Sometime in the next year, Bellarmine University will name its fourth president. The Board of Trustees will conduct a national search to replace Dr. Joseph J. McGowan, who died in March, and hopes to have the new president in office before the start of the 2017-18 school year.
Until that time, the university’s leader is Interim President Doris A. Tegart. The board appointed Dr. Tegart, who is also a candidate for the permanent position, to the post at its April meeting. “It’s so bittersweet,” Dr. Tegart said. “I love the job, but I hate how I got here.”
Indeed, Dr. Tegart has been on a wild rollercoaster ride for the past couple of years.
In November 2014, Cottey College, a liberal arts women’s college in Nevada, Missouri, announced that Dr. Tegart, who was then Bellarmine’s provost, would become its 12th president the following June. Almost immediately after that announcement, she fell severely ill with what would eventually be diagnosed as fallopian-tube cancer and had to turn down the job.
After radical surgery and aggressive chemotherapy treatments, Dr. Tegart received a clean bill of health and came back to work at Bellarmine as executive vice president. Then, in March, she lost a mentor, longtime colleague and dear friend when Dr. McGowan died suddenly of a pulmonary embolism. The death of Bellarmine’s beloved third president, who had been in that job since 1990, shocked the entire community.
At least the board had an easy decision in choosing an interim leader. A Bellarmine faculty member since 1994 and a member of President McGowan’s leadership team since 1999, Dr. Tegart has served as education dean, vice president of enrollment management, vice president of academic affairs and provost. In those roles, she has not only been an integral part of Bellarmine’s strategic growth and overarching culture, she has also steered its instructional course as the university’s chief academic officer.
Here’s just a taste of what that encompasses: the oversight of all seven academic schools; the launches of varied entrepreneurial ventures, including two new schools and two new institutes; the stewardship of the university’s accreditation; and, as “first among equals,” serving as President McGowan’s second in command.
During her tenure, Bellarmine has increased the number of full-time faculty by 25 percent and overall student enrollment by 35 percent and has launched 23 new academic programs, including its first Ph.D. program.
Quick with a laugh and generous with her time, Doris Tegart is as hardworking as anybody you’ll likely meet. Her breakneck meeting schedule and 3 a.m. emails have caused some co-workers to speculate that she doesn’t sleep. “I sleep just as much as everybody else,” she said. “I go to bed really early—at 8 or 9 o’clock—and get up at 3 and check messages, and I can’t help but respond.”
She’s also an admitted gadget junkie. “I’m never without that electronic stuff. I have two iPads and I’m particularly attached to the Surface. Once I noticed when my grandson and my husband were there that we had 12 screens open. It’s like I’m flying a damn airplane or something!”
If that sounds like the lifestyle of an entrepreneur, it’s because she is one. For all the members of the president’s Cabinet—indeed, for most administrators and faculty at Bellarmine—academic entrepreneurship is not only a strategic discipline, it’s paramount to the university’s future.
“Academic entrepreneurship is a delicate balance that we must make between market and mission,” she said. “We have the liberal arts—the classical foundation—but we have to listen to the market as well. You look at the Venn diagram: The market needs this and our mission is this—is there any intersection where we can come forward and offer a program that’s needed and wanted? So we work with the hospitals, for example. If they need technology and analytics training, we have to respond to that.
“Faculty are the academic architects of our program, but we also look to serve the community,” she added. “So we strive to balance the mission and the market. We’ve become more and more sophisticated in developing our strategic plans. We will always grow if we listen to the market.
“Growth and change are in my nature. I couldn’t do anything else.”
That spirit and tenacity might explain, in some part, her dramatic recovery from cancer. Ovarian cancer is notoriously difficult to diagnose and treat. “When I was diagnosed, Dr. McGowan called [Norton Healthcare President and Bellarmine board member] Russ Cox and they got me what they thought was the best doctor. And my doctor said, ‘You’re going back to work. We’re going to whip this.’”
The surgery and treatments, known as intraperitoneal (IP) chemotherapy, were grueling. The IP is so hard on patients that many won’t consent to it and many doctors won’t even try it. But it is so effective that the National Cancer Institute issued a rare clinical announcement in 2006 recommending that medical practice should change immediately, according to a 2015 New York Times story.
“Patients get sicker—you get them right to death and then pull back,” said Dr. Tegart. “They drown you with these drugs. A lot of people don’t finish the treatment because they don’t want to become that ill.”
But she never considered another option. “My doctor would say, ‘Are you up for this next treatment?’ and I would say, ‘I’m going to crawl down this hall before I stop. I’m not going to blink.’”
Now cancer-free, she takes the lead at Bellarmine with a new perspective. “Who gets a reprieve from a disease like that—to come back and get to do everything you wished to do? It’s amazing.”
So, what’s next for the interim president and for Bellarmine? “There is still a lot of keeping the ship up,” she said. “[Dr. McGowan’s death] just tore everybody to pieces. It’s been a balance of honoring him and grieving appropriately but yet taking off and making this year very productive. It’s a new day. We’re moving ahead. We are going to raise money.”
Dr. Tegart takes the reins of a university that is strong and has enjoyed years of sustained growth. “We’re in great shape. Our freshman enrollment looks strong for the fall. We have a contract with JCPS to do some exciting teaching stuff, and our accelerated nursing program is strong. And I’m keeping the costs down!”
Her plans also call for building on the academic entrepreneurship of the past decade. “We will be building, of course, on the foundation Dr. McGowan built. He was literally the architect of this campus. I’m hoping that I’ll be the academic architect. So now we look inward,” she said.
“As we speak, we’re redoing the general education, which is the foundation of the liberal arts and the most important thing we do. We’ll continue to complete Vision 2020 [Dr. McGowan’s sweeping vision of growth for Bellarmine], the enrollment, the buildings.”
She also hopes to continue and expand Bellarmine’s community engagement. “I’d like to complete the goals with partnerships with the community and with other colleges. We’re committed to working with the city and with 55,000 Degrees [the City of Louisville’s program to add 55,000 college degrees by 2020] and to carry on Dr. McGowan’s commitment in those areas.”
Dr. McGowan would surely approve of the board’s choice to put Dr. Tegart in charge. Here’s what he said about her when she was appointed to the Cottey presidency: “It is simply not possible to imagine a stronger leader for such an institution—or to envision a better exemplar of its mission—than Dr. Doris Tegart. Her nature has always been characterized by a rare and wonderful fusion of lean-forward determination and focus, along with great good humor, even hilarity. She fully respects process, but she knows that results matter—and that people matter. As a leader among leaders, Dr. Tegart has been exceptionally helpful in implementing Vision 2020 and our strategic-plan themes of Catholic identity in the Merton spirit, excellence, internationalization, and global sustainability.”
She also has a plainspoken appreciation for the university she now leads. “I want to build community and for everybody to know we’re here for each other,” she said. “Because we work at the greatest place. All you have to do is go someplace else and you’ll see we work in the greatest place ever.”
Jim Welp ’81