After traveling 500,000 miles in his six years as president of the University of Dallas, Tom Keefe has good reason to say that he is getting tired.
Even so, he remains enthusiastic regarding opportunities to travel on behalf of the university.
“You name it, I’ll go there,” Keefe said.
This enthusiasm to spread the good news about UD has taken him to every inhabited continent and from the booming metropolises of Shanghai and Lima to what Keefe called the “West Virginia of China,” where the banquets held in his honor every night proved a bit more adventurous than he was expecting.
“[They] darn near killed me,” Keefe said. “At these banquets, they had crickets, worms, grubs and this hot sauce [on them]. They have their own kind of moonshine — Moutai — in Guizhou . . . after everyone was done toasting each other, at the end of the night, I’d probably had about 70 capfuls of the stuff.”
Some of Keefe’s other destinations have included Petra and Amman in Jordan, Morocco, Malaysia, Paris, Reykjavik and the Vatican.
It was during his trips to the lattermost city that Keefe met both Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis and had the opportunity to stay inside the Vatican walls.
“I went there for a congress on higher education in December 2012,” Keefe said. “I stayed in the House of St. Martha, which is where Pope Francis now lives. I walked all over the grounds of the Vatican at night.”
When Keefe returned to the Vatican in November 2015 for a conference on Catholic higher education, of which UD was a sponsor, he was supposed to have an opportunity to shake the Pope’s hand, but that did not turn out quite as he had planned.
“Instead of shaking the hands of a bunch of old guys, [the Pope] decided to go shake the hands of a bunch of school kids, because that’s just the way Francis is,” Keefe said.
Perhaps this sudden change in plans marked some of the craziness of Rome that Keefe claims to have become accustomed to in his visits to the Italian capital.
“I’ve been about everywhere you can go in Rome,” Keefe said. “If I couldn’t live in the U.S., I’d live there.”
The disorganization of Rome, of course, stands in contrast to the atmosphere of India.
“Everything is just crazy — it’s not even organized chaos, just chaos,” Keefe said.
Whether his destinations are chaotic or quiet, Keefe uses his role as president and his personality to raise awareness of the university, whose name gives it an advantage with an international audience.
“Dallas has cache and name recognition,” Keefe said. “I start telling people about UD, and they’re already familiar with Dallas. Then I tell them I’m the president, and they say, ‘You’re the president?’ I tell them, ‘Yes siree, Bob, I’m the president.’ I can talk the wheels off a truck. The university [made a good decision] to hire a loudmouthed Irishman.”
These kinds of interactions with other universities and potential students have been critical for both recruitment and fundraising.
In a Q-and-A with the Dallas Morning News shortly after he became president of the university, Keefe explained his goals of growing the university endowment, increasing enrollment and augmenting UD’s reputation as a preeminent liberal arts college.
Keefe said his travels and activities as president have helped him work toward all three of these goals.
“We’ve operated in the black the last three years,” Keefe said. “Before [I became president], we were losing $3 to $4 million a year. We’ve been able to have raises for faculty for the past six years . . . and we have alumni everywhere.”
Keefe explained his strategy for raising money nationally and internationally.
“People give money to greatness,” he said. “I told everyone to stop telling people how poor we are . . . and to share the good news about the university. People give money to something successful.”
He added that the university has now developed partnerships with universities in Taiwan and Mexico.
Up next on Keefe’s UD-promoting itinerary are D.C., Tulsa, North Carolina, Rome, Corpus Christi and Houston.
He has his own bucket list that he would like to start crossing items off of soon, too.
“I’d like to go on a safari in East Africa,” Keefe said, adding that he would also like to visit South Africa, Alaska, Sydney and New Zealand — once he finds the time, at least.