He would not detail why or how this came to be. Instead, he reflected on the time he has spent at the Catholic liberal arts university.
“The university has been my anchor for eight years,” Keefe said. “I’m a bit adrift right now.”
Keefe cited what he sees as several key accomplishments of his term, including growth in enrollment, increased financial stability and new branding. More controversial decisions, including last year’s proposed degree completion program and a recent contract discussion with Aramark, have gotten more attention from students and alumni dissatisfied with his time leading the university.
Even the accomplishments Keefe is most proud of have drawn criticism, with some saying the changes detract from the school’s emphasis on Catholicism and Western civilization. Keefe maintains that growth, and the financial opportunities it brings, are key to that vision’s survival.
“We were this wonderful university that I was told was the best-kept secret in Texas,” Keefe said. “I spent eight years making sure that wasn’t true.”
The way Keefe carried himself and interacted with others was also a frequent source of comment and concern. The critical Facebook page University of Dallas Alumni for Liberal Education described it as an “alpha male style” of leadership.
Keefe acknowledged some truth in the criticism and suggested it could have contributed to his unexpected departure.
“Eight years of me would get on anybody’s nerves,” he said. “I can be a prima donna; I admit that.”
The board of trustees’ designated spokeswoman, Laura Quinn, class of ’86, said the board will soon form a committee to head the search for a new president, and will focus on growing from its 2010 choice to hire Keefe.
Among other attributes, that person will be someone who “seeks input, makes people feel valuable, and enables people to express their opinions,” Quinn said. “They need to take ownership when they express their decisions.”
The president’s current contract, signed in June 2016, is scheduled to expire May 31, 2022. But with the president being the sole employee of the board, his contract can be ended for any reason by majority vote of the board’s other members.
The board made its decision last Thursday and notified Keefe the next morning, 30 days before the class of 2018’s graduation ceremony, said Cliff Smith, executive director of marketing and communications.
Although Keefe didn’t detail what led to his removal, he said that he had “a different philosophy” than the board.
Though he has no concrete plans and has not revised his resume, Keefe said he hopes to provide consultation for other Catholic educational institutions that need help raising enrollment and donations.
“I think I’m done being a president,” Keefe said. “Being everyone’s father is exhausting.”
Keefe said his attorney is working with the university to prepare a joint statement that would “address some of the misapprehensions that may have stemmed from last Friday’s communication” from Dr. Thomas Zellers, board chairman.
The news release, signed by Zellers, was emailed to students and alumni and did not provide a reason for the decision to remove Keefe. It said only that the university “would benefit from a change in leadership in order to continue to grow and maintain its position as one of the nation’s leading Catholic universities.”
That decision didn’t seem to alter Keefe’s sense that he was the right person to lead UD.
“The way I got to where I am is that I’ve got a big ego, and I believe I know more about this business than anybody else,” Keefe said. “Telling your boss that is sometimes bad for your career.”
The University of Dallas has 1,450 undergraduate students and 1,060 graduate students.
This report was first published in The University News of the University of Dallas. Writer Sara Coello is editor-in-chief of The University News.