ST. MARY-OF-THE-WOODS —
David Behrs believes much has been accomplished during his three-year tenure as president of St. Mary-of-the-Woods College.
Overall enrollment is up about 6 percent.
The college has completed an extensive program analysis to better meet the needs of students, operate more efficiently and improve program quality.
Athletic opportunities have increased.
Despite the recent economic downturn, the college will end the year with a balanced budget, Behrs said, and a 5 percent pool of funding has been set aside for faculty and staff pay increases in 2010-11.
“One of the things I’m most proud of is that even in the last two years of the economic downturn, we did not have any reduction in force or layoffs,” he said in an interview Wednesday at the college.
Behrs believes the college is in good shape as he prepares to end his tenure in July and move back to California, where he will serve as head of school at San Domenico, an independent Catholic school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. It is located in the San Francisco Bay area, where he’ll also be “getting back with family.”
His wife continues to teach first grade in the Bay area and his younger daughter wanted to finish high school there.
Prior to becoming the Woods’ 15th president – and its first male president – Behrs had been associate provost and vice president for student affairs and enrollment management at Dominican University of California, also in the San Francisco Bay area.
While his decision to resign took many by surprise, Behrs said, “It’s a tough decision, but it’s a necessary one.” Without elaborating, he says the reasons are as previously stated – to be close to family and to begin his new job Aug. 2.
He has no regrets, he said. His inaugural theme was “a journey of promise,” and he’s followed through with the goals he outlined. “Everything I talked about at my inauguration, we’ve done or are in the process of completing,” he said.
Last year, the board of trustees renewed his contract for another three years. “I feel like I’m leaving the college in a much stronger position,” he said.
Behrs, 50, has spent 27 years in higher education, and his new job involves pre-kindergarten through high school. “It’s a new challenge,” he said. Head of school is similar to a chief executive officer, he said. “I’m the head honcho.”
The school, sponsored by the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael and founded in 1850, is the oldest independent school in California. It has a co-educational day school through eighth grade, and a girls day and boarding school for grades 9-12. San Domenico has more than 500 students.
The new position “is very much like running a college campus community,” he said. “The most important ingredient is assembling a very strong team around you.”
Behrs spoke highly of Dottie King, currently vice president for academic affairs, who will begin serving as interim president July 1, he said.
“She is fabulous,” he said. “I know we have great leadership in place with Dottie and we have a strong cabinet.”
He and King have already begun the transition process. While he technically finishes July 30, he will take some vacation time before then. Among other tasks, the Behrs must sell their Vigo County home.
Other accomplishments during Behrs’ tenure at the Woods include increased visibility of the college; stronger international partnerships; a fully online undergraduate program; proactive collaboration with the community’s other colleges and universities; and several nationally competitive athletic teams.
“Athletics has been one of the hallmarks of my administration the last three years,” he said, noting that the women’s cross country team won a national championship in its inaugural season.
The Woods has launched a $20 million fundraising campaign for a new sports and wellness center, now in its quiet phase. (A public phase will be launched later.) So far, about $6 million has been raised. Behrs believes the new center “is absolutely crucial” for the college’s future.
He says he’ll return when it opens.
Behrs attributes the successes of his administration to collaborative efforts by all groups on campus. Also, the relationship with the Sisters of Providence, which sponsors the college, “has never been stronger,” he said.
Behrs recognizes that not all of the changes on campus have been popular. “You’re not going to please all the people all the time,” he said.
But in the process of making those changes,”We’ve been open, transparent and inclusive, every step of the way,” he said. His door has always been open to anyone who wanted to talk, he said.
Behrs has enjoyed not just his time at the Woods, but his time in Terre Haute as well.
“This town has embraced me, and I’ve tried to embrace the town,” he said. “I’ve made some great friends I hope will last a lifetime.”
He says he feels privileged and blessed to have served as the college’s 15th president.
“People say it’s a spiritual place and it truly is. You can feel it when you come down that avenue,” he said.
While he won’t be able to follow through with some of the initiatives he’s started, “I have no regrets because I’ve given my heart, mind, body and soul to this institution and this community. For three years, I’ve given it everything I have. I can look back and say we did some great things as a community and team and I know that legacy will continue through the current leadership that’s in place.”
Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or firstname.lastname@example.org.