A Farewell to Dr. Mary Dana Hinton

Bookmark and Share

June 26, 2020

Mary Dana Hinton and Josephine Zehnie Terwey '39
Mary Hinton speaking at Senior Dinner
Mary Hinton with a student at the Christmas tree lighting
Mary Hinton writing on a chalk board
Mary Hinton with a Sister at the Christmas tree lighting

Lighting the Way Forward

On July 1, after six years in office, Dr. Mary Dana Hinton stepped down as president of the College of Saint Benedict to become president of Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia.

Hinton’s imprint will remain visible throughout campus, in tangible things like renovated and restored academic buildings. It shows up in our competitive rankings and the way we’ve significantly improved access to the full Saint Ben’s experience. It lives in the ecosystem of inclusion she worked to build. It’s heard in the evolved dialogue on campus, where speaking up is encouraged and uncomfortable topics are increasingly, respectfully confronted head-on.

Illuminating Lives
Campaign of the Century
The Illuminating Lives campaign is the largest of its kind in the school’s history. The nine-figure goal was incredibly – and deliberately – ambitious. And yet, the community has stepped up in a big way. Our mission was to reach $100,000,000 in outright and deferred gifts by June 2020. As of May, we’d exceeded that goal with a total of $107,323,632.

Illuminating Lives is aimed at changing lives through three key objectives:

  • Improving access to higher education for students from a variety of backgrounds;
  • Growing current support for scholarships through the annual fund; and
  • Creating modern, functional learning spaces for curricular and co-curricular activities.

Illuminating Lives also echoes a sentiment we’ve heard often from Hinton: that educating women is not just important but essential, and that amazing things happen when we create a pathway for women to think critically, lead courageously and advocate passionately. Indeed, that’s a fitting way to sum up Hinton’s tenure at Saint Ben’s. She thought critically about how to make Saint Ben’s second century build on and exceed its first. She led courageously, making difficult decisions and being steadfast in her willingness to lean into uncomfortable topics. She advocated passionately for the education of women and the inclusion of those who might not otherwise have access to this extraordinary place.

She created a dialogue and a space that attracted national and international attention and commanded respect, discourse and engagement. And it also resonated with the entire Saint Ben’s community – so much so that our community stepped up in a big way to meet the campaign goals.

Thanks to Hinton’s vision and direction, Saint Ben’s is equipped to not only continue acting upon the campaign objectives but expand the dialogue she started and become a leader for the next century.

Campus Renovations and Expansions:
Building for the Future
When she arrived at Saint Ben’s, Hinton wasted no time learning and embracing Benedictine values. She appreciated the monastery’s shrewd use of resources and their stewardship of the campus facilities.

Under her leadership and encouragement, in 2016 the Board of Trustees authorized the largest bond to date at more than $34,000,000. The bond would cover a broad range of projects from respectful renovations to new construction. It would include improvements to academic spaces, residential life and athletics to ensure the best living and learning environment for our students. During her tenure, Hinton refused to compromise pragmatism for the sake of “wow” factor. As Executive Director of Facilities Ryan Gideon put it, “Mary shows incredible attention to detail in these projects, maintaining interest in critical but low visibility aspects.” (Mary once joked that she “appreciates a sturdy cistern.”)

She has shown a commitment not only to responsible, resourceful stewardship of resources but also to honoring the women who started this extraordinary place. In lieu of building a new academic building on the south end of campus, Hinton led the charge to repurpose the Main Building and the Henrita Academic Building (HAB) and transform Caedmon, Artisan and Wendelin (purchased from the monastery) to become Schoenecker Commons. All of these renovations were completed at a fraction of the cost of building an entirely new academic building, and these architecturally significant edifices will serve the college for the next 100 years.

Leading the Way in Liberal Arts:
Whole-Person, Whole-Brain, Whole-Life Learning
During Hinton’s presidency, the College of Saint Benedict hosted two national summer conferences on the future of the liberal arts. The success of these national conversations in central Minnesota stemmed from Hinton’s passion for the liberal arts, her unique ability to bring the conference leaders together and her authentic sense of hospitality and connection. For the first conference (“Liberal Arts Illuminated: Pathways, Possibilities, Partnerships”), held in July 2016, Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s opened the campuses to a national audience of faculty, senior college administrators, trustees and policymakers to discuss the challenges, issues and opportunities facing liberal arts education. This conference attracted 215 participants representing 74 colleges, universities and other organizations from 25 states and three countries.

