Q & A with Antoine Garibaldi
As UDM’s first president who is not a member of a religious order, how will you maintain and strengthen UDM’s Catholic identity and mission?
The best way for me to begin my response is by saying that I have been able to promote Catholic identity and mission very effectively during my 29 years in higher education, and 25 of those years have been at Catholic universities. I have served as a lay president of Gannon University for nine and a half years, and I spent nearly 15 years at Xavier University of Louisiana in various faculty and administrative positions, including being selected as the first lay vice president for academic affairs in 1993. (A member of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament had always served in the latter role at Xavier, and Gannon has had three priests as president over its long history.)
So, I am not only very comfortable promoting and strengthening Catholic identity and mission, I have been able to do it in many different ways. At Gannon, for example, I have talked about the university’s Catholic identity and mission often on campus and also encouraged members of the university to attend the weekly community religious services; worked very closely with the vice president for mission and ministry and campus ministry staff; developed relationships with many local churches and promoted different faith-based events and activities for students and faculty and staff, just to name a few. Gannon has also been celebrating National Catholic Colleges Week, which is sponsored by the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and the National Catholic College Admission Association, for four years. It’s an opportunity to remember what our mission is. There’s also a committee that is focused primarily on Catholic identity, similar to what UDM has.
Even though I am not a member of a religious order, I was a seminarian for eight and a half years and that training puts me in an ideal situation to be able to not only maintain but continue to strengthen UDM’s Catholic identity.
How does your Catholic faith/experience influence your leadership of a Catholic university?
I think the most important aspect is that I grew up in a Catholic family, and I was educated in Catholic elementary and high schools, including a high school and college seminary. But also, growing up in New Orleans in the 1950s when African-American Catholics were not on an equal footing with all other Catholics in the South, i.e., segregated churches and schools, fully deepened my faith, as I know it did for the faith of my mother and father. My mother was born and raised Catholic, but my father converted to Catholicism after he was married to my mother for 20 years. All of my eight siblings were brought up as Catholics, and we went to segregated Catholic schools. It was not until the mid-1960s that Catholic schools and many churches in New Orleans were integrated. Even though I was aware of that injustice, my interest in going to the seminary was really the result of the influence that the Sisters of the Holy Family, who educated us at St. Joan of Arc School, and the Josephite Fathers (the Society of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart) had on me. These were individuals who were deeply committed to making sure that black children and black families had not only the best education in the world, but that we were exposed to the Church, and also treated as equals. So I think a lot about that because, throughout, the emphasis was on, “you can be the very best” and “you have to work very hard at it.” My siblings, classmates and I learned a lot about leadership and the importance of being excellent in everything that we did from the sisters and priests who educated us.
What does it mean to be a Catholic university today? How does that differentiate UDM from public universities?
The most important thing that separates Catholic colleges from other institutions is that we have a special identity; and we have a mission—a mission that is very strong. Also, the Apostolic Constitution of John Paul II, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, underscores the value and characteristics of a Catholic institution, with an emphasis on the importance of a strong education, and a Catholic education that is deeply embedded in faith. Whenever someone asks me, “Why should I come to UDM as opposed to another university?,” I would emphasize its mission of being Catholic, Mercy, Jesuit, urban and student-centered. I think that those characteristics make it distinctive from other institutions. When one asks a student, “Why did you come here as opposed to someplace else?,” surely they are going to say because the University has the major that I want, but they are also likely to say that this is a place that is welcoming to me and where I feel very comfortable. I can grow in my faith as well as do things in my academic field that will make me a better and a stronger person, not just as a student, but also as a professional and a valuable member of my community.
The essence and distinctiveness of UDM is conveyed very strongly in its mission statement: “an education that seeks to integrate the intellectual, spiritual, ethical and social development of students.”
What does UDM’s mission mean to you?
Those five key words from the UDM mission statement—Catholic, Mercy, Jesuit, urban and student-centered—are very important to me. The fact that UDM is a Catholic institution is obvious. The Mercy tradition’s focus on service and education and the Jesuit’s emphasis on excellence in education and social justice are very important also. Being “student-centered” is expected in most institutions, but UDM emphasizes it in the mission statement, and I understand that commitment to be to both undergraduate and graduate students. The inclusion of the word “urban” in the mission statement is one of those characteristics about UDM that I believe sends a powerful message. In my reading of materials prior to being offered the position, it was very obvious that the University wants to do more in the community to clearly show a linkage between the University and the city’s neighborhoods, and that working along with political leaders and leaders of community and social service organizations can be beneficial to the city’s future. Those opportunities were influential to my interest in UDM, especially in light of the current challenges of education, unemployment, housing, poverty and many other issues in the region. This is a critical time for Detroit and for Michigan.
So, based on my past experiences of working very closely with schools, the business community, churches, neighborhood and social service organizations, the UDM mission is very meaningful to me. A unique university is an institution that is designed not just to educate people, but to prepare individuals for life, for their professional roles and for the contributions that they will make to their communities and society.
