When Trinity’s board appointed me president in the summer of 1989, I asked them what I should know about dealing with our local bishop in Washington (then Cardinal James Hickey). A Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur trustee looked at me with her cool gaze and said simply, “Don’t worry about the bishop. Your job is to fix Trinity. Fix it, or close it.”
One of the oldest Catholic women’s colleges in America, Trinity had suffered steep enrollment declines and mounting financial problems in the 1970s and 1980s. My predecessor was the first lay president, the fifth president (permanent or interim) to come and go in the perilous ’80s. The trustees were skeptical of Trinity’s future; the previous year, placing bets that Trinity might not make it, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur trustees secured a change in Trinity’s bylaws to ensure that they would receive the proceeds from any dissolution of the college’s assets.