Aquinas scholar Thomas S. Hibbs appointed ninth president of University of Dallas
IRVING — When Thomas S. Hibbs walked the campus of the University of Dallas as an undergraduate in the 1980s, he never dreamed he would return as the first UD alumnus to be president of the 63-year-old Catholic university.
But the homecoming was put in motion when the board of trustees announced recently it had selected Hibbs to serve as the Irving university’s ninth president.
Hibbs comes to UD after serving as the inaugural dean of the Honors College and distinguished professor of ethics and culture at Baylor University since 2003.
He returns to his alma mater “where I first learned what Catholic liberal education is all about” with an impressive résumé that includes professor and administrator experience.
“My experience at a number of other academic institutions since I left UD has only confirmed in my mind the distinctive and indispensable role of the University of Dallas in the landscape of American higher education and in Catholic education across the globe,” Hibbs said in a UD news release. “I am especially honored to be joining a university with such a well-earned reputation for excellence in teaching, at the center of which is a faculty that combines scholarly achievement with devotion to the craft of teaching.”
When reached for an interview for the North Texas Catholic, Hibbs was in the home he had inherited from his deceased parents, going through memorabilia that took him back to his childhood.
Born in November 1960 in Washington, D.C., Hibbs was one of four children. He attended St. Mark Catholic grade school and DeMatha Catholic High School, both in Maryland suburbs.
Although he said he had good teachers — in particular two terrific English teachers — in high school, Hibbs said he was “pretty indifferent” toward his faith and “a lazy, average student.”
That changed radically when he attended the University of Maryland, where he encountered academic mentors who steered him toward literature and philosophy, which led him to “trying to live out my faith more seriously.”
“It woke me up,” the college president said simply.
Through the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., Hibbs first came to Irving in 1980 as a Holy Trinity seminarian.
“The University of Dallas was just what I needed,” he said. “I had a high interest in philosophy and literature.”
On the campus, he was introduced to “a lot of great teachers.”
A year later, he decided to leave the seminary for his true calling: that of the intellectual life that he discovered at the University of Dallas.
Hibbs received a bachelor of arts in English and a master of arts in philosophy from the University of Dallas, and said at the time he “dreamed of coming back as a professor.”
He received a master’s and a doctorate in medieval studies from the University of Notre Dame.
“My thesis was on Thomas Aquinas,” the philosopher said of the saint he considers a personal hero.
He was a tutor at Thomas Aquinas College for three years before moving to Boston College, where he taught for 13 years as full professor and chair of the philosophy department.
At Baylor, Hibbs has helped organize and participated in study abroad programs in Italy, Greece, and Turkey.
“I really enjoy traveling and especially my time in Rome,” Hibbs said.
That love will come in handy at the University of Dallas Rome Program, which offers a curriculum that combines intensive study of art, architecture, history, literature, theology, and philosophy. During their semester abroad, students make the university’s Rome campus their “home base” while they travel to places such as Assisi, Florence, Greece, Rome, and Venice.
Hibbs has spent most of his career writing, teaching, and designing/implementing academic programs. He has 30 published academic articles. He has written, edited, or provided introductions for 12 books, including three on the thought of Thomas Aquinas.
The scholar has also written more than 200 movie reviews and dozens of essays and book reviews for publications such as National Review, Catholic World Report, First Things, The Weekly Standard, and others.
Hibbs said he “got used to writing regularly” at the University of Dallas, a skill that served him well.
One article written for the National Review has a local connection. Hibbs wrote about an exhibit called Picturing the Bible: The Earliest Christian Art, which was held at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth.
“I am really looking forward to visiting Fort Worth’s museums,” the new president said.
Hibbs will be joined at his new home in Irving by his wife Stacey, whom he met at a Notre Dame football game. Stacey was also pursuing her Ph.D. at the Indiana university. They married in 1987 at the campus’ Basilica of the Sacred Heart.
The Hibbs have three children, two of whom are Baylor alumni and one who is studying international relations at Baylor.
The couple co-teach a class on friendship at Baylor, and they plan to co-teach at UD as well.
Stacey will be taking a position in the politics department this fall and Hibbs will also have a position in the philosophy department, which will give him a face-to-face connection with the students.
Hibbs plans to be a hands-on administrator who melds students’ academic development with their relationship of faith.
“While I won’t be grading papers, I will enjoy engaging in classroom discussion on philosophy and politics,” the president said.
Hibbs begins his new role July 1 on a campus that has experienced significant growth recently in enrollment, in its endowment, and in its number of academic programs.
“We are extremely pleased to have Dr. Hibbs as our ninth president at the University of Dallas,” Chairman of the Board Thomas Zellers said in a news release. “Dr. Hibbs brings all the tools for a successful presidency. He is a phenomenal leader, a builder of complex programs, a prolific fundraiser, an academic, and a scholar who has a great appreciation for the core and for how a rigorous Catholic liberal arts education benefits not only the graduate, but society at large. I anticipate he will be a great role model for faculty, staff, and students and will invigorate and sustain a collaborative and respectful culture on campus.”