Rev. Philip L. Boroughs, S.J., Speaks on Leaving Holy Cross

Kelly Gallagher 22
Ethan Bachand ‘22

Chief News Editor

After serving as president of the College of the Holy Cross for nearly 10 years, Rev. Philip L. Boroughs, S.J., plans to retire at the conclusion of the 2020-21 academic year. In an exclusive interview, The Spire spoke to Fr. Boroughs about his tenure, ranging from what initially brought him to Holy Cross to what his plans are after leaving this summer. 

At the time that Fr. Boroughs was invited to apply for the presidency, he had served on the Board of Trustees at Holy Cross for three years. “I was very moved by the mission of the school,” Fr. Boroughs explained. He had grown up and been educated in the West, so he didn’t really know about Holy Cross until he entered the Society of Jesus and became close friends with a Holy Cross graduate. Later, Fr. Boroughs’ time on the Board of Trustees helped him realize how unique Holy Cross is in the world of the liberal arts and Jesuit higher education. As he explained, “I come out of the liberal arts, my parents come out of the liberal arts, but to realize what a liberal arts college could be… I think the uniqueness of the institution, the quality of the people, the quality of the school itself really attracted me to the College.” 

         When asked what his proudest accomplishment was, Fr. Boroughs listed a variety of different changes the College has made over his tenure. First and foremost, he discussed how Holy Cross has worked on diversification, saying, “I do think diversifying the leadership of our campus has been very important. You know, both in terms of gender and all … different kinds of diversity, I think that’s a real gift to the College. So those are things that I’m very happy to think about.”

         Fr. Boroughs added that he’s glad to see the development of various new facilities on campus. He said, “I think we’ve developed some wonderful new facilities for the students of the college and for learning. Both in the arts particularity, but also in athletics and the Contemplative Center. We began to use that mind, body, spirit, and community [connection] because we’re trying to look at liberal arts as a sort of experience. Particularly we were deficient in areas and resources for the arts. I mean, our facilities are so old… Our women athletes really needed facilities that matched what we were offering to our men. Our facilities were built and designed when we were all male, but they opened [to all] when we went co-ed. They’ve never adjusted well.”

He continued by addressing the role of health and wellness for all community members. The Contemplative Center is a major contribution to this area. Fr. Boroughs explained the Center holds a special significance for Holy Cross as a Jesuit institution existing in a very busy culture, because we need to “create places and ways of reflecting and thinking and praying [in order] to ground us in the choices we make and who we are. So we try to do a number of things that all interrelate in terms of our experience here at Holy Cross, and I’m pleased we were able to accomplish so many of them.”

Reflecting on the demands of being president, Fr. Boroughs considered time management as a challenge. On campus, he has responsibilities to the students, faculty, and staff. He also spends a lot of time on the road in order to engage with Holy Cross’ active alumni groups. Furthermore, he has commitments to the Jesuits, to the Church, to Worcester, to Massachusetts, and to higher education associations. “You’re always trying to manage your time and that’s a challenge. You always want more. Especially on campus, you want more time just to hang out, and that’s very difficult at times.” The president’s Executive Team relies on communications with faculty and staff as a major source of support, because they are able to “support one another across perspectives… Sometimes I can’t see it all from my perspective, but others can say to me what would be helpful or needed. I’m appreciative of their help in that, because presidents can’t do this alone.”

Fr. Boroughs has invested much of his time into his commitment to expanding diversity and inclusion on campus. He described his work as “part of a continuum,” building on the foundation of Fr. Brooks’ and Fr. McFarland’s progress. Fr. Boroughs’ own contributions include the creation of the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. In addition, the Board of Trustees has recently established a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee to ensure “that the realities and lived experiences on campus are in the mindset of our Trustees and… in our resourcing of things.” He credited collaboration throughout the College as the key to boosting diversity and inclusion, praising Amit Taneja’s work as Associate Provost and the efforts led by “a whole crew of wonderful people across the campus.” He told The Spire, “We’ve done a lot of developing and will continue developing resources for students and connecting alumni’s experience with the way we look at our current students’ experience. In those ways we’ve started to institutionalize in order to continue the momentum, and we joined some national associations to help us in the diversification of student recruitment. I think there’s great momentum and our alumni are really supporting the efforts of our students, so there’s a nice dialogue going between our diverse alumni and our current students as well.”

