After his two-year tenure as the University of Dallas President, President Thomas Hibbs and the UD Board of Trustees announced his resignation on Jan. 11, 2021. Hibbs, who was inaugurated on Nov. 1, 2019, said that his decision was based on “prayer, reflection, and conversation with family, friends and trusted advisors.”
Hibbs will step down as president of the University effective June 30, 2021. The following day, current Provost Jonathan J. Sanford will take his place as the 10th president of UD.
“As Pope Francis remarked in his March Urbi et Orbi address, the pandemic is for each of us a time of choosing how we can best live out our calling, how we can manage our daily lives with family, friends, and work in such a way that our gifts are put to good use to help those we love, and are called on to serve, flourish,” Hibbs said of his resignation in an email to University News.
Hibbs declined further comment on his decision, although he emphasised the fact that he has complete confidence in Sanford, who he called “a great colleague and friend.”
“I would not have done this were I not confident that the current provost, J.J. Sanford, who is deeply committed to the distinctive identity of UD, will make a fine president for UD. I am confident that UD is in very good hands,” wrote Hibbs.
Following Hibb’s decision to resign, the UD Board of Trustees appointed Sanford as his successor. Sanford was a finalist in the presidential search last year, according to an interview with University News.
Sanford came to UD in 2015 after serving at the Franciscan University of Steubenville for 13 years. He earned an undergraduate degree in classical languages and philosophy in 1997 from Xavier University and then went on to earn a doctorate from the University of Buffalo and received a postdoctoral fellowship from Fordham University, according to the UD website.
In an email to the university community, Richard Husseini, Chair of the Board of Trustees, said that Sanford has made enormous contributions to UD in his 5-year tenure.
“Sanford took the lead in advancing educational excellence at the University of Dallas; developed new means to communicate that excellence to external audiences; created new partnerships and expanded the university’s reach and reputation; and exercised steadfast and stalwart leadership,” said Husseini in the board’s statement.
As president, Sanford will continue to implement the strategic plan that Hibbs set in motion shortly after his inauguration. The plan, according to the UD website, aims to combine “a comprehensive liberal education with disciplined formation in a wide variety of majors and graduate programs in a manner unmatched by any other Catholic university.”
According to the board’s memo, Sanford has already made crucial contributions to the new strategic plan, including that he “advanc[ed] educational excellence at the University of Dallas; developed new means to communicate that excellence to external audiences; created new partnerships and expanded the university’s reach and reputation; and exercised steadfast and stalwart leadership.”
Hibbs will continue to foster the University of Dallas’ mission as president emeritus. In this role he will work to establish a new center of cultural engagement.
“During [my] period of discernment, I was having a related conversation with the board about how I might best continue to serve UD,” Hibbs told University News. “The board generously bestowed on me the title, President Emeritus, and has invited me to draw up plans for a new center that would allow me to continue pursuing the sort of cultural engagement, and collaborative outreach, on which I have focused some of my efforts as president. The role of emeritus will have me supporting our advancement efforts and our efforts at increasing awareness of UD, both locally in Dallas and nationally.”
Hibbs said that the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture at Notre Dame, The Institute of Human Ecology at Catholic University of America, and the Institute for the Advanced Study of Culture at University of Virginia will all serve as models for the new center at UD. Hibbs said that he will be seeking the counsel of the directors of these centers as the new center takes shape.
Student Body President Nikki Kramer said that she “admire[s] president Hibbs for what he’s doing.” While she never worked directly with Hibbs, Kramer has worked with Sanford, who she described as calm, family-oriented, and as someone who can get things done.
“[Sanford] definitely knows how to bring people together, how to hold a sense of authority, but in a way that’s open to new ideas, especially in meetings,” said Kramer.
“Dr. Sanford has been at UD for a long time, so I don’t think this transition is necessarily going to change anything or bring any drastic changes to UD,” said Kramer. “I think that Dr. Sanford well encompassees the spirit of UD and knows what’s best for it. I think that it’s only going to bring out the good for UD.”
Former Student Government President Joe Scholz, who resigned from his position after Fall 2020 to pursue an opportunity serving as the Legislative Correspondent for a member of Congress, said that he is “enduringly grateful for Dr. Hibbs’ deeply held values, hard work, and continuing contributions to the UD community.” Scholz, who continues to take classes at UD, said that, “As a Senior, and as a former SG Executive, I’ve seen Dr. Hibbs’ unwavering commitment to seeking the good of UD and its students firsthand. We owe Dr. Hibbs our gratitude, and we have great things to look forward to under Provost Sanford’s strong and steady leadership as our University’s 10th President.”
In addition to the resignation of Hibbs and Scholz, Jason Trujillo, the new vice president for university advancement, and Seth Oldham, the director of student affairs, have left their positions in recent weeks.
BeLynn Hollers contributed to this article.
Correction: A previous version of the article incorrectly stated the length of President Hibb’s tenure. The current article has been revised for accuracy.