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Alumni showcase leadership

Kristen Durbin | Thursday, March 1, 2012

Notre Dame students generally maintain a consistent reputation of being motivated student leaders who strive for excellence both inside and outside of the classroom.

But the 22 Notre Dame alumni who currently serve as presidents of American colleges and universities demonstrate the drive to lead others does not stop when students graduate from the University.

University Spokesman Dennis Brown recently tweeted about the current contingent of university presidents with ties to Notre Dame, including 32 other living alumni who are retired college presidents.

University President Fr. John Jenkins, a member of this group, attributes the display of leadership to Notre Dame’s success in developing students into the leaders of society

“At Notre Dame, we seek to develop individuals who will, as our mission statement puts it, ‘take leadership in building a society that is at once more human and more divine,'” he said. “Our alumni are doing that in many fields.”

Several members of this group have also held positions in the Notre Dame administration after graduating from the University with undergraduate or graduate degrees.

Carol Mooney, an alumna and president of Saint Mary’s College, and Fr. William Beauchamp, president of the University of Portland, both earned law degrees from Notre Dame, served as members of the Law School faculty and spent several years in the upper levels of University administration before assuming their current positions.

Mooney said her educational experiences at both Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s prepared her well for the duties of being president of the College, a position she has held since 2004.

“My academic experience as a student at Notre Dame’s Law School … honed my analytic abilities and taught me to focus on the heart of a problem and its solution,” she said. “Above all, as both a Saint Mary’s undergraduate and a Notre Dame law student, I learned to never lose sight of the people involved in any situation and to be sensitive to the fact that decisions impact the lives of human beings.”

Beauchamp, a former executive vice president of the University, said his experience working as an administrator with Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, Fr. Edmund Joyce and Fr. Edward Malloy provided him a great deal of insight on how to be a successful university president.

“Being part of their administrations, seeing how they functioned and spending as much time as I did with Fr. Hesburgh was a valuable experience, especially to see how a person at his level operated,” Beauchamp said. “I had a lot of things to deal with on a daily basis working as executive vice president under Fr. Malloy, but I learned over time what works and what doesn’t and learned from my mistakes. When I came to Portland I brought with me that sense of how to be an administrator.”

Kevin Reilly, president of the University of Wisconsin system, said Hesburgh and his visionary work at Notre Dame provide Reilly a constant model of excellence.

“Fr. Hesburgh is a shining instance of what you can accomplish as a university president, so as I thought about the possibility of becoming a president, I had his example in mind,” Reilly said.

Brian Casey, president of DePauw University, said Hesburgh’s omnipresence on campus significantly influenced his undergraduate experience at Notre Dame and the philosophy he adheres to in his current position.

“We absolutely revered Ted Hesburgh … It was like Hollywood centrally cast him as president of Notre Dame,” Casey said. “I learned from Fr. Ted that he viewed one of his jobs as embodying and promoting the pride of an institution, so I could feel that and I view that as one of my jobs at DePauw. I try to learn from the master.”

Casey, a member of the last graduating class of Hesburgh’s presidential tenure, also said Hesburgh contacted him within the first month of Casey’s term at DePauw.

“I cannot tell you how much that touched me,” Casey said.

Though Reilly serves as president of a secular university system, he said the Catholic education he received at Notre Dame gave him a unique perspective.

“Part of what I got out of Catholic intellectual tradition was that knowledge itself is a good thing, and a greater understanding of the universe and the world is worth pursuing in its own terms. The search for it ought to be tied to using knowledge … for improving the lot of humankind,” he said. “The ability to help more and more Americans achieve higher education is how I always thought about getting an education, and I think about being president as a service to others.”

Casey said his Notre Dame undergraduate experience was the most energizing of his higher education experiences, which also include a law degree from Stanford and a doctorate in history from Harvard.

“Notre Dame opened up an entire intellectual world for me. I came as a fine student but became a better student there,” he said. “It’s a place of energy, excitement and community, so I always thought universities should be marked by such things and be alive with ideas, connection, friendship and joy.”

Casey said the strong sense of pride and community at Notre Dame provides a model for American institutions of higher education.

“When I arrived at Notre Dame, I came to a place that was an academic, social and spiritual community,” he said. “It’s a place where all things come together, and for me it has been a model of what an institution ought to strive for.”