Our Rich History: Under Dr. Kathleen Jagger, Thomas More College Becomes a University


By Dr. Raymond Hébert
Thomas More University

Part 53 of our “Retrospect and Vista II” series: Thomas More College/University, 1971-2021

In May 2018, Thomas More President David Armstrong announced his resignation, after accepting the position of President of St. Thomas University in Miami, Florida.

Dr. Kathleen Jagger, who had served as vice president of academic affairs (VPAA) at Thomas More since 2015, was named interim president while the college conducted “a nationwide search for a new president” (Thomas More Press Release, July 16, 2015). 2018, TMU Archives).

In the words of Chairman of the Board, Marc J. Neltner, “The Board of Trustees has complete confidence in Dr. Jagger to continue the current positive trajectory of Thomas More College, especially as she has played a vital role in the current success of the institution” (Thomas More press release, July 16, 2018, TMU Archives).

Dr. Kathleen Jagger at the dedication ceremony for the Thomas More Health Sciences Center building with Dr. Cari Garriga, Bishop Roger J. Foys and Garren Colvin. (TMU Archive)

On the same day, Dr. Jagger announced that Dr. Maria C. Garriga would be acting VPAA and dean of the college. In turn, Dr. Garriga announced that Dr. Joe Christensen would be the assistant dean.

Dr. Jagger had come to Thomas More from Transylvania University in 2015 with impressive credentials, including a doctorate in medical microbiology from the University of Cincinnati and an MPH in international health from Harvard University. She previously taught at Wright State University School of Medicine, DePauw University (her BA alma mater), the Medical College of Ohio (while on sabbatical), and Transylvania University. It was at the latter that her administrative abilities were rewarded and appreciated: first as Associate Dean, then Associate Vice-Rector, and in 2012-2013 as Acting Vice-President and Dean of the College.

Along the way, she has also received several teaching and volunteer awards, including recognition as a “Teacher Who Made a Difference” by the University of Kentucky and an Eli Lilly Fellowship. During her sabbatical, she had had the privilege of serving as Director of the Clinical Research Program for Pro Medica Health System in Toledo, Ohio. Along with her impressive teaching record, she has also overseen service-learning projects in several locations, including Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, the US Virgin Islands, and the Philippines.

Wherever she went, her community service was exemplary, as were her publishing credentials. (Curriculum Vitae of Dr. Kathleen Snell Jagger, TMU Archives).

Dr. Kathleen Jagger presents Dr. Gary Zola with the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters. (TMU Archive)

As Jagger’s presidential year began in the summer of 2018, she unveiled her leadership, saying that “it is exciting to have the opportunity to lead this extraordinary institution with its mission to provide a Catholic education grounded in values ​​that transform the lives of our students. and our community” (Summer Press Release, 2018, TMU Archives).

Unsurprisingly, in keeping with her track record, Dr. Jagger’s year as Acting President has been busy, with many activities including the official openings of the Health Sciences Center (in partnership with St. Elizabeth Healthcare ) and the Performing Arts Lab (PAL), both in August 2018. In November, a third ribbon cutting took place for the opening of the new STEM Outreach Center at the Biology Station. All of these initial steps aligned well with Dr. Jagger’s biological/medical interests and expertise (“University Leadership Update, Acting President Kathleen S. Jagger, PhD,” Plus, Fall 2018, p. 9).

Also in fall 2018, Thomas More celebrated the 50th anniversary of moving to the Crestview Hills campus. The Events Planning Committee was led by Board Chair Dr. Judith Marlowe. Highlights included: Dr. Ray Hebert as the keynote speaker at the Academic Convocation (as the longest-serving faculty member of the TMC, having started in 1975), and the special presentation of representatives from the three religious orders who originally constituted the staff of the VMC/TMC. Rabbi Gary Zola (executive director of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the Jewish American Archives at Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati) received an honorary doctorate of letters. The celebration coincided with the news that full-time fall enrollment “was the biggest class in history.” The occasion also served to announce that a new Institute for Ethical Leadership and Interdisciplinary Studies would begin this fall, along with a series of lectures. The first director was Dr. Jack Rudnick, followed by Dr. Cate Sherron. The first speaker this fall was Justice Amul R. Thapar, whose talk was titled “Ethical Leadership: The Critical Imperative” (Also, Fall 2018, pp. 10-11).

50 years on the Crestview Hills campus included a week-long celebration. Thomas More hosted the Greater Cincinnati Thomas More Society’s Red Mass (for lawyers) that year on campus, with Bishop Roger J. Foys, DD, as officiant. The occasion was used to witness the unveiling of the Thomas More University sign at the main campus entrance. Effective Monday, October 1, 2018, Thomas More College officially became Thomas More University, a process begun under President Armstrong.

On October 1, 2018, Thomas More College officially became Thomas More University. (TMU Archive)

The campus was still at its peak in the spring semester of 2019, when Dr. Jagger announced two opportunities to stimulate “a culture of innovation among Thomas More University staff: the first being a limited number of grants for projects requiring a certain investment of resources to be completed (by mid-August); second is an innovation award offered to three individuals or groups with the best presentation on an innovation in their field (with cash prizes of $500 for first place, $250 for second place, $100 for third place)” (Office of the President, “TMU Staff Innovation Challenge, Spring 2019, TMU Archives). the thrilling run of the Lady Saints’ undefeated basketball season, all the way to the NCAA Division III National Championship.In the words of Dr. Jagger: “For many of our students, supplementing the excellence found in the classroom e is a top performer in track and field and this spring we hung a new NCAA Division III Championship banner at the Connor Convocation Center…I couldn’t be prouder of the dedication and heart of these young women and their coaches” (Presidential Overture, p. 20).

Showing the breadth of Dr Jagger’s interests and his personal commitment to helping others, the college welcomed Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, author of The shed that fed a million children, and Founder/CEO of Mary’s Meals, a global nonprofit that fights child hunger. Importantly, in his words, the event was made possible through the generosity and connections of former board chairman Mark Neltner, ’85. It was a moving conversation with many touching stories of their great work. MacFarlane-Barrow also visited classrooms and spoke to many students.

The challenges of In addition during Dr. Jagger’s interim year included a description of “governance under a new university structure”, as the university then had three colleges: commerce; education and health sciences; and Arts and Sciences. The Spring 2019 issue of In addition featured a fitting tribute to Dr. Jagger’s remarkable middle year. In his words:

“With this year’s innovation comes countless blessings, celebrations and growth. . . With the unique blend of mission, tradition and innovation that sets this school and our graduates apart. (In addition, spring 2019, p. 2).

While proclaiming that she had been grateful to have had the opportunity to lead Thomas More University through this year of transitions, it seemed clear that the institution was lucky that Dr Kathleen Jagger had chosen to be more than just an interim president.

Dr. Raymond G. Hebert is Professor of History and Executive Director of the William T. Robinson III Institute for Religious Liberty at Thomas More University. He has just completed his 46th year at Thomas More and with this training will now serve as editor of the official history of Thomas More College/University from 1971 to 2021. With a projected title of RETROSPECT AND VISTA II, he will serve as sequel to Sr. Irmina Saelinger’s RETROSPECT AND VISTA, the story of the first 50 years of Thomas More College (formerly Villa Madonna College). He can be contacted at [email protected]

We want to learn about the history of your business, church, school, or organization in our area (Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky, and along the Ohio River). If you would like to share your rich history with others, please contact Our Rich History editor Paul A. Tenkotte at [email protected] Paul A. Tenkotte, PhD is Professor of History and Gender Studies at Northern Kentucky University and author of numerous books and articles.


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