Three years ago, the Boards of Trustees at Saint John’s University and the College of Saint Benedict in Minnesota began discussions about a plan for a more streamlined vision and leadership at the top. That exploration led to the idea of having one individual be the caretaker for both the men’s university and the women’s institution.
On Tuesday, the colleges made their historic announcement official, naming College of St. Norbert president Brian Bruess as the first president of both Saint John’s and Saint Ben’s in a move that they termed their “Strong Integration” initiative. “The leadership capabilities and strategic focus that Brian brings will allow us to execute our vision for Strong Integration—a new and innovative model of governance in higher education,” LeeAnne Matthews Stewart, Board Chair. “Brian already has a deep appreciation of our unique propositions as a college for women and a men’s university. Building on the distinctiveness of each while empowering our partnership—that’s what Strong Integration is all about.”
That Strong strategy promises to keep the separate identities of each institution (Saint John’s was founded in 1857 and Saint Ben’s in 1913) but boldly moves forward, developing new innovations while limiting the umbrella of leadership and decisions that come in the future.
“I am deeply humbled to be entrusted with this momentous and consequential opportunity,” Bruess said. “For nearly 30 years I have studied and admired Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s. Both are nationally recognized for offering a profoundly impactful educational experience, for generating exceptional learning outcomes and for producing principled and action-oriented graduates who contribute to the betterment of society. I believe they can serve as a national model of cooperation, togetherness and superior educational quality.”
Bruess has spent the past five years leading the small Catholic liberal arts school in Wisconsin to unprecedented enrollment and endowment boosts and increases in diversity. He previously spent 17 years in various administrative roles at the all-women’s St. Catherine University. Calling him the perfect candidate for the role, its Boards of Trustees officially will welcome him to the post on July 1.
“With his successful experiences in higher education, President Bruess is an outstanding and unique match with Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s and what we do for both women and men,” said co-chair Bennett Morgan. “Our search committee couldn’t be more excited to see how Brian and our team unlock the potential of these two institutions together in new and exciting ways while advancing our unique and distinct mission in educating and developing both women and men.”
They already had gotten a pretty good start in terms of branding. The website nicely shows the cohesion and possibilities of such a combination for others across higher education. With schools being close in proximity and serving similar missions, it is hardly a stretch to see the two paired. Both also have worked together on academic programming for decades. And yet, the separation is still clearly defined.
Of course, it will be Bruess’ job to manage both as one entity in some respects, particularly governance. He will officially take the reins from two transitional presidents—James Mullen at Saint John’s and Laurie Hamen at Saint Benedict’s.
“Given the mission—Benedictine, Catholic, liberal arts, residential and unapologetic focus on holistic development and flourishing of principled women and men—this is a vocational opportunity I could not resist,” he said. “I cannot wait to get to know and learn from all of the incredible people who make up these two distinguished communities.”