Wanted: A New President for UD

Dallas’ "other" university hits a fork in the road.

DURING NEARLY 15 YEARS AS president of the University of Dallas, Robert F. Sasseen oversaw construction of a $6.7-miliion, 12-acre campus in Rome, helped develop a graduate business program, and presided over a $20-million capital campaign. Despite these accomplishments, Sasseen s Dec. 31 retirement seems to have caused widespread relief and some whoops of rejoicing among faculty at the small (2,600 students) Catholic liberal arts school.

“The problem was isolation,” says one senior professor. “The administration seemed isolated from the faculty, from the Dallas community, even from the local parishes. I’ve talked to pastors in Dallas who seemed to have forgotten we exist. You began to get the feeling we were operating in a vacuum out here.”

The major challenges to a new president will be to restore those links with the larger Dallas community and to raise the kind of money that will allow the school to promote itself, Things could be worse. UD is not beset by higher education’s more common curses: Its faculty is clearheaded, its students are clever, and its curriculum is coherent. And both faculty and board seem dedicated to the same propositi ion: maintaining the university’s outstanding reputation for undergraduate liberal arts education. Dan Cruse, a UD trustee and managing director of executive search firm Spencer Stuart, says flatly, “The board is committed to what UD stands for-liberal education.”

Still, some conservative Catholics fear that a new president might divert the university from its central mission as a Catholic university. The selection of Rev. Milam Joseph, a theological moderate, as interim president set off alarms. “Under Donald Cowan [long-time UD president and Dallas Institute founder], the university set its mission as a place of intellectual inquiry rooted in Catholic philosophy and a spiritual world view,” says a faculty member. “That made its reputation. Over the last few years that definition has been narrowed. It needs to be restored.” Branson Ha-vard, editor of the Texas Catholic, notes that the faculty seems theologically centered. “As far as Catholic theology goes, UD is in the mainstream.”

Money, public relations, educational philosophy, theology-all these will play into the selection of UD’s new head. A few eyebrows were raised when it became known that Spencer Stuart would handle the search; with Cruse a trustee, some feared charges of cronyism. But search committee chairman Jan Collmer points out that Ron Zera of Spencer Stuart will be working pro bono, his compensation limited to out-of-pocket expenses. Asked about that, Zera quipped: “Well, it makes tithing easier.”

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