By Jeff Miller
Special to The Texas Catholic
IRVING — Thomas Hibbs, a 1982 University of Dallas graduate and now the school’s ninth president, sometimes sounds less like someone with degrees in English and philosophy and more like a mechanical engineer.
“I like building things,” said the first UD alumnus to assume the school’s presidency, “particularly building teams and trying to articulate a vision around which people can gather and advance an institution for the good of the students and faculty.”
Hibbs moved into the corner office on the third floor of Cardinal Farrell Hall on July 1 after being prepared to close his career in academia at Baylor, where he was dean of the Honors College for 16 years. When contacted by UD late last year, Hibbs had to answer the question: Do I want to do one more big thing? He did.
“It’s returning in a way, but to me it’s something new,” Hibbs said upon the end of his first month on the job.
Houston attorney Richard Husseini, a 1988 UD graduate, chaired the school’s search committee. Husseini said Hibbs was the perfect mix of successful administrative experience in higher education and being able to cultivate donors.
“We were extraordinarily enthusiastic about him,” said Husseini, who recently became chairman of the school’s board of trustees.
It was also a convenient time to leave Baylor because the youngest of his three daughters will graduate from there in December. Wife Stacey will leave her teaching post at Baylor for one at UD and will co-teach one course with her husband.
Hibbs is a native of Washington, D.C. who graduated from UD following two years at the University of Maryland. A product of Catholic education through high school, he went from a business major to pursuing a vocation to the priesthood, with the Archdiocese of Washington assigning him to Holy Trinity Seminary next door to UD. His fellow seminarians included Dallas Auxiliary Bishop Greg Kelly.
Hibbs recognized his calling was in lay ministry — “to teach and write and do research in the area of Catholic philosophy” — and left the seminary after one year. He moved on campus for his senior year and received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UD.
Hibbs added another master’s and a doctorate from Notre Dame, then embarked on a career in Catholic higher education. It was while serving as the philosophy chair at Boston College that he said the “builder” in him began to develop. Baylor recruited him to oversee the start of its honors college in 2003.
UD is in many ways the same school that Hibbs attended in the early 1980s, in part because many of its students are legacies. Plus, a significant amount of the faculty from his student days remains. The physical plant is much different with a great deal of construction done in recent years, and Hibbs said much more emphasis is given to campus life outside the classroom.
His attention during the next 12-18 months will be on honing the school’s stated vision, communicating that to people both inside and outside the school and developing a related strategic plan.
“A vision of UD as a premier Catholic liberal arts college that immerses students in the Catholic and western traditions but also gives them an opportunity in particular majors for internships and high-level research to prepare them for whatever it is that they want to do next,” Hibbs said.