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Fleming hopes to excel in role

Kelly Meehan | Tuesday, March 6, 2007

When Patricia Fleming visited Notre Dame for an academic conference in 1975, she said she could not help but notice the quaint campus across the street. And 32 years later, she’s been named Saint Mary’s vice president of academic affairs and dean of faculty.

Fleming, a California native, was named vice president of Saint Mary’s on Feb. 20 and will begin her duties on July 1.

“I believe that Saint Mary’s is the best Catholic women’s College in the nation,” she said. “I want to work at the best … I want to return to the kind of college which formed me as a scholar and leader.”

Fleming will replace acting Vice President and Dean of Faculty Jill Vihtelic, who will return to the Department of Business Administration and Economics as a full-time member of the faculty this fall.

As Vihtelic makes the move from the administration to the classroom, Fleming plans to put her passion for philosophy aside to guide the College’s academic realm.

During her visits to Saint Mary’s, Fleming said she admired the College’s teacher-scholar model – a system she said she shared with other members of the faculty.

“My teaching really profits from my scholarship,” she said, “especially in the area of environmental ethics. But for me my scholarship also needs to connect back to the ways we can transform lives through the classroom.”

Fleming said her time at Holy Names College in Oakland, Calif., and Marygrove College in Detroit “contributed to [her] formation in distinct ways when [she] was 17-21 years old.”

She said the foundation of her growth was her learning experiences with religious women – particularly the Holy Name Sisters who fostered her love of philosophy. Their academic inspiration also motivated Fleming to go on to graduate school at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., where she earned her master’s and doctoral degrees in philosophy.

She also said a foundation of her work is her educational and administrative experience as a philosophy professor at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., where she has taught since 1977.

At Creighton, she focused on environmental and medical ethics, as well as the philosophies of science and social science. She was appointed to senior associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences in 2001.

Fleming’s career will come full circle this summer, however, when she moves into her administrative office on the first floor of Le Mans Hall – a building that she said fosters the school’s spirit.

“Aside from aesthetics, I found Saint Mary’s to be a warm, welcoming and very spirited place,” she said. “I loved the way the students identified themselves as ‘Saint Mary’s women.'”

And Saint Mary’s women will be the central focus of Fleming’s goals and plans for the College.

“I hope to look back at some point in my tenure as Saint Mary’s Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty and be able to say that the largest goal we accomplished in the academic arena is one that both energized the students and faculty and met a very real educational need,” she said.

As Fleming works to get acquainted with the College community, she said she strives to discover the best academic goals for the students and faculty.

“I really look forward to the complexity of Saint Mary’s College,” she said, such as the ability “to work more closely with faculty and staff from such wide-ranging areas as nursing, education, business, science, humanities, social science and professional education.”

Although Fleming acknowledged that it’s impossible to think the administration will always agree on difficult College issues, she believes the deep respect they show towards each other will allow them to accomplish their goals.

Fleming also said she is “particularly excited” about working with College President Carol Ann Mooney – someone whose “love of the College and fierce determination to send it to new heights comes through so clearly,” she said.

Fleming will also work closely with Associate Deans Deborah McCarthy and Joe Incandela, who will work in these positions for three more years.

Incandela and McCarthy both said that they have not had the opportunity to work closely with her, but look forward to the start of her administrative term.

An objective Fleming said she shares with College administration is making Saint Mary’s one of the nation’s top bachelor degree awarding institutions – a position that would require the school to reassess its demographics, she said.

And to better comprehend the needs for a new demographic, Fleming said she would work to become involved with student life.

“Our world is rapidly changing, and the demographics for 10-to-30 years out suggests that our everyday encounters will be with even more diverse people than we encounter today,” she said. “The Saint Mary’s women I had lunch with in January spoke of their own desires for a more diverse student experience.”

Fleming said she hopes to create a diverse and enriching educational experience for all students.

“I hope that Saint Mary’s women will be as proud about Saint Mary’s as I am about my undergraduate experiences at Marygrove and Holy Names,” she said.

Fleming said as she works to meet the College community she hopes to model herself after a former Creighton administrator who was greatly admired by the students and faculty because of his openness with the community.

“He had a bench [on campus] he sat on when the weather was good,” she said. “Some faculty and staff would even venture up to the bench to chat.”

As Fleming begins her administrative quest at the College she asked that the students find her a bench, where she “promises to sit as often as possible.”