Faithful leadership guides Dr. Ivany’s decade of service as UST president

October 28, 2014

HOUSTON — A liberal arts education from the University of St. Thomas (UST) offers students more than the diploma and rewarding career promised by other colleges; it provides the foundation for a fulfilling personal life and empowers graduates to make a thoughtful, ethically driven contribution to society, according to UST President Dr. Robert Ivany.

“We want our students to have more,” Ivany said, speaking on the occasion of his 10-year anniversary at UST. “More than just the degree, more than just the credits and more than that first job. We want them to have a rewarding life, and our curriculum is shaped accordingly.”

Ivany said demonstrating and communicating the fact that UST “has something unique to offer” both students and Houston at large has remained a defining priority and an ongoing challenge during his tenure as the University’s eighth president.

“The University of St. Thomas has the reputation of being the best-kept secret in Houston,” he said, “but I’ve worked hard to make us a more widely recognized, respected and integral part of the city and the region.”

Ten years into Ivany’s presidency, those efforts are paying off. The university has received mounting accolades for its overall academic excellence, strong Catholic identity and engagement with the wider community. 

Under Ivany’s leadership, UST has enrolled graduate students at record numbers, tripled its financial aid commitments and bolstered its academic offerings, which now includes the reopened and recently renamed Carol and Odis Peavy School of Nursing and a master’s degree in faith and culture. UST’s Center for Thomistic Studies, meanwhile, offers an internationally acclaimed Ph.D. in philosophy. In collaboration with Houston Methodist Research Institute, a master in Clinical Translation Management will be introduced at UST next year.

Ivany has also helped the university achieve prestigious national and international accreditation for its existing programs, revived its intercollegiate athletic program and launched its most ambitious fundraising effort to date, a $170 million campaign that includes a $47.2 million Center for Science and Health Professions as its top priority.

“A university is like a sailing ship,” Ivany said. “Either you’re going forward or you’re capsizing — there’s no standing still, no staying the way we were.”

As it moves forward, the UST “ship” already possesses formidable advantages, he said. These include a “marvelous” faculty, “exceptional” board members and donors, the legacy and ongoing commitment of the Basilian Fathers, who founded the university in 1947, and an enviable location in the heart of a multicultural, continuously expanding metropolis.

“Our demographic make-up in Houston is what America’s going to look like in 20 years; far more international and far more diverse than most people realize,” he said.

“Our graduates have a tremendous advantage learning in this environment and with our strong moral foundation rooted in the Catholic faith and in our Basilian values,” he said. “We want to educate leaders of faith and character, who think critically, communicate effectively and succeed professionally, and that’s where I think the University of St. Thomas can play an indispensable role in Houston.”

But if UST possesses the faculty, students and real-estate of an exceptional university, it still lacks first-rate facilities for students in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math, Ivany said. That’s why UST’s future Center for Science and Health Professions, now more than halfway funded, remains the university’s top campaign priority.

“We owe it to our students and community to provide the best possible learning environment for our future scientists and health professionals — it’s absolutely essential,” he said.

Ivany said his appreciation for education was shaped by his family’s immigrant experience. Ivany’s father, a professional engineer in war-decimated Hungary, brought his young family to Ohio when Ivany was just 3 years old. There, they started a new life with just $15, a gift from the Red Cross. 

“My father used to say, ‘When you think you have lost everything, remember that the one thing no one can take from you is your education,’” Ivany recalled. “That, and our faith in God, kept us going.” 

His family’s gratitude and respect for their new country also prompted Ivany’s interest in the armed services. Enrolling at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point as an undergraduate, he launched a long and decorated career in the Army, later serving as an armored cavalry officer in Vietnam, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Germany.

From 1984 to 1986, Ivany served as the Army Aide to the President of the United States under Ronald Reagan, and then presided over the illustrious U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., prior to retiring as a major general.

“I felt the Army was a noble calling,” Ivany said. “I went to West Point, stayed in the Army for my 5-year obligation and discovered that I loved it, so I stayed for 34 years. I’m very grateful to my wife Marianne and to our four children, who put up with the hardships of military life and the incessant moves we had.”

Over the last 10 years, Ivany said he has channeled the sense of service that inspired him in the military into serving UST and wider Houston community, helping students — and UST — reach their full potential the way he once coached young recruits to excel.

“The past decade,” he said, “has been joyous, productive and challenging — and one of the most rewarding of my life.”