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David Quigley
Idea Exchange

Ever Excellent


A decade into his tenure as provost, David Quigley’s impact on Boston College is immeasurable, and the future looks even more promising.

Which of your children do you love most?” quips David Quigley when asked to choose his favorite undertaking as provost and dean of faculties at Boston College.

But Quigley’s contribution to BC is no joke. Over the past decade as provost, the urban historian and chief academic officer has left an indelible mark on a wide range of major academic initiatives, including the monumental tasks of renewing the undergraduate Core Curriculum, envisioning the University’s strategic plan, and helping elevate the University to R1 research institution status.

Quigley was initially drawn to BC in 1998 because it offered him a chance to teach and research in Boston, “one of the nation’s great cities.” His Brooklyn upbringing and Cambridge residency have added richness to his work, and he values “the complex interplay of communities, cultures, and traditions that characterizes urban life.” His Catholic faith underlies his values and commitments, and he says that BC has afforded him endless opportunities to reflect and act upon that faith.

The scope of Quigley’s job also has evolved greatly over the past decade, reflecting challenges that confront higher education writ large. At a time when the industry faces unprecedented criticism of its fundamental values, Quigley remains steadfast in his belief that BC’s Jesuit, Catholic tradition offers “a healthy corrective to some of the more despairing elements in higher ed these days.”

On a quiet Friday afternoon in January 2024, just days before the start of another busy spring semester—one that would conclude in May with Quigley’s favorite BC tradition: sending off the graduating seniors from Linden Lane early on Commencement Monday—Beacon had the privilege of sitting down with the provost in Waul House to hear his reflections on formative education and the pivotal role of faculty in it, the promise of Soaring Higher: the Campaign for Boston College, and many more topics in between.

David Quigley

As a Jesuit, Catholic university and a leader in the liberal arts, BC stresses formative education as central to the mission of educating students who will use their gifts in the service of others. How do you define formative education?

DQ: Jesuit education as practiced over 500 years has been committed to both rigorous intellectual development of young men and women and the integration of an individual’s academic formation with one’s development of character and of social relationships.

Formative education, when done well, has that kind of integrative dimension of bringing together the various ways in which young people are trying to make sense of their experience, trying to act on their greatest hopes and passions, and figuring out how they can make a difference in the world and in the lives of others.

But what I’ve learned in my 26 years at Boston College is that our faculty are themselves formed in the process of educating, that one discovers a deeper sense of one’s own commitments, one’s own vocation, one’s own sense of calling in working with the young people at BC.

Is that unique here?

DQ: I wouldn’t say that it’s entirely unique, but I think Boston College, among Jesuit schools in the country and among top-tier liberal arts universities, really attempts to think seriously about the formative dimension of teaching and learning and research, of doing work not just for our own individual satisfaction or for our own career trajectories and advancing our own interests, but for thinking about the larger horizon. How can we contribute to the common good and in the process, be open to that possibility of transformation, which I think is the great promise of Jesuit education.

Speaking of faculty, one of Soaring Higher‘s main academic priorities is doubling the number of endowed professorships. When new chairs are established, how do you balance hiring new faculty into those positions with rewarding current faculty?

DQ: One of the great pleasures of my tenure is having interviewed hundreds of candidates for new faculty positions, very often younger folks coming out of graduate programs or coming out of postdocs but in other cases senior scholars who are coming from the nation’s great universities. And in those conversations you really get a sense of the passion and insight they’re bringing to their own work and to the teaching and scholarship they’re going to do in their careers.

And it is in that kind of hiring of new faculty that I think brings new and fuller life to what it means to be authentically Boston College. So many of the great hires come from outside of the University and discover new possibilities at Boston College. New ways of living out our distinctive mission.

At the same time, colleagues on the faculty really throw themselves and their lives’ work into the institution and that generates a sense of rootedness in a supportive culture and community on campus. We all benefit from theat kind of commitment that so many faculty bring to their work in the classrooms, in laboratories, and service-learning settings around the Boston area.

It’s essential to recognize and reward those faculty who’ve been here a decade, a couple decades. I think of Joe Quinn and [J. Joseph Moakley Chair] Kay Schlozman who are in their 50th years as Boston College faculty and continuing to impact the young people they teach. I’m committed to continuing to renew and breathe new life into our faculty by bringing in newcomers from outside of the University, and then supporting those folks who have been here for their career—or in some cases for generations. That balance brings about the fullest possibilities of what BC can do for our young students.

David Quigley

Before BC’s Core Curriculum was renewed beginning about a decade ago, students had generally come to see the requirements as something to get through, not something likely to challenge or inspire them. Reflecting on its first five years in practice, how has the Core impacted students and faculty?

DQ: Core Renewal really sparked the question, what are our deepest hopes for our students? And so we put a lot of focus on transformative first-year experiences. They came to take the form of Complex Problems and Enduring Questions courses. It’s been fun to see the kind of combinations and learnings that have come out of it.

One of the hopes was to set a real tone for entering students and to engage them powerfully around the intellectual core of the University andbut also around our distinctive mission. The unanticipated great satisfaction was seeing the deepening of faculty engagement around both teaching of first-year students and also exploring what it means to teach in a Jesuit context, the ways in which we can bring reflection and discernment to bear on the work, and finding God in all things.