Graphic design by Hui Li ’21

In the spirit of learning and engagement, Fr. Boroughs’ understanding of the school’s mission has evolved during his presidency. While Fr. Boroughs served on the Board of Trustees, he became familiar with the students, faculty, and staff at Holy Cross, but as president, he was surprised by the alumni. He was struck by their ability to apply their Holy Cross experiences in concrete ways to their post-graduate endeavours. He shared that “going out and meeting our alumni in all these different settings was just overwhelming, really. There’s such richness and generosity and desire to change the world in the best possible ways. That lived sense of who we are…. I really believe in what we do here and the proof is in our alumni.”

Fr. Boroughs hopes that recent and future Holy Cross graduates are also able to continue finding ways to live the Holy Cross mission after graduation. His “biggest hope” for graduates is that they are able to integrate the experiences of their “intellectual life, ethical life, spiritual life, social commitments, and health and wellness.” He elaborated on what this integration means, saying, “It’s not that we do one or two, it’s not that we do them separately, it’s that they actually enhance one another. So when I’m learning academically, how does it affect the way I see the world, and as I think about how I see the world, how might I engage that world actively, and what are my ethical positions and commitments? There’s an integration of my mind and my ethics and my spirituality and faith and my way of giving back. That’s what I think is so unique about Holy Cross. These aren’t independent siloes, they are layered one upon the other, and as a consequence of that synthesis there is a person who makes a difference in the world. That’s what I think we do so well.” 

When The Spire asked Fr. Boroughs what purpose has motivated him throughout his tenure, he answered, “I believe so much in our mission.” Seeing how students, faculty, alumni, and staff are committed to the school’s values “has really kept me going because you see it is so important, and what it can be, and who you become.” He added that Fr. Kolvenbach, a former leader of the Jesuits, “said that the test of a Jesuit, the value of a Jesuit institution, is who our students become. I’m so moved by who you’ve become and who you’ve become over time. It’s a very sustaining energy for me.” 

In the interview, Fr. Boroughs also spoke about what led to the timing of his decision to step away from Holy Cross. He said, “Actually this is an agreement I had with the Board when I was hired. They asked me if I would make a seven to ten year commitment to the College, and I said yes. I also said to them there’s a certain point at my age, as ten years out … ten is probably what I can do. They agreed to that, and those ten years are up soon. So this was actually planned, in other words.”

Yet despite this predetermined timeline, Fr. Boroughs did recognize that the coronavirus pandemic added some complexity to the process. As he said, “it did have a factor in the decision in the sense that working with the Board, trying to discern when’s the best time. Should we wait … what’s the best time both for me personally and for the institution, and could we do an adequate search and get appropriate candidates in the middle of the pandemic? And we weighed all of that and made the decision that we could …. Yes, it raised a lot of questions but it didn’t change the trajectory.”

When the conversation turned to Mr. Rougeau’s incoming administration, Fr. Boroughs expressed the hope that students will make Mr. Rougeau feel welcome. “Holy Cross students do this really, really well,” he added. “I find that when I’m going around campus, people always say hello and they want to talk and they want to engage.” He says the key is to work with Mr. Rougeau’s staff to find meaningful opportunities for him to get involved on campus.  

Fr. Boroughs reflected on his own warm welcome when he was inaugurated as president. He explained that students at most colleges and universities don’t consider a president’s inauguration part of their responsibility, but at Fr. Boroughs’ inauguration, students showed up “because they wanted to be part of it.” On the day of his inauguration, he attended a lunch in Hogan Campus Center, and when he exited the building in order to walk up to the Hart Center, where the actual inauguration was to occur, he found a thousand students lining the path the whole way up to the athletic complex. “They were all wearing these red t-shirts that had the names of all the presidents on the back. The pep band led the procession up, and students cheered in welcome. I was very moved by that.” He’s confident that Holy Cross students will find creative ways to welcome Mr. Rougeau, too. 

