Twenty years ago, as a member of the class of 1991, I attended an alumni event in Houston where the new president of the University of Dallas, Monsignor Milam Joseph, addressed issues with the school and expressed his commitment to making appropriate changes. He said that he wanted UD to be the “Notre Dame of the South” and bluntly criticized the faculty in general, including one or two professors by name.
That day I resolved to fight that man and defend the excellence of our school. Myself and a group of UD valedictorians came together in an effort to defend the liberal education that is the heart of UD in a fight that has lasted five years.
Sadly, the fight has continued up to this week, as two successive presidents have expressed a similar pattern of arrogance and disrespect.
Over the last year, there has been a united front of professors and alumni seeking respect for the traditions of UD and for charitable discussion between administration and faculty.
Though the exact issues that led our trustees to make an administrative change are known only to them, I believe I can speak for many in expressing my gratitude.
But where do we go now?
After 20 years of conflict and division, what does a successful president look like?
I believe that we ought to think less about practical skills and a great deal more about perspective and virtue. I believe that for the change to succeed, it must start with a love for the institution. The virtue most required in our next president will be respect for what came before.
Unless the next president is a servant to both the faculty of today and the founders of yesterday, we will see failure.
UD has always had many factions within its faculty. Arguments and disagreements are the norm. But a president must show respect for them all and must have a deep love for the Constantin College that exemplifies the university’s mission.
I believe that any who wish to be the servant leader of our school should begin their quest for understanding by learning all they can about the three sine qua non men who were fundamental to the school’s creation: Bishop Thomas Gorman, Eugene Constantin and Dr. Donald Cowan.
These men made UD exceptional, and you cannot love UD or understand it unless you understand them.
Gorman experienced great learning through his own history studies at the Catholic University of Louvain, where he studied just after World War I. Gorman knew from the start that Dallas needed a world-class education and such education required classically educated faculty. He asked the Cistercians of Zirc, Hungary, living in exile in Wisconsin and Rome, to staff our school, and he hired the first academic dean, Dr. Eugene Curtsinger.
Constantin guided the board of trustees and recruited Catholic businessmen in Dallas to take part, but he shared in the vision of Gorman. While most of his friends were content with offering a glorified junior college and training school education, Constantin was not. He understood the importance of great learning in forming better leaders. He wished UD to rival the great Catholic colleges of the world, and it was he who, in our third year, brought Louise and Donald Cowan over from Texas Christian University to meet with Gorman.
Louise Cowan is more well known by the UD community nowadays, but it was Donald Cowan who was chosen by the trustees to be our third president, and it was Donald Cowan who led the school from 1962 to 1977. In alliance with Gorman and Constantin, Donald Cowan accepted a crucial donation of $7.5 million — equivalent to $50 million today — from the Blakely Braniff Foundation.
Donald Cowan knew better than anyone that the plan for building UD was truly a plan written down almost a century earlier by the greatest English convert to Catholicism, Cardinal John Henry Newman. UD was a practical example of Newman’s “Idea of a University,” and Donald Cowan’s job was to sing its praises.
Not everyone loved Donald and Louise Cowan. They had their detractors. But the success of those years was due to their love even for these critics. The Cowans understood that their school was populated with stubborn superstars like Wilmoore Kendall, Melvin Bradford and Frederick Wilhelmsen. They simply allowed the excellence of the school to shine and displayed it for all to see.
We need a president who can both raise a lot of money and cut back on administrative influence. We need someone who knows the lay of the land in philanthropic circles and who can manage a team well. Many qualities will be required, but not one of those will be worth anything unless the next president understands UD’s roots and loves its faculty today.
I believe that we shall have no trouble finding such a person.
Joseph Arlinghaus, class of ’91, graduated with a B.A. in politics and now lives in Fort Collins, Colo.