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In Memoriam: Paul L. DeVito

Dr Paul L. DeVito died suddenly and unexpectedly over the weekend of August 22-23, 2015. He had been provost at Saint Xavier University for two years. During his tenure, many witnessed a recrudescence of morale on campus, and an extraordinary commitment to academic freedom, shared governance and faculty activism. He was the greatest administrator I ever had the pleasure to serve with, on this or any other campus.

He was a member of the American Association of University Professors for thirty-five years, and retained his commitment as an associate member after he arrived from St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. He was a strong supporter of the A.A.U.P. chapter. We had an annual wine and pizza get together with Dr DeVito that was spontaneous, without pre-submitted questions and extremely valuable in building a collaborative relationship between faculty and administration.

The provost described himself, accurately, as the “champion of the faculty.” I noticed that job announcements for various positions including deans contained a similar phrase, and I believe he played a role in this stunning component of a job description. Under his caring and effective academic leadership, A.A.U.P. principles gathered momentum throughout campus. For the first time, the A.A.U.P. chapter was allowed to host a session during the New Faculty Orientation: a two-day blitz when new faculty are introduced to faculty life.

I always wanted to make sure that it was not new-faculty indoctrination, and that the A.A.U.P. would have an opportunity to recruit new members and share our principles. Dr DeVito was the first provost to provide the chapter an opportunity to participate at this venue. At our session, that I co-presented with Professor Jacqueline Battalora, I used a PowerPoint slide with a range of ideologically suggestive images ranging from Donald Trump, to a peace sign and a symbol of the Irish Communist Party: a hammer and sickle over a rising sun on a red background. Above appeared: “Teaching is a moral act for some. SXU Mission Statement certainly suggests it: “to search for truth, to think critically…in support of human dignity and the common good.” Provost DeVito was in the audience and interjected: “Teaching is a moral act, and you have the academic freedom to pursue it.” That was the last time I saw him.

He frequently affirmed his commitment to the A.A.U.P., publicly praised our chapter and the work it performed to defend academic freedom on campus. He was the first administrator that I heard use the words, “academic freedom,” at a general faculty meeting, much less openly affirm and extol the chapter for its commitment to the basic principles of the Association.

Faculty activism did not threaten Provost DeVito; he welcomed it and embraced its adherents’ commitment to the institution. Marginalised faculty, who had grown weary from the struggle for academic freedom, progressive values and shared governance, were particularly energised and validated for their commitment to ideals that make a university. He did not construe a dean’s sphere as sovereign, nor did he assume they were infallible in personnel matters. He would not hesitate to side with vulnerable faculty, in his gentle and amiable manner, if he felt a complaint had merit. He exercised soft power with aplomb and grace.

He was courageous, bold, kind and a uniter of disparate factions on campus. During his brief tenure as provost, adjuncts received a modest per-course increase in remuneration. He even forwarded an A.A.U.P. chapter letter to the president, calling for the university to accept the latest N.L.R.B. ruling that protected adjunct efforts to form a union. He is confirmation of the value in hiring senior administrators that are recruited from off campus. Paul introduced new thinking that changed the face of the university.

Saint Xavier has an independent faculty union, the Faculty Affairs Committee. It is not affiliated with any national union, and was formed in 1979. We have an advocacy A.A.U.P. chapter, that was established before full-time faculty became unionised. The union, the chapter and the faculty senate sent a letter to the DeVito family expressing our sorrow and condolences over this devastating loss to his family and our community.

At a reception for parents of new students in July, Dr DeVito said: “Don’t worry; we will take care of them. We will educate them. They can then go out and change the world!” For many of us, he changed our world. The faculty of Saint Xavier University extends our deepest sympathy:

In a short amount of time, Paul profoundly changed and dramatically improved the atmosphere, the environment, and the dynamics between faculty and administration. Upon entering these halls he has been candid and kind, wise and generous. We are not an easy crowd to impress or align but we cautiously watched as Paul supported A.A.U.P. principles in word and action. We sat across the negotiations table that was at times contentious, and over which differing perspectives were fiercely advocated, and we left those negotiations knowing what a special and genuine individual we had as our provost. Paul was fearless in a gentle way and deeply committed to critical thinking and the pursuit of truth.

Paul was the consummate administrator. He was, as he put it, “the champion of the faculty.” He approached faculty as colleagues to be respected, mentored and validated. He enthusiastically greeted and welcomed us; he made sure that our efforts on behalf of the university and in the pursuit of truth were recognized and celebrated.

In the midst of our grief, we will go forward as a faculty made better by having had Paul DeVito as our Provost. His values and vision continue in the fabric of who we are today as the Saint Xavier University community. Not only was Paul this faculty’s champion, but also he was our friend. He was beloved.

With deepest sympathies,

Jacqueline Battalora, FAC Assoc. Chair (Union) & A.A.U.P., at-large representative

Arunas Dagys, FAC Chair (Union)

Peter N. Kirstein, A.A.U.P. Chapter President

Peter Hilton, Senate President

Gina Rossetti, Senate Vice President & A.A.U.P., at-large representative