What is your knowledge of and connections with the Jesuit and Mercy orders?
As a seminarian, I learned a great deal about the missions and charisms of many religious orders. My closest interactions with the Jesuits occurred when I was a faculty member and academic administrator at Xavier University of Louisiana between 1982 and 1996. Xavier and Loyola University participated in a consortium, and we were involved in many jointly coordinated community projects in New Orleans. At Gannon, we partnered with Mercyhurst College on similar educational and service-oriented activities. And when I was at Howard University, I also initiated comparable collaborations with Georgetown University, as well as Catholic University and other private institutions in the D.C. area. But I feel that irrespective of the religious affiliation of an institution, there’s a natural fit for collaborations among and between Catholic institutions; and those same opportunities extend to other public and non-secular private institutions as well. I am looking forward to trying to develop similar relationships in the Detroit area.
Though you do not begin as president of UDM until July 1, what are your early objectives?
The Strategic Planning Review process is high on my agenda, and I would like to see what the priorities have been for the last few years. I plan to use that information when I convene a Strategic Planning Committee to establish goals and objectives for the next three to five years. Another objective is to get to know faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends of the University; local and state legislators, and other influential leaders in the community and the region with whom I need to meet. Other objectives include: developing strategies to build on recent successes in enrollment at UDM so that we can increase the student body even more at the undergraduate, graduate and professional levels; increasing our fund raising from alumni, friends and private and government sources; and strengthening the interactions among our very large alumni base.
Those priorities are not unusual goals for a university; but it is even more critically important that we promote our strong academic programs. UDM is already distinguished with a high U.S.News & World Report ranking as one of the top-tier institutions in the Midwest; thus, you have to make sure that the broader community is aware of those kinds of academic recognitions. We are going to capitalize on that strong UDM reputation, and we will need alumni assistance in getting the message out.
How does your experience at Gannon prepare you for your role at UDM? How does your personal experience and background prepare you?
Well, the experiences are very similar. Gannon’s enrollment increased by 24 percent during my nine and a half year tenure. The university has been recognized by U.S.News & World Report for the last seven years, including recognition with the “Great School, Great Price” designation for five of the last nine years. The endowment doubled; more than 30 buildings were renovated, acquired or newly purchased. The strategic planning process that I initiated in my early days at Gannon proved to be very successful. I am confident that the strategic plans we develop as our “blueprint for the future” will be equally successful. The nearly $40 million that I was very involved in raising, particularly in private gifts (more than $31.5 million), compared with a campaign goal of $30 million, is a goal that I am hopeful we can surpass at UDM when we identify the amount of our campaign goal. There was also more than $8 million in federal, state and private grants that were raised.
Because five years of my career immediately after graduate school were spent with the U.S. Department of Education’s National Institute of Education, I learned the important elements of competitive and strong proposals. My track record in fund raising is well known, and I look forward to working with the faculty in all of the colleges so we can develop proposals and pursue fund-raising opportunities with the federal agencies and the state government that the University may not have ever pursued.
UDM has currently seen positive results in freshman enrollment, budget and fund raising. How will you plan to build on those successes?
Even though I need to get a great deal more information about UDM’s recent goals for admissions and fund raising, I can assure you that I will be using some of the same strategies that I have used in my previous institutions. As a president, and even in my prior roles as provost, vice president and dean, I have always been personally involved in student recruitment and in fund raising. I take great pride in getting to know students before they come to the University, and I know I will enjoy encouraging students to enroll at UDM. Similarly, the same process has to occur when getting alumni and friends involved in the University.
The bottom line is that you have to tell a great story to recruit students and to energize alumni, and that should be easy because UDM has a lot of really great stories.
How will you help to build higher visibility and recognition for UDM?
One of the key aspects of being president is being able to promote the things we are doing. Sometimes institutions become known as “the best kept secrets.” It is very important that all those good things that the University does are promoted. That’s what raises the prestige and reputation of an institution. So the more that we can promote those positive characteristics of the University, we will be very, very successful. For example, the promotion of the volunteer and service-learning work that UDM students provide to schools and to young students as mentors are the kinds of things that students at UDM have done that have been recognized with national awards. Students perform service as part of their educational experiences and are not looking for recognition. They know it’s the right thing to do, and so it’s important for us to tell that story. UDM also has many faculty and staff members who serve on very important academic and community committees, and it is important to promote their success and service. Additionally, through my own service on national and regional boards, I expect to use those connections to broaden UDM’s reputation and recognition.
What do you see as UDM’s role in helping to revitalize Detroit and Michigan, given the area’s economic and demographic challenges?
