Looking forward to the beginning of his presidential term this July, Dr. Thomas Hibbs described how his love for the liberal arts grew at the University of Dallas and shared his long-term vision for the university in a recent interview with The University News.
Hibbs’ experience as a student at UD helped inspire his lifelong love of the liberal arts.
“It shaped me in so many ways,” Hibbs said of his UD education. “I was introduced to a tradition of inquiry that has kept me going, and many of the things I studied and wrote about have continued to be interests of mine.”
Hibbs said he is a first-generation college student. He wasn’t sure about attending college, until he realized that his high school friends were going.
Even though he started out as a business major at the University of Maryland, Hibbs took literature and philosophy courses that changed his direction.
“[These classes] shook me up in a good way,” Hibbs said. “[They] got me thinking about what I wanted in life, got me thinking about my own faith and why I believed what I believed; and if I believed certain things, then I should probably be thinking about living in accord with those things.”
Discerning his vocation, Hibbs initially came to UD as a seminarian at Holy Trinity Seminary. While Hibbs said he “only lasted a year” in the seminary, he loved the UD education he was receiving and stayed on in O’Connell Hall for his senior year.
Hibbs started as an English major, studying T.S. Eliot for his Junior Poet Project. But he graduated in ‘82 with a degree called the Constantin Scholar major, now known as the Paideia Personalized major, which allowed him to integrate his interests in literature and philosophy. He went on to earn his M.A. in philosophy the next year.
Hibbs especially values the way in which his UD professors pushed him to see issues from multiple viewpoints, challenging him to avoid reaching hasty conclusions. At UD, he also learned valuable writing skills that have served him as a cultural writer and administrator.
After leaving UD, Hibbs gained teaching and administrative experience at Thomas Aquinas College (TAC), Boston College and Baylor University.
Hibbs said that something he has taken away from these very different institutions is that “you really have to adapt your vision to what’s already successful and the distinctive elements of each institution.”
For this reason, Hibbs was reluctant to articulate a specific vision for UD before he arrives. He said that his vision for UD will be shaped by his first months on campus as he learns about the university.
“As a leader, you’ve got to learn what the strengths are of your faculty, of your students [and] of your alumni base and build upon those,” Hibbs said. “It’s real folly, I think, to come here and want to impose some abstract vision and then do damage to lots of good things that are going on.”
As president, Hibbs hopes to analyze UD from every level — the Board of Trustees, administration, faculty, alumni, students — and see how all can collaborate so that no one unit is left isolated, and the university can work toward a unified goal: educating students.
“What we’re about is educating the students and helping them move from adolescence to young adulthood … and helping them form ethical characters, deepening their lives of faith, both their understanding of it and their practice of it,” Hibbs said. “Those goals have got to be front and center for us.”
This education is rooted in the liberal arts at UD. Hibbs said a liberal education leads the student to seek freedom from his or her own ignorance and to question the meaning of freedom itself.
“Most places talk about liberal education today as if it’s a smattering of this or that, which will give you some skills to maximize power and money, and I think UD wants to put all of that into question,” Hibbs said. “If you’re not doing that, then you don’t know what a liberal education is.”
Hibbs also recognized the practical preparation a university must provide through this liberal arts education. He was impressed by UD’s high placement rate in higher education and by the number of students who are employed shortly after graduation.
“We don’t set up our courses to give you the skills to do well in medical school or law school or a profession — those are byproducts,” Hibbs said. “We set up an education so that you’ll love learning … so that you’ll approach whatever you are doing in a distinctive way.”
Ultimately, Hibbs said that this kind of education prepares students for the hard times of life.
“We want to prepare you for success, but we also want to prepare you for failure and tragedy,” Hibbs said.
In addition to articulating a unified vision of the education UD provides, Hibbs hopes to focus on securing the university’s long-term stability by addressing the financial “pressure points.” This pressure includes the cost of running the university and keeping tuition affordable for students.
Hibbs said he looks forward to raising money for scholarships, engaging alumni and donors and finding additional revenue through fundraising in order to alleviate these financial concerns.
Now that Hibbs and his wife Dr. Stacey Hibbs are coming to UD, they will co-teach a section of Philosophy & the Ethical Life next fall, Hibbs said. Stacey Hibbs is coming on staff as an affiliate professor. Their three children are grown, with a daughter in Washington, D.C., a son graduating with his M.A. from Baylor this year and taking a job in Dallas and a daughter in her junior year at Baylor.
Provost Dr. Jonathan Sanford said he has known Hibbs since he first arrived at UD in 2015 and that he is “excited about working with Dr. Hibbs.”
“I think he’ll be good for the place; we’ll actually have a president who really loves who we are,” Sanford said.
As a philosopher himself, Sanford addressed the fact that, with Hibbs’ appointment, both the president and provost belong to the same discipline.
“One thing that Tom and I both strive to do is to articulate a comprehensive vision of education,” Sanford said. “I imagine our narrative will be consistent across all of the offices at the university.”