Presidential progress and tradition

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The portraits of former University of Dallas presidents hang in a hallway in upstairs Haggar. Photo by Gabriela McCausland.

When I first received the email that President Thomas Keefe was removed from office, it took me a few minutes to comprehend that the rest of my college years would be spent under a new and unfamiliar president. It took me a few more months to fully realize that a new president would not simply be some irrelevant bureaucratic figure, but that he or she could permanently alter the University of Dallas’ identity and future.

This transition of power comes at a crucial turning point in our own self-awareness as a university, when tradition and progress must be balanced to simultaneously preserve UD’s integrity and mend its flaws.

Students at our self-proclaimed university for independent thinkers do not hesitate to assert their views and priorities, even when it puts the student body in conflict with the administration. The stability of our university has often been disrupted by seemingly innocuous changes to traditions such as TGIT or Groundhog. Throughout my time here, I have become increasingly aware that everything at UD is connected, held together in a delicate and intricate web of relationships, community and history.

The new president must be able to adjust quickly to our unique traditions and independent mindset, while also being tasked with changing UD for the better. This presents a difficult question: whether the new president should already come from the pool of our current faculty and staff, or whether our school might be better off finding someone with fewer pre-existing connections to UD.

An insider would be more familiar with our unique values and quirks, but someone from the outside could bring a fresh perspective to problem-solving and creative innovation. It seems as though there’s no easy answer to this question, but the eventual decision will deeply impact our lives and cultural identity.

One group with unusually high stakes in the future of our presidency is the LGBTQ community on campus, which would undoubtedly suffer from a hostile presidency. Students have cited concerns about the new president exacerbating an already difficult environment, in addition to driving current students away and dissuading potential newcomers from becoming part of UD.

Even under Keefe’s relatively amiable presidency, some students feared being compromised and endangered for their beliefs. Fortunately, many of these concerns have not come to pass, yet the sense of vulnerability points to an urgent need for a new president who can remedy this conflict.

Our new president must find more effective ways to help at-risk groups within UD. In addition, he or she must adjust to fluctuating politics and perceptions outside the UD “Bubble,” maintain the Catholic core of our university, and support diversity of thought and expression. That’s only the tip of the iceberg, of course; finding a suitable president is certainly not an easy task, but it is a deeply necessary one. The future of our university may depend on it.

UD feels as though it is in a state of limbo, as we wait to take our first full breath as a community since Keefe’s sudden departure. Hopefully the presidential search committee will take advantage of this time of transition to discover a truly talented president who will cherish UD’s unique traditions and adapt to the changing perspectives of a new generation. Until that day comes, I’ll keep holding my breath.

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