UDM’s students, faculty and staff are already involved in the revitalization of the city, but we can make an even more significant contribution by working closely with schools, neighborhoods, community organizations, social service organizations, medical centers, the legal community, local government and nearby governments, the business community, and more. We have a great opportunity to be as helpful as possible to the renaissance of the city and state. UDM is well positioned to do it because of the interdisciplinary opportunities of the seven schools and colleges.
How do you describe your management philosophy/style?
I describe my management style as collegial. I enjoy working together with individuals and different units; and I like to know as much as I can about every unit at the University. And though it’s impossible to know everything, I like to be armed with data and with facts so that I am as knowledgeable as possible when interacting with people from the community, Michigan, and other states. I’m a huge fan of communication, and I believe in responding to emails promptly, though that can be challenging at times. And, I also believe in communicating with the University community so that everybody knows what’s happening on campus.
I am also a firm believer in “management by walking around.” I believe it’s important to get out of the office and get to know the campus community. By walking around the campus, faculty or staff will approach me and say, “Oh, by the way, I have this idea, and what do you think it might take in order to get this implemented.” Well, I may not be able to endorse the idea on the spot or be the one to promote it, but I might be able to say you should talk to this person on campus in a specific school or college to begin discussing the idea with those who may be able to implement it.
Because students with whom I have previously worked know that I try to spend as much time as I can with them, they have typically shared their concerns about something or told me things before they reached a crisis point; and, rather than them going through a whole lot of bureaucracy and having things escalate, their problems were typically resolved with a short conversation.
I also have historically held “Student Hour” one day a week when students can come to speak with me about just about anything. I don’t mettle too much in the academic arena, e.g., if the student has a gripe about a grade. There’s an established process to handle those concerns. But Student Hour has been another way for me to get to know students and students’ way of getting to know me. Oftentimes, students don’t need to see me at Student Hour because they might see me at athletic events or another type of activity on campus. Whether they have a quick question or are concerned about something, I can respond to them quickly or refer them to somebody who can respond appropriately.
How do you plan to get to know the University community?
I’m going to get out and meet as many people as I can. Some of that might be the result of meetings, and some might be the result of just walking around campus. I have a 100-day plan for the local area, which includes the University community. But I certainly hope that students, faculty and staff will invite me to meetings and different kinds of events so that I can get to know them better. I intend to be very visible on campus, and there will be a lot of things to do in those first couple of months.
At Gannon, you were able to get to know each student’s name. That is remarkable. How were you able to do this?
I have a gift for remembering names, and I believe in using it. It is not as easy as most people think, but I work very hard at trying to remember students’ names—as well as faculty and staff; but I only get to know them over time by finding out what their majors are, where they are from, what they are involved in on campus, and so forth. Sometimes it might take two or three times before I get the associations correctly, but it means a lot to remember students’, faculty and staff members’ names and who they are. I will work hard at it, but give me a little time.
What is the role of alumni in UDM’s success? What makes an involved alumnus?
An involved alumnus keeps in close contact with the University. Everyone has a favorite faculty member or a group of faculty members or a staff member. It is very important for alumni to keep in touch with those individuals. Those are some of the best experiences that many people would say they ever had in their entire lives. But it’s essential that alumni get involved and visit the campus. When alumni feel good about the University, they want to contribute in some kind of way—sometimes it’s financial, sometimes it may be professional. For example, it might be through providing internships for students in a particular area. It might be providing an opportunity for a faculty member to spend some time during the summer at their company. There are many ways for alumni to connect or re-connect to the University; and the valuable information they can provide to faculty and students about what will be expected of the graduates of UDM today is priceless.
What attracted you most to UDM, to Detroit?
I was attracted to UDM’s Catholic mission and its long, great traditions of the Jesuits and the Sisters of Mercy. It was also an opportunity for me to build on the 134 years of success of both University of Detroit and Mercy College. The charisms of the Jesuits and the Sisters of Mercy to educate, serve, and promote social justice, and their commitment to the Church and to the community were all goals that are very consistent with my own background and interests. I love to work at a place where I’m really passionate about the mission.
In addition, I know that there’s a very strong alumni following for Titan Athletics. I’m looking forward to spending as much time as I can getting to know all of the student-athletes and coaches. I will be a very strong advocate of athletics and student-athletes.
With regard to the city, Detroit is a great city, as I know from good friends who were born and raised here and with whom I have worked over the last four decades. In spite of the challenges, Detroit has a rich history, great museums, sports teams, and a beautiful region. I am very enthusiastic and excited about the opportunity to contribute to Detroit’s renaissance and revitalization at this critical time.
Can you tell us a bit about your wife, Carol?
Carol grew up in California, but calls New Orleans home. Her parents are from New Orleans, and she has lived in New Orleans longer than any other city. She spent her career working for BellSouth, mostly in technical sales. Lately, she has not worked but enjoys volunteering. She has a Computer Engineering degree from Tulane University. We were married late
in life and have no children; but we both come from large families and have more than three dozen nieces and nephews.