By Matthew Wojtechko
In 2010, then-Boyer School dean and mathematics professor Br. Norman Hipps, O.S.B. accepted the role of Saint Vincent College president. Nine years and one month later, he announced his retiring from the position.
A new president is expected to be in place by the beginning of July 2019, according to a press release on the Saint Vincent website.
The release notes that Board of Directors chairperson J. Christopher Donahue and Archabbot and Chancellor Douglas Nowicki appointed a committee to carry out two tasks.
“(1) identifying the challenges and opportunities presented to the College by the changing demographics, increased cost structures and changing information technologies in the competitive environment of higher education and (2) to outline the qualifications needed in a new president,” the article reads.
Br. David Kelly, director of the Latimer Family Library and chair of the committee, listed to The Review the members of this committee as: James Maher, Linda Boxx, and John Lally, each from the Board of Directors; Margaret Watkins, dean of the AHS School; James Kellam, associate professor of biology and faculty council president; Patricia Sharbaugh, associate professor of theology; Mark Abramovic, instructor of business administration; Mary Collins, vice president of student affairs; and Joel Santoro, student government president.
According to the press release, the Archabbot/Chancellor will determine if a Benedictine candidate meets the requirements determined by the committee to propose to the Board of Directors.
As his tenure as president draws to a close, Hipps reflected on his nine years in the position as well as the college’s past, present, and future.
He named some of the challenges the college faces, such as the questioning of whether higher education is “worth it,” decreased graduation from high school in Pennsylvania, and “an over capacity of high-rated institutions.”
Another challenge is combining education with career planning.
“You always look to figure out how to bring career studies and mission studies together. But that was true in Boniface Wimmer’s time, too,” Hipps said.
Despite this, Hipps said that “we’re at a good point.”
“There is this solid foundation that I think Saint Vincent has,” Hipps said. “We just need to get the message out there [and] make sure that we have enough financial aid to support our students and their families to be able to come to Saint Vincent.”
Hipps explained several of his favorite aspects of being president.
“It was a chance of meeting a lot of alumni,” he said. “Because I had been at Saint Vincent so long, there was never an alumnus that I met that we didn’t know somebody in common.”
“They might have graduated in 1943 as a chemistry major, but Fr. Burton was their teacher, and Burton was a member of the community when I entered the monastery, so we talk about Fr. Burton,” he said.
Hipps said he has enjoyed supporting students in their activities, such as cheering students on in sports and theater productions.
“Seeing students on stage performing in ways that are outside of their particular areas of expertise or focus, I’ve enjoyed that,” he said.
Travelling to China and giving the President’s Award yearly are also highlights of the job, he said.
“I’ve enjoyed the job when people are working together and felt badly when we were kind of at odds. But I think that’s not unlike any world that a person’s living in,” Hipps said.
Hipps said he hopes to teach a math course about number theory after his tenure as president.
“There’s this math class that’s been kicking around in my head,” he said.
Hipps said his job as president was unexpected.
“Part of the reason that I studied math was I didn’t like writing papers and I didn’t like giving talks. I never really expected to be president. That said, I worked closely with presidents,” he explained.
Hipps went to high school at the old Saint Vincent prep school and then to Saint Vincent again for college. He majored in philosophy with three years in theology, taking math classes in place of the priest-related courses he did not have to take since he planned to be a monk. After getting a PhD at Northwestern University in 1976, he began working at Saint Vincent.
At Saint Vincent, Hipps was a full-time teacher for two years, then director of the opportunity program, then academic dean, followed by being the dean of the Boyer school before he was president.
“The Abbot and the board asked me to do the job then. So, I said ‘okay,’” Hipps stated.
Hipps concluded by echoing a sentiment from The Rule of St. Benedict.
“The bottom line is for me to say ‘thank you,’” he said. “It was with the help of many brothers and sisters that Saint Vincent has been able to advance over the last nine years.”