Many participants of the 2016 conference returned in July 2018 for “Liberal Arts Illuminated: Reframing the Narrative – Leadership Toward Inclusive Excellence.” This conference gave participants the opportunity to address the challenges faced by liberal arts institutions, but also to affirm and celebrate the core values that underpin a liberal arts education.

Through Hinton’s leadership, Saint Ben’s has emerged as a national and international leader in liberal arts education, demonstrating the incomparable value of a whole-person, whole-brain and whole-life approach to learning.

Strategic Plan:
20/20 Vision
In her first year as president, Hinton met with over 1,000 stakeholders – students, faculty, alumnae, donors, friends of the college – to hear about their vision for Saint Ben’s. The result was Strategic Directions 2020 (SD2020), a collaborative strategic plan and dynamic vision to guide the college through 2020. The vision: The College of Saint Benedict provides a liberal arts education preparing women to think critically, lead courageously and advocate passionately. Key advancements in each of the four SD2020 objectives include:

Liberal Arts for Life:

Holistic & Transformational Development of Women:

Inclusive & Engaging Catholic & Benedictine Experience:

  • Catholic and Benedictine identities remain central to who we are
  • Progress toward inclusivity
  •  New Integrations Curriculum includes two sequential courses in theology
  • Faculty now address Catholic and Benedictine traditions as part of their file for rank and tenure review

Shared Future, Sustainable Future:

  • A long-range economic model has been developed that continues to guide our budget planning.

Rising in the Rankings:
Opening Doors on a National Stage
In 2015, shortly after Hinton’s inauguration, Saint Ben’s sat at #90 on U.S. News & World Report’s list of the top 100 liberal arts colleges. During her tenure, the college not only stayed on that list but worked our way up, landing at the #82 spot in the rankings for 2020.

This rise in the rankings coincided with our 2017 invitation to join the American Talent Initiative (ATI). ATI is an exclusive collection of institutions that aims to substantially expand the number of low- and moderate-income students at America’s undergraduate institutions with the highest graduation rates. Hinton wholeheartedly embraced the spirit of the ATI and the outcomes speak for themselves.

In 2017 CSB was ranked #41 in the New York Times’s College Access Index, which looks at colleges with five-year graduation rates at or above 75%, ranking these schools for the number of low- and moderate-income graduates and how much those graduates paid.

That same year, U.S. News & World Report ranked Saint Ben’s #1 – Most Efficient National Liberal Arts School. The ranking looks at a school’s per-student spending on education-focused activities and compares that to the overall ranking it earns on the U.S. News & World Report list.

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice:
Talking the Talk – and Walking the Walk
For those who have been part of Hinton’s tenure at Saint Ben’s, it’s clear that diversity, equity, inclusion and justice (DEIJ) are not simply talking points or “add-ons,” but rather a natural and expected component of what it means to be in community – and what she’s asking of all of us who are part of that community. She has “demonstrated quite effectively” an expectation that DEIJ be at the core of who Saint Ben’s is even beyond her presidency, said Brandyn Woodard, director of Intercultural & International Student Services at Saint Ben’s. “One of the best ways we can honor her and her legacy is to keep moving in a direction of DEIJ that simultaneously empowers, guides and inspires future presidents, students and alumnae.”

Among Hinton’s many accomplishments in this arena: She was an integral part of securing the Becoming Community Initiative, a $600,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation that aims to create transformative inclusion among faculty, staff, monastics, students, alums and community partners at Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s.

“We are becoming a community where more folks are empowered (and encouraged!) to speak up, talk about systemic oppression, and rethink their approaches to engaging with others on campus and beyond,” said Woodard. There is more work to be done, but Hinton’s vision and leadership have catalyzed an environmental shift with inspired possibility.

As we progress into the college’s second century, we are propelled forward by a six-year span that felt invigorating, inspiring and – in the best sense of the word – challenging. The path forward feels bright.