The investments in faculty absolutely complement and reinforce in a virtuous cycle [our commitment to] drawing the most talented, most promising young people from around the country and around the world.

—DAVID QUIGLEY

What are some projects or outcomes from the Core that have surprised or excited you, and what’s next?

DQ: There are some great ideas about partnering with areas where we’ve seen less engagement thus far, such as bringing more natural sciences faculty into the Core and connecting to the fourth-year experiences. There we see a lot of our students looking for more structured opportunities for reflecting on both the curriculum they’ve experienced but also the great transition that’s ahead—how do you move from the supportive environment that is BC to the world of adulthood?

One of the areas I probably shouldn’t have been surprised about is climate, environment, and sustainability. I think both faculty and students are recognizing the moment of the last decade and trying to think about the ethical and humanistic responses to that moment.

Seeing the interplay of folks both in expected and unexpected departments coming together, growing interest in health care and care for others, bringing in folks from law or nursing in conversation with folks in the humanities and social sciences [was outstanding]. The hope over these next few years is to bring in even a wider cross section of campus partners to engage in the teaching of the Core.

BC is also about midway through its strategic plan, Ever to Excel, which declares its aspirations of being the world’s leading Jesuit, Catholic university. What does that mean to you?

DQ: In 2019, the Society of Jesus laid out four apostolic preferences [to guide the work of the Society]. The one that I come back to more often than any other is the call to create a hope-filled future for young people. There are many forces at play in the larger society as well as in higher ed that are uncertain at best. What I think Ever to Excel has done is offer up a corrective response to some of those other, at least to my mind, more worrying forces out there.

BC has benefited from a longer term, 50-year tradition of continuous, mission-aligned strategic planning and a focus at the institutional level. But events of these last six, seven years have placed an even greater emphasis on some of those elements, of taking the mission seriously. Boston College is not just in a privileged place in terms of resources, location, the various strengths and histories that we embody, but to ensure that Jesuit, Catholic education remains strong decades into the future, we have a responsibility to lead in the sense that we can provide vision, provide an example of how to fully live out that Jesuit mission for our students and the larger community.

You discussed earlier the importance of raising funds for faculty endowments during Soaring Higher. What are your other hopes and ambitions for the campaign?

DQ: First and foremost for myself as chief academic officer is furthering the commitment to academic excellence and continuing to double down on the bets we’ve made in recent years: rewarding those teacher-scholars who are committed to pushing the frontiers of their disciplines and are drawn to working with the young people we’re so lucky to have as our students; continuing to invest in new opportunities, new programs for students, new ways of thinking about the offerings we have; building on the kind of galvanizing successes of the Schiller Institute [for Integrated Science and Society] and of the new programs in engineering, in public health; and so much else.

In my mind the investments in faculty absolutely complement and reinforce in a virtuous cycle [our commitment to] drawing the most talented, most promising young people from around the country and around the world. We’ve been blessed to be an institution that is need-blind, meeting full demonstrated need for the entire time I’ve been at Boston College.

A lot has happened on your watch, some of which you’ve mentioned already: launching institutes like Schiller, Pine Manor, and the Institute for Liberal Arts, as well as programs in engineering, public health, and prison education; establishing the partnership with QuestBridge; opening Stokes Hall and 245 Beacon Street; and much more. What are you proudest of and why?

DQ: Which of your children do you love most? [laughs] Something that I am extraordinarily proud of is the team of academic leaders—the deans and vice provosts—and the hundreds of faculty whom we’ve recruited since 2008 when I was interim dean of what is now the Morrissey College. I could then point to Core Renewal, what we’ve done with Schiller, engineering, and then a smaller but deeply meaningful program to me: Prison Education.

But where I probably would land is the way the University confronted the challenges of 2020 and 2021, the immediate work of managing through the historic crisis of shutting down a university in real time with no playbook, no template, trying to figure that out. And then spending the next several weeks and months getting ready for an in-person semester. We operated on the belief that the young people we were entrusted to educate would benefit most from being in community with each other. It was about the hardest work that I think I, individually, or most of my colleagues on campus have ever done.

Whenever my career is done and I look back, I think all of us will take stock of what that window looked like, how it changed us, how it formed us, how we responded. I’m incredibly proud of the ways in which so many people across campus—the folks in facilities, the folks in dining, BCPD—showed so much commitment. The ways in which we managed through that crisis—and I think have come out in a stronger place as a result—reflect our culture and community and the ways we work together. As we get further on from 2020 and see the impacts, I’m proud of how BC—true to our tradition and our heritage—responded and led.

This interview was edited and condensed.

Match Play

As competition for faculty talent intensifies among top-tier universities, BC seeks to endow an unprecedented number of new positions. Philanthropic support through Soaring Higher: the Campaign for Boston College is critical to realizing this goal.

Now, thanks to a monumental $50 million commitment from an anonymous donor, BC is offering a two-to-one match for all qualified faculty endowments. That gives you an opportunity to expand your personal impact, activate your gift earlier, or even level up your endowment.

Dollars and sense

$1 MILLION

gifts are matched at $500,000 to create a $1.5 million fund

To learn more about supporting Boston College faculty, contact Maria Lockheardt at maria.lockheardt@bc.edu.


Beacon Staff

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