St. Vincent College has returned to tradition for its next president, choosing a Benedictine monk with vast academic experience after nine years of lay presidents with backgrounds in business and government.
Brother Norman W. Hipps "knows what he's getting into," said J. Christopher Donahue, president of the college board of directors, as he introduced the president-elect Wednesday at a news conference on the Latrobe campus.
Brother Norman spoke of the importance of relationships he already has with everyone from the students to government agencies that have financed academic programs.
"I'm an alumnus, I look forward to working with the alumni. I know our faculty, I know our students and I look forward to working together, and to listening to them," he said.
On July 1 he will succeed James Towey, an attorney who previously ran President George W. Bush's White House Office for Faith-based Initiatives and Community Programs. During his four-year tenure, the college grew to more than 2,000 students and added major programs and buildings. But his administration was also marked by complaints from faculty that he lacked collegiality and didn't follow academic protocol. Mr. Towey announced in October that he would leave June 30.
All participants at the news conference praised Mr. Towey's accomplishments at the college, while describing Brother Norman, 65, as someone who had known the school inside out since he arrived at its former preparatory school 50 years ago. He currently serves as both its executive vice president and as dean of the Boyer School of Natural Science, Mathematics and Computing.
He was the unanimous choice of the board, which is required to consider whether any monks at St. Vincent Archabbey are qualified before looking elsewhere, Mr. Donahue said. The directive to consider monks first is the reason the search took just three months, he said.
"We are all in total agreement that Brother Norman meets and exceeds all of the qualifications to be president," he said.
Archabbot Douglas Nowicki, the college chancellor, sought recommendations from faculty and staff before identifying Brother Norman as "a primary candidate" among several monks with academic experience, the archabbot said. Among the most compelling reasons to choose Brother Norman was his lead role in planning the biggest project in the school's history, a $39 million science pavilion, whose first phase is due to open in the fall, he said.
Brother Norman, a native of Carrolltown, north of Johnstown, didn't pursue ordination as a priest, although he has the required background in philosophy and theology. He earned a doctorate in mathematics from Northwestern University in 1976 and has served St. Vincent College in roles including campus minister, math professor, provost and academic dean.
In prepared remarks, Brother Norman spoke of major projects he was inheriting, including the development of a new master plan for the campus. He closed with a promise of cooperation with the board, faculty, staff and students.
"We will continue to prosper by working together," he said.
In an interview, he acknowledged that there were tensions on campus, attributing them to many changes that had taken place at the school as it grew over the past decade. "We're in a better place now than we were 10 years ago. Tension can be creative," he said.
He also he acknowledged that he was taking the helm in the worst financial climate academia has ever experienced.
"St. Vincent has always worked hard to make the most of what we have," he said. But he named fundraising as his first priority.
"It's essential that we keep education affordable. We will work hard to make sure financial aid is available for students," he said.
"Even in the economic downturn, we were successful in securing gifts at the $30 million level for the science center."
News of his appointment was sent to the campus shortly before the news conference. Jonathan Starchville, 21, a junior in the pre-med program, said Brother Norman was always available to students.
"I think he's a great selection," he said. "As dean, his door is literally always open. I always see him talking to students. I think students will be able to approach him as president, he'll be the exact same person he is now."
on the web
For video coverage of Brother Norman W. Hipps' remarks, visit post-gazette.com