees collectively contribute tens of thousands of hours of community serviceeach year, especially as tutors and mentors in inner-city schools. In recognition of its community contributions, St. Thomas received the coveted ‘Community Engagement’ classification from theCarnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in 2006.”Early in my tenure I heard three imperatives emerging from the St. Thomas community, and thesethree have guided us now for over 20 years:

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