Timing of St. Thomas Shift in Board Policy Questioned

By Berggren, Kris | National Catholic Reporter, December 14, 2007 | Go to article overview

Timing of St. Thomas Shift in Board Policy Questioned


Berggren, Kris, National Catholic Reporter


A bylaws change approved by the board of trustees of the University of St. Thomas here at its Oct. 25 meeting has raised questions in some circles about whether the university was attempting to distance itself from an incoming conservative bishop.

The decision eliminated the ex officio role of the local bishop, currently Archbishop Harry Flynn, as chair of the university's board. Flynn was then elected to a five-year term as chair. The move means that the automatic designation will not go to Bishop John Nienstedt, Flynn's coadjutor, who is expected to assume leadership of the archdiocese as early as next year.

On its Web site, St. Thomas refers to itself as an archdiocesan university, but also says it "is not owned or governed by the archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis."

The change in bylaws stemmed from recommendations about best practices made to the St. Thomas board five years ago, said spokesperson Doug Hennes.

"The Association of Governing Boards of Colleges and Universities came in and examined our board's practices in 2002 and made a series of recommendations. One was a larger board, another had to do with meeting formats." The third was "that we consider an elected chairman as opposed to an ex officio chair," Hennes said.

Some question the timing of the new policy. The change keeps Nienstedt out of the chairperson's seat, at least for now. Nienstedt is known for holding rigidly conservative positions on doctrinal and pastoral matters such as ministry to gays and lesbians, while Flynn, though not regarded as liberal, is perceived to be more moderate and pastoral in his leadership.

St. Thomas board member Michael V. Ciresi, a prominent Minneapolis lawyer and a Democratic candidate for the seat held by Republican Sen. Norm Coleman, said that the recommendations made by the association have been implemented one by one since 2002, and that nothing should be read into the board's timing. …

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