“It’s kind of a dream job for me,” Kilpatrick said in an interview. “I feel that my entire academic administrative career has prepared me well to be president, and my personal values and beliefs have prepared me to be president at a Catholic university. So it’s just a joy for me to be able to live very authentically.”
Kilpatrick’s appointment comes after a search that followed Garvey’s announcement in September that he would be leaving the northeast Washington campus at the end of the school year.
“We could not have asked for a better candidate to lead the Catholic University,” Victor P. Smith, chair of the university’s Research Advisory Committee and Board of Trustees, said in a statement. “Peter Kilpatrick is both a distinguished researcher and a creative administrator who sees research at the service of the human person in accordance with his Catholic faith.
Kilpatrick, who has described himself as an “adult convert to Catholicism“, will inherit a university struggling with issues including faculty disputes and a sustained decline in enrolment. The university enrolled 6,725 students, including 3,713 undergraduates, as of fall 2013, according to federal data. Last fall, it reported 2,929 undergraduates and 5,059 students overall.
Total enrollment has fallen more than 5% during the pandemic, the data shows.
“Part of that, quite frankly, is that higher education is getting more and more competitive every year,” Kilpatrick said. He also pointed to a dwindling number of college-aged adults. “It will get worse before it gets better. The recession really took a toll on birth rates in the late 2000s.”
It’s a trend affecting colleges across the country, but Catholics have been hit particularly hard. Kilpatrick said the university will need to refine some of its offerings — such as career preparation services — but also find different ways to generate revenue so the school is less dependent on tuition fees.
At Illinois Tech, Kilpatrick led the development of an online master’s program for students living in China that is expected to generate $10 million in net tuition revenue by 2025, according to his resume. He also created the school’s five-year strategic plan and helped build a leadership team that includes four new deans and seven department chairs.
There’s also work to be done on messaging, said Kilpatrick, who during his years at Notre Dame saw undergraduate enrollment in the engineering department increase by 60%. “I’ve had many conversations with enrollment strategists over the past few years,” he said. “I think one of the things you do is refine the messaging around what makes your university really distinctive.”
Catholics, like their religious peers, are committed to “the integration of faith and reason,” Kilpatrick said. But what sets the school apart — and what drew Kilpatrick to campus — is the integration of diverse disciplines, he said.
“Many universities, unfortunately, are turning into what I would call ‘multiversities’ because the disciplines are so siloed,” Kilpatrick said. “And that’s not healthy for young people because they are being formed in education.”
The new leader also said he wanted to speed up research and address concerns about faculty pay.
“It’s been difficult, given the financial circumstances of the past few years, to give the kind of faculty raises that I think we need to attract and retain our best faculty,” he said. Kilpatrick added that Garvey’s administration has been working to provide raises for the upcoming academic year.
Catholic, over the years, has become known for its conservative values. Officials have been accused of giving preference to conservative Catholics when making hiring decisions, which the university has refuse. The university is looking for diverse faculty, but the majority is expected to be Catholic, said campus spokesperson Karna Lozoya.
In 2011, the university returned to single-sex residence halls – an effort to reduce excessive drinking and casual dating.
And earlier this year, Garvey’s musings on science and the pandemic drew criticism from many inside and outside the community. “Knowledgeable say those who oppose vaccines, masks, quarantines, testing, crowd control and school closures are failing to ‘keep up with the science,'” Garvey wrote in the Catholic standard, the official journal of the Archdiocese of Washington. “It’s unfair. There’s a lot we don’t know about the progress of the infection or the effectiveness of our responses.”
A group of teachers of nurses in school retaliated, begging people to get vaccinated and boost. Catholics, unlike neighboring schools in the district, did not enforce a vaccination mandate for students and employees last year. But Lozoya said the school’s approach to the pandemic has “always aligned” with advice from the city’s health department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Kilpatrick said he considers himself “apolitical”.
“I am very pro-immigration. I believe the world is facing an environmental challenge that is very, very serious, and a lot of people would say those are leftist or liberal positions,” Kilpatrick said. “And yet I am very much at the heart of the church on life issues, which many people would say are conservative or right-wing.”
Although deeply committed to his faith, Kilpatrick said he hopes students from all walks of life will consider college. Eighty percent of undergraduate students identify as Catholic, according to at University.
“I believe there’s a way to be very welcoming to people of all backgrounds and beliefs,” Kilpatrick said. “But at the same time, I believe we have a commitment as an institution, it’s the ‘episcopal’ university, to be at the heart of the church. And this is our mission.