Higgins to leave St. Thomas University

  • August 24, 2009
{mosimage}Dr. Michael Higgins has set himself free from the daily struggles of running a university.

One of Canada’s best known Catholic writers and intellectuals, Higgins has tendered his resignation after three years as president of St. Thomas University in Fredericton, N.B .

“I had to sit down and really make a decision as to whether I had the energy and the passion to continue this for seven more years,” the 60-year-old Higgins told The Catholic Register. “And put on hold what were increasingly becoming more important to me.”

Higgins has been appointed official biographer of Henri Nouwen, is at work on a CBC documentary series and has begun writing a book on media and religion.

“I also want to really dedicate myself to Catholic higher education — writing about it, advocating for it, travelling globally.”

In his three years at St. Thomas, Higgins led the university through a bitter lockout and strike, the on-campus murder of a beloved professor, a student suicide, a provincial review of higher education, resignations of several chaplains and preparations for its centenary in 2010.

“You stack all that up and then of course there is the longstanding issue of the Catholicity of the university,” he said. “How Catholic is St. Thomas?”

St. Thomas is one of three institutions belonging to the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities in Canada that has not somehow incorporated the ordinances of Ex Corde Ecclesia, the Vatican’s standard for Catholic universities, in its mission statement or constitution.

“The Catholic issue has been a matter of sustained discussion and not a little anxiety, actually,” he said.

Getting and keeping senior leadership at Canada’s mostly small Catholic colleges and universities is getting harder, said Pierre Zundel, newly appointed president and vice chancellor of the University of Sudbury.

“The scrutiny is much higher, the demands are much higher, you have to please everybody all the time,” said Zundel. “That makes it harder for people to stay in those roles, or for people to get into them.”

Higgins will remain as president until Dec. 31. The board of governors is developing a plan to find an interim president for 2010 and a permanent successor.

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