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Charles J. Dougherty, Ph.D.

President, Duquesne University of the Holy Spirit

Charles DoughertyOn October 13, 2001, Dr. Charles J. Dougherty stepped to the podium at the Palumbo Center.

“I ask you today to join with me in a bold and candid conversation about who we are and what we can be,” he urged the assembled crowd of faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends.  “If I am right, the future we want is an even greater university, an even greater Duquesne.”

Dougherty had only been on campus for two months.  Duquesne had made great progress in the previous decade, yet he sensed a longing among the community for even loftier achievements.

Born in New York City in 1949, Dougherty was steeped in the Catholic educational tradition.  After attending St. Anthony’s High School, he became the first in his family to attend college, earning a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from St. Bonaventure University in 1971, then receiving master's and doctorate degrees in philosophy from Notre Dame in 1973 and 1975.

Dougherty came to Duquesne from Creighton University, where he served as academic vice president from 1995 to 2001 and as acting president in the summer of 2000.  He joined the Creighton faculty in 1975, and chaired the department of philosophy from 1981 to 1989.  He also held faculty appointments in medicine, pharmacy, dentistry and nursing, and served as the first director of the Creighton Center for Health Policy and Ethics from 1988 to 1995.

Dougherty’s academic background as a philosopher and ethicist suggested that his presidency would begin with thoughtful analysis, and indeed, one of his first actions was to initiate a comprehensive strategic planning process—the first in University history.  Every constituency was engaged in the dialogue, which produced a simple yet elegant plan built around three priorities—emphasizing Duquesne’s distinctive Spiritan identity and mission, building a global reputation for academic excellence, and enhancing the quality of every student’s experience.

Through implementation of that initial plan, and then a second, the University has flourished.  By every measure, the “even greater Duquesne” Dougherty envisioned has become a reality.

The renaissance began with improving the size and quality of the student body.  In 2001, 96 percent of freshman applicants were accepted.  This year, only 68 percent were offered admission. The average SAT score of entering students—1137 for the most recent class—is 60 points higher than in 2001 and exceeds state and national averages by more than 125 points.

While increasing selectivity, Duquesne has simultaneously grown its undergraduate ranks.  The 10 largest classes in its history matriculated in the Dougherty era.  Students from all 50 states and 77 nations are enrolled, and racial and ethnic diversity across the student body is steadily rising.
Once on the Bluff, students stay.  Ninety-seven percent of 2013 freshmen enrolled for their second semester.  A remarkable 89.8 percent of them returned for 2014, a rate far above national averages, even among similarly selective private institutions.  A six-year graduation rate of 76 percent—also an all-time high—is 11 percent higher than the average for private universities.

As the faces of Duquesne have changed, so has its landscape.  The boundaries of the campus core were once defined by Forbes Avenue, the Liberty Bridge, the Boulevard of the Allies and Mercy Hospital.  In 2004, Duquesne acquired the last privately owned property within its 50-acre footprint, purchasing a high-rise apartment building now known as Brottier Hall.

Continuing growth necessitated even more space.  In 2008, the University opened the Power Center on Forbes Avenue, a multipurpose recreational facility featuring three floors of fitness space and equipment, retail and restaurant development on the ground floor, and a top-floor ballroom with a panoramic view of the Pittsburgh skyline—all connected to the upper campus by a skywalk and tower that has become an iconic “front door” to the surrounding neighborhood.

Acquisition of the former Robert Morris University building on Fifth Avenue in 2010 nearly doubled available classroom space.  A new state-of-the-art residence hall opened in 2012.  And the University has purchased several properties along Fifth Avenue adjacent to the CONSOL Energy Center.  These buildings house administrative offices and community outreach initiatives, such as a pharmacy wellness center and a community law clinic.

In total, Duquesne has added more than 500,000 square feet of space for academics, student life and support services during Dougherty’s tenure—a number that will continue to grow with the completion of the Genesius Project, a new venue for theater and music performance, in July of 2015.

The expansion of campus into the surrounding neighborhood reflects the University’s growth in community engagement.  Duquesne has been named to the President’s Community Service Honor Roll in each of the past eight years—the last five “with distinction”—and has held the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s elite Community Engagement Classification since 2008. No other university in the Pittsburgh area holds these designations. 

Dougherty himself is a prominent community leader, serving on the boards of UPMC Mercy Hospital, the Senator John Heinz History Center, the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh.  He is a member of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania, the President’s Committee of the Pittsburgh Council on Higher Education and the Atlantic 10 Council of Presidents.

The University’s total regional economic impact increased by more than 37 percent between fiscal 2003 and 2009 alone.  In 2013, Duquesne infused more than $457.6 million into southwestern Pennsylvania’s economy. This figure included nearly $10 million in research funding.  Since 2001, Duquesne has carved out a distinctive niche in such fields as pharmacy, the environmental sciences and biomedical engineering.  Duquesne has become one of only seven Catholic universities recognized for high research activity and is ranked 16th among the nation’s top small doctoral research institutions.

