Remarks by the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., upon receiving the 2015 Council of Fellows/Fidelity Investments Mentor Award at the 97th annual meeting of the ACE Fellows program
March 15, 2015
Thank you. I’m very proud of this. I’m even more proud of the women and men who are sitting across the front row and who have worked closely with me at DePaul University as colleagues and Fellows.
I’ve been asked to tell you this evening why I have such a commitment to the Fellows program. Allow me to do so with a story.
Twenty-two years ago, Dr. Patricia Ewers (then president of Pace University) walked me (her intern for the summer) into a room of two glaring deans and several other faculty leaders. Pace was not, at that time, an institution that particularly wanted a strong female leader and Pat was certainly that.
She began by setting down a sizeable stack of paper and saying, “Gentlemen, you are the first of several groups with whom I will meet to formulate directions for our next strategic plan. Before we begin, perhaps it would be helpful to review what we already know.” She then began to show them:
• The cross-application analysis telling them exactly who their competitors were;
• Enrollment trends and the similar patterns at local universities;
• Majors and minors that seemed to be growing at other institutions and where holes might exist within the NYC marketplace;
• Financial data;
• Demographic data on high schools from which they had traditionally recruited;
• Surveys of student feedback and much more.
She noted that if the data was correct, then it would seem that they should pursue several initiatives directly related to the data she had showed them. Then she stopped and asked, “Before I go any further, may I simply ask you if you have any data that would suggest an alternative direction?” They sat silent. Finally, she stood up, collected her papers and said, “Well, then, it seems that our plan pretty much falls along these lines, doesn’t it. Thank you very much.” As we left the room, she leaned over and whispered, “Dennis, those who have the best data, win.”
It was one of many lessons I learned that summer and I’ve led using data ever since.
Pat was one of many presidents and mentors I’ve been privileged to know over my 25 years as an academic:
• Art Levine pushed me regularly to see the larger trends within the immediate challenges;
• Alice Hayes from the University of San Diego taught me that campus beauty and kindness can be strategies;
• Fr. Ted Hesburgh taught me the importance of participating in the policy arena, and also showed me that I could wear my faith lightly and with ease in even the most secular of settings;
• And so many others.
It’s because of them I made a commitment to taking a Fellow every year I could at DePaul, and to sending a number of my DePaul colleagues to the Fellows program. I hope I’ve been helpful to them, but of course, I soon realized each of them taught me important things in return. They mentored the mentor.
It costs $18,000 for the privilege to host a Fellow, no small commitment in a time of stretched budgets, and I can assure you my staff regularly “offers” me the opportunity to cut this item each year as we sharpen our budgets. I’ve kept it in the budget because I believe in the reason for which the Fellows program was founded, namely to create a path for a more diverse leadership to emerge. This is my contribution to diversifying the academy and to helping young promising administrators, especially those who are underrepresented in our ranks.
But I also do it because I’ve learned that marines become marines because they meet marines. There is no handbook to become a marine. There is no “Marines for Dummies” available for purchase. They are the most transient of populations, always welcoming new classes of recruits and socializing them into the culture, the honor code, the intensity and the pride of being a marine. Cohort after cohort absorb the culture because they meet marines. Their world is transmitted person-to-person and so is ours.
Academic leaders become academic leaders because they’ve been mentored by academic leaders.
At the end of that summer 22 years ago, I thanked Pat with a box of golf balls –her favorite brand. That’s all I gave her for a summer of hard-won wisdom and opportunities that she gave me to learn on the job. I know I still owe her and I’ve tried to make it up with dinners ever since. She’s retired, but she still fires hard questions at me at those dinners. It seems that once you’ve been a mentor to someone, you never really stop being their mentor –something else I learned from her.
I believe in the Fellows program and my life has been blessed by the fellows we welcomed to DePaul. If you haven’t participated to date, I encourage you to take a turn at it. And I want to thank ACE for the privilege of mentoring these colleagues who will one day assume our roles in leadership. It has been a blessing.
Thank you for this kind award. May God bless the institutions that are in your good care.