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St. Thomas President Fr. Dennis Dease to retire after 22 years

The Rev. Dennis Dease, who oversaw tremendous growth as president of the University of St. Thomas, officially announced today that he'll retire in the summer of 2013.

By then, he'll have served for 22 years as president of the St. Paul-based university (with its law school in downtown Minneapolis).

The St. Thomas Bulletin said that Dease told the board of directors of his decision this morning and informed the faculty at noon. (Apparently many at the school and in the community already knew.)

Said Dease:

“The timing for my retirement next year will be right for a number of reasons. We will complete our $500 million Opening Doors capital campaign this October, and our preparation for our decennial accreditation visit by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association will conclude next year. Also, I will turn 70 next May, and I have other interests I would like to pursue.”

A search committee headed by trustee John M. Morrison, and made up of trustees, three faculty members and one staff member, will be appointed next month.

The university’s bylaws allow only a Roman Catholic — priest, religious or lay person— to serve as president. All 14 presidents of St. Thomas have been priests, the Bulletin said.

The university listed some of the accomplishments during Dease's tenure:

  • Three rounds of strategic planning — in 1994-95, 1999-2000 and 2005-2006 — guided St. Thomas and led to the development of the strategic directions of access, excellence and Catholic identity.
  • Degree programs were created in areas such as business (full-time MBA), Catholic studies, educational leadership, electrical and mechanical engineering, entrepreneurship, health-care management, law and organizational development. Focusing on quality, St. Thomas has sought and received accreditation from national or international associations for all of its professional programs, and the average ACT score of incoming freshmen increased from 23.1 in 1991 to 25.7 in 2011.
  • Two capital campaigns have raised more than $700 million. The Ever Press Forward campaign, which concluded in 2001, raised $250 million. The Opening Doors campaign, which will conclude in October, has raised $455 million toward its $500 million goal. Invested assets, including pledges, increased from $100 million in 1991 to $451 million in 2011.
  • Twenty building projects led to a $350 million bricks-and-mortar investment. The Minneapolis campus expanded from one to four buildings in a decade, and St. Paul campus projects included four classroom buildings, a student center, an athletic and recreation complex, two apartment-style residence halls, a child development center and a parking ramp.
  • St. Thomas has become more racially and ethnically diverse, and international programs have exploded in growth. The student-of-color population has tripled (to 14 percent) and three times as many international students are enrolled. Greater study abroad opportunities exist, with four times as many students studying abroad.
  • The Center for Catholic Studies, long recognized as among the finest in the United States, was founded to strengthen the university’s Catholic identity. Other initiatives included the opening of the law school and the Rome campus and the expansion of the Murray Institute, through which 700 teachers and principals in archdiocesan schools have received tuition-free graduate degrees.
  • A new and much shorter mission statement in 2004 spoke of educating students “to be morally responsible leaders who think critically, act wisely, and work skillfully to advance the common good.” In practical terms, Dease says the mission rests upon four pillars: faith, liberal arts, professional education and community engagement. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching recognized the latter in 2006 with its coveted “Community Engagement” classification of St. Thomas.

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