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Catholic University names Peter Kilpatrick as president


“This is sort of a dream job for me,” Kilpatrick said in an interview. “I feel my whole academic administrative career has prepared me well to be a president, and my personal values and beliefs have prepared me to be at a Catholic University as president. So this is just a joy for me to be able to live very authentically.”

Kilpatrick’s appointment comes after a search that followed Garvey’s announcement in September that he would leave the Northeast Washington campus at the end of the school year.

“We could not have asked for a better candidate to lead Catholic University,” Victor P. Smith, chairman of the search advisory committee and of the university’s board of trustees, said in a statement. “Peter Kilpatrick is both a distinguished researcher and a creative administrator who sees research at the service of the human person in keeping with his Catholic faith.”

Kilpatrick, who described himself as an “adult convert to Catholicism,” will inherit a university contending with issues including faculty disputes and a sustained drop in enrollment. The university enrolled 6,725 students, including 3,713 undergraduates, during the fall of 2013, according to federal data. This past fall, it reported 2,929 undergraduate and 5,059 total students.

Total enrollment has dropped more than 5 percent over the course of the pandemic, data shows.

“Part of it, quite candidly, is higher ed just keeps getting more and more competitive every year,” Kilpatrick said. He also pointed to a shrinking number of college-age adults. “It’s going to get worse before it gets better. The recession really put a crimp on birthrates in the late 2000s.”

It is a trend affecting colleges throughout the country, but Catholic has been hit particularly hard. Kilpatrick said the university will have to refine some of its offerings — such as career prep services — but also find different ways to bring in revenue so that the school is less dependent on tuition.

At Illinois Tech, Kilpatrick drove the development of an online masters program for students living in China that is expected to generate $10 million in net tuition revenue by 2025, according to his CV (curriculum vitae). He also created the school’s five-year strategic plan and helped assemble a leadership team that includes four new deans and seven department chairs.

There is also work to be done on messaging, said Kilpatrick, who during his years at Notre Dame saw undergraduate enrollment in the engineering department grow by 60 percent. “I’ve had many conversations with enrollment strategists over the last many years,” he said. “I think one of the things that you do is, you sharpen the message around what makes your university really distinctive.”

Catholic, like its religious peers, is committed to the “integration of faith and reason,” Kilpatrick said. But what sets the school apart — and what attracted Kilpatrick to the campus — is the integration of various disciplines, he said.

“Many universities, sadly, are devolving into what I would call ‘multiversities’ because the disciplines are so siloed,” Kilpatrick said. “And that’s not healthy for young people as they’re forming themselves in education.”

The incoming leader also said he wants to ramp up research and address concerns about faculty pay.

“It’s been difficult under the financial circumstances of the last several years to give the kinds of faculty raises that I think we need to give to attract and retain our best faculty,” he said. Kilpatrick added that Garvey’s administration has worked to provide raises for the upcoming academic year.

Catholic, over the years, has become known for its conservative values. Officials have been accused of giving preference to conservative Catholics when making hiring decisions, something the university has denied. The university seeks out diverse faculty, but there is an expectation the majority will be Catholic, said Karna Lozoya, a spokeswoman for the campus.

In 2011, the university reverted to single-sex residence halls — an effort to curtail binge drinking and casual sex.

And early this year, Garvey’s thoughts on science and the pandemic drew criticism from many inside and outside of the community. “The cognoscenti say that those who object to vaccines, masks, quarantines, tests, crowd controls and school closings fail to ‘follow the science,’ ” Garvey wrote in the Catholic Standard, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington. “This is unfair. There is much we don’t know about the progress of the infection or the efficacy of our responses.”

A group of nursing professors at the school shot back, begging people to get vaccinated and boosted. Catholic, unlike neighboring schools in the District, did not enforce a vaccine mandate for students and employees last year. But Lozoya said the school’s approach to the pandemic has “always aligned” with guidance from the city’s health department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Kilpatrick said he considers himself “apolitical.”

“I’m very pro-immigration. I believe the world is facing a bit of an environmental challenge that’s very, very serious, and many people would argue those are left or liberal positions,” Kilpatrick said. “And yet I’m very much in the heart of the church on the life issues, which many people would say are conservative or right.”

While deeply committed to his faith, Kilpatrick said, he hopes students of all backgrounds will consider the university. Eighty percent of undergraduates identify as Catholic, according to the university.

“I believe there’s a way to be very welcoming to people of all backgrounds and all beliefs,” Kilpatrick said. “But at the same time, I believe we have a commitment as an institution, that’s the ‘bishops’ university,’ to be in the heart of the church. And that’s our mission.”

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