Duquesne has built its research profile while retaining its traditional focus on academics and teaching.  Dougherty spearheaded the first revision of Duquesne’s Undergraduate Core Curriculum in more than 20 years. All academic programs are now subject to outcomes assessment either through accrediting bodies or through rigorous national standards measurements. The number of endowed faculty chairs has increased from two to 24 since 2001.

Those endowed chairs—and much of Duquesne’s ascent—have been fueled by significant improvements in development and alumni engagement.  The Advancing Our Legacy campaign—publicly launched in 2008 and concluded in 2012—shattered its $150 million goal by raising a total of more than $163.5 million.  The final tally included the University’s largest gift ever ($12.5 million from the William S. Dietrich Foundation) and 20 gifts of $1 million or more. In the 125 years of Duquesne’s previous history, only six $1 million gifts had been received.

Support for the Legacy campaign was broad-based.  Of the nearly 64,000 total donors, more than half made their first gift ever, laying the foundation for continued fundraising growth.

Dougherty has maintained and strengthened the University’s financial position during challenging economic times.  The University’s budget has been balanced every year during his tenure, and Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s have elevated and reaffirmed Duquesne’s bond ratings, most recently in 2014.  That same year, the market value of Duquesne’s investments exceeded $300 million for the first time.  Duquesne is ranked 18th by U.S. News and World Report among the most efficiently operated top-tier universities.  Only two other Catholic institutions made this list.

This is only one of many unprecedented rankings Duquesne has received since Dougherty’s arrival.  Duquesne debuted in the U.S. News top tier of national doctoral universities in 2008, and its placement has risen each year since.  In the 2015 edition, Duquesne achieved its highest ranking ever, tied at No. 116 with three other institutions, including the Catholic University of America.  Among national Catholic institutions, it is tied for 12th with Catholic University.

U.S. News also lists Duquesne as a “Great School at a Great Price,” an “A+ School for B Students,” and among the top 115 universities in a national reputation poll among high school counselors. Veterans’ services, undergraduate business and graduate programs in law, nursing, education, business, English and psychology have all achieved U.S. News national rankings in recent years.

Forbes has ranked Duquesne among “America’s Top Colleges,” based on student satisfaction, academic achievement, high graduation rates, post-graduate success and low levels of debt.  The Princeton Review, Bloomberg Businessweek and National Jurist are among the respected sources lauding Duquesne’s programs.  Kiplinger’s Personal Finance and Washington Monthly have praised Duquesne’s combination of academic quality and affordability.

With all that has changed at Duquesne under Dougherty’s leadership, another Washington Monthly ranking underscores a key factor that has not.  The publication examined universities’ contributions to social mobility; that is, providing opportunities for low-income students to advance personally and professionally.  Duquesne ranked in the top 75 on that list as well.

This honor gets to the core of the Duquesne difference: the Spiritan charism that, for more than three centuries, has recognized education as the key to liberation from poverty and injustice. 

Dougherty studied at Franciscan and Holy Cross institutions.  He spent a quarter-century teaching at a Jesuit university. Yet from the day he became Duquesne’s 12th president, Dougherty embraced its unique responsibility as the world’s only comprehensive Spiritan university.  

Outreach to Africa and the African diaspora is a central tenet of the University’s current strategic plan.  Dougherty has personally traveled to Africa to visit Spiritan educators and missionaries.  Faculty, staff and students followed, initiating scores of teaching, research and service projects. 

Under Dougherty, Mission and Identity was elevated to a cabinet-level division.  Centers for Spiritan Studies, African Studies and the Catholic Intellectual Tradition were established. The University has 300 mission-related endowed funds with a market value exceeding $125 million.

In keeping with Spiritan values, Duquesne, under Dougherty, has emphasized sustainable growth in both its operations and its academic programs.  For nearly a decade, Duquesne has been ranked by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency among the top universities for green power usage.  All new construction and renovations have been designed to meet LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards.  Academic initiatives have included an MBA program ranked first in the United States and eighth in the world for integration of sustainability content.

Dougherty has received the Diamond Award for leadership from the Pittsburgh Business Times, the Tree of Life Award from the Pittsburgh Jewish National Fund, the Nelson Mandela Leadership and Diversity Award from Afrika Yetu, the Pacesetter Award from Smart Business Pittsburgh, and the Humanitarian of the Year Award from the Jerome Bettis Foundation.

His extensive publications in the fields of ethics and health care include five books, two of them published by Oxford University Press, and more than 50 scholarly articles.

Dougherty and his wife, Sandra, a retired judge of the Nebraska District Court, have two children: a daughter who is a Notre Dame and Georgetown University graduate working as a lawyer for Akin Gump in Washington, D.C.; and a son who is a Creighton and University of Nebraska alumnus who works for Goodwill in Omaha, Nebraska.

During Duquesne’s most recent Middle States accreditation, the visiting reviewers observed that the University’s mission—to serve God by serving students—influenced every decision and permeated every corner of its campus.  Such concentration is rare, and doesn’t happen by chance.     

Dougherty’s relentless focus on that mission—and the conversation he began in 2001—have propelled Duquesne’s rise to the highest echelon of American Catholic higher education.