When asked what challenges he thought the future held for the Holy Cross community, Fr. Boroughs offered a different perspective. Instead, he looked at the bright side as well, as he saw the future as full of challenges and opportunities. He explained his thought process, saying, “For example, we have a wonderful new president coming in, so that offers a lot of opportunities but there’s also helping our new president know the campus, know all of you, understand the issues, understand the culture of Holy Cross and of the liberal arts field because he’s come out of a law school background. I think there’s opportunities there and as you’ll find he’s very sharp and reflective. It’s not going to be a steep learning curve but it is an important one that does take some time.”

Fr. Boroughs also mentioned the impact other events in society have on the College’s outlook, saying “I think, too, the issues we’ve been dealing with, not just with the pandemic, but all the social issues we’ve been dealing with in the last year and a half, really ask what more we can do around diversity, equity, and inclusion. What more we need to do around anti-racism. What more we need to do around sustainability. I think we, and for many of us, the issues of shared governance and how we make it work and what does that mean. Those are some of the issues that I know we have to deal with…”

He expanded upon other issues that the College would need to address in the coming years. He said, “…as we look into the future, it’s really time to start renovating some of our residence halls. So that’s a very practical and financial issue, one which is on everyone’s mind. In fact, it’s been on the mind for quite a while because as we’re planning this campaign, and finishing, really ten years ago we were saying this campaign needs to look ahead and see what things we need to do, and certainly residence halls are one. Renovation to the library is another, and the way we’re learning and changing the way we learn.

“I think the pandemic specifically has raised questions about how we work and what is the future of work, what is the role of technology. I think that’s true for how we learn as well. In a liberal arts environment, how can technology enhance our traditional methods of learning, not replace them? I think in-person learning, if the pandemic has taught us anything, it is the value and the role of community. But can technology also assist us and enhance what we do in person. I think that’s probably a challenge but also an opportunity for us.”

         Fr. Boroughs clarified this statement, saying that “The future of work is a topic we’re talking about from the staff [and] faculty side …. needing to be in person, hybrid, whatever. So there’s some great questions there. But there’s also the future of learning … One of the things we’ve learned is… [that] our unique contribution to the liberal arts education is the value of in-person learning and the relationship between faculty, staff, and student. So we don’t want to lose that, but are there ways to enhance that using technology? There’s a lot of good thinking that’s going on right now.”

         After discussing the future of Holy Cross, Fr. Boroughs was asked what he plans to do after leaving the College.  “Well, I have a sabbatical,” he said. “I never had a full sabbatical before. One of the things is I hope to take some downtime up in Vermont for about five or six weeks. Then by mid-August I’m hoping it will be appropriate and safe to travel to… my immediate family [on the west coast]. I haven’t seen any of them in two years and I haven’t seen many of my nieces and nephews much more than that. So I’d really like to have some time with them.”

         However, Fr. Boroughs made it clear that he plans to return to the Hill and still interact with the college community. He said, “…I will come back for the inauguration of our new president and possibly then take… some of our trustees and other leaders to Spain and Rome to give a history of the Society. We may try to do that in October if travel is safe by then.”

         From there, Fr. Boroughs plans to continue to travel, saying, “…all my dad’s side of the family lives in Europe and beyond. My dad was born in Scotland, so I’d really like to see my family in Great Britain and Scotland and friends in Ireland. I’m hoping to do a little bit of that, and after that I’m not really sure. I have an invitation to spend the spring in Kenya. I have had some projects there over many years and I haven’t been back now for a long time. We have a very nice retreat house, contemplative center in Nairobi. The director of that is an old friend and he wanted to know if I wanted to come out and help with some retreats or spend time with friends there. I don’t know if that’s a good idea or not, depending on what the pandemic suggests, but I would love to be able to do that if I can. But there’s so much up in the air around travel.” He added that he anticipates receiving his next assignment from the Jesuit order in the middle of 2022. 

         While Fr. Boroughs’ time as president of Holy Cross may be coming to end, the changes from his tenure will continue to push the College’s mission forward. His legacy of expanding diversity and bringing significant developments to Mount St. James will be a staple in Holy Cross history.

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