How new leader wants Lisle's Benedictine University to grow
Michael S. Brophy wants Benedictine University -- the Lisle institution where he took the reins as president in August -- to become a true leader in Catholic higher education.
His predecessor, William Carroll, led Benedictine for 20 years and made the 128-year-old university a stable, diverse place with an international presence and a focus on providing access to education for all, Brophy says.
The school grew from a small college of 1,400 students to a university with enrollment between 10,000 and 11,000 during Carroll's time, so Brophy knows it's here to stay.
"What Dr. Carroll built was built to last," Brophy says. "There is no question that we're going to survive. We're going to thrive. Now it's moving beyond that."
Brophy, a 51-year-old educator, administrator, filmmaker and pianist who has taught college-level music, film and English, convinced members of Benedictine's board he's the right person to move the school to its next phase.
"We certainly feel that Benedictine can continue to grow under his leadership," said Jim Melsa, president of the board. "He has a deep commitment to the Catholic faith, a deep commitment to higher education. He's very desirous of continuing the work in this community."
Brophy shows a genuine interest in those around him, including the students who moved into their dorms during his second week on the job. Recalling his own college move-ins at the College of St. Rose in Albany, New York, he called it a "wonderful and joyous day" as he greeted students walking through Benedictine's new Krasa Quad.
"A quad is just a centuries-old pattern that people like in higher education," Brophy says. "It makes them feel comfortable and we finally have one now."
Brophy seems to make those around him feel comfortable, too. He smiles easily and makes conversation without too much of an air of academia.
"He's very outgoing," Melsa said. "He's interested in interacting with a broad range of people."
Students, parents, faculty members, Lisle-area leaders -- Brophy is starting to meet them all.
And he's beginning to form a methodology for his goal of molding Benedictine into a thought leader on globally significant topics such as health care and the environment -- topics important to Catholics as influential as Pope Francis.
"The university would be well-served to think about what interdependent and interdisciplinary conversations we can be a part of on the national stage," Brophy says.
Interdisciplinary is the key word.
Jobs available for future graduates will require the skills of their chosen field to connect and interplay with technology, and everyone will need strong communication skills, Brophy says. Graduates must be prepared to network and grow their careers in an environment where he says many workers will have five different jobs during their first 10 years in the workforce.
It's no longer enough to be a university-educated expert in one topic. Everything is connected. Critical thinking is a must. Broad knowledge is key.
So how does the environment connect with business or with community health, morals, the poor, the way we treat others, the dignity of the person? These questions matter, and involving as many faculty members as possible to answer them for a wide audience is part of what Brophy says he envisions for Benedictine.
This includes a focus on striking the right balance between exclusivity in admissions, by seeking well-qualified students to maintain the caliber of the university, and access for all, by providing scholarships and attainability for first-generation students and those in need.
"Pope Francis consistently reminds us that if we're in doubt, the first thing we should be thinking about is the poor and the needy," Brophy says.
Decisions about exclusivity and access will be a balance Brophy will strike with the board, both for the main campus in Lisle and for other locations in Springfield, Arizona, China and Vietnam. But Melsa says they're on the same page.
"I think we're very much in tune," Melsa said. "I see us looking at issues more strategically."
Some early developments during Brophy's tenure at Benedictine will include completion in October of the quad and the Daniel L. Goodwin Hall of Business, a 140,000-square-foot educational center that signals the Lisle campus won't need any major construction for a while.
A discussion about smoking on campus, which is still allowed, also could be forthcoming.
And Brophy knows the university is thinking about creating a marching band in 2016. He wants to make sure that happens.
"It's a way to reach out to those students who may not be music majors but want to continue playing, and it goes with our athletics," Brophy says. "Of course, I want to see the music program here thrive."
Brophy also is looking forward to thriving with his family in their new home in Naperville.
Brophy came to Benedictine from Marymount California University with his wife, Tara, and their three children. Previously, he had worked at the University of Wisconsin-Baraboo as campus executive officer and dean and at Long Island University in New York as associate provost.
He has a Ph.D. in educational leadership and policy analysis from the University of Wisconsin.