Faced with the retirement of a long-time Student Affairs employee shortly after he began his appointment in 1976, Duffy elected to fill the position with a work-study student. In the years following, Duffy increased the number of student workers in the office to a half-dozen or more.
The decision was less a matter of economics, Duffy explains, than of providing an opportunity for students to support themselves and "gain an insight into the way a university works."
But there was a benefit for Duffy, too.
"From my point of view," he said, "having the students right there behind the desk has served to remind us of the primary reason we're here - to educate young men and women."
Throughout his 24 eventful years as the University's chief administrator for student affairs, Duffy has always sought to keep students at the center of his attention. As he prepares to leave his post at the end of this academic year, Duffy is reflecting on a period that has seen his responsibilities expand with Boston College's growth as a national institution.
"The University has undergone a transition in many areas, from its physical plant to the make-up of its student body," he said, "and Student Affairs has had to respond to, and anticipate, the changes. So my position, which was once more of a 'dean of men' or a disciplinary figure, has evolved to a far more comprehensive administrative role."
Student Affairs Vice President Kevin Duffy: "If there's one consistent quality I've seen in BC students, it is their sense of camaraderie. They are bright, upbeat people who seem genuinely happy to be here, and I have felt fortunate to be around them." (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
"Through it all, though, I think my chief role has stayed constant: to constantly remind people that students are our priority, and to help those students have the best experience possible here."
In recent weeks, colleagues and students alike have praised Duffy's three decades of service to BC. University President William P. Leahy, SJ, and Duffy's fellow vice presidents held a reception for him on Tuesday in the Lower Campus Dining Hall Heights Room.
"Kevin Duffy has devoted his professional life to Boston College, and he has served this institution, especially our students, in such a dedicated, generous way," said University President William P. Leahy, SJ. "His impact since 1968 has been immense, and all of us owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude."
One of the most heartfelt tributes for Duffy came when he was chosen by the Fulton Debate Society as the namesake for a new award in debate excellence. Assoc. Prof. Dale Herbeck (Communication) cited Duffy's efforts to revive the program after its near-death in the 1970s and called Duffy "a champion of debate."
Now, Duffy looks forward to his next task: teaching in the master and doctoral programs in higher education at the Lynch School of Education.
"I'm quite excited about it," said Duffy, who will take a year's sabbatical before joining the LSOE faculty. "I will be preparing people to do the work I've been doing for 32 years. It's a perfect way to continue serving students, and Boston College as well."
Once he begins his new job, Duffy will be able to offer his students a healthy dose of historical perspective as well as first-hand professional expertise in student affairs. When he arrived at BC in 1968 as director of student services - he also served as housing director from 1970-76 - the in loco parentis era in higher education had largely receded and student activism was a visible characteristic of many campuses.
Ironically, Duffy says, as many graduates from that period have now begun to send their own children to college, higher education is hearing the call for a new version of in loco parentis.
"The cost of education has gone up, and so families naturally expect more service, more attention to students' needs," he explained. "This is not driven solely by financial concerns, though. There is a real desire on the part of many parents for their sons and daughters to experience personal growth as part of their education, and to become good citizens."
As a university steeped in the Jesuit tradition of cura personalis , Duffy says, Boston College has long placed a strong emphasis on serving students' spiritual and emotional needs. During his administration, Duffy helped create and develop many such services, among them the offices of University Housing, Dean for Student Development and AHANA Student Programs, as well as University Health and Medical Services, the Career Center, Counseling Services, First Year Experience, Learning Resources for Student Athletics, and Learning to Learn.
The character of the BC student body also has undergone a significant change in Duffy's time. Where in his early years at the University the typical student was the first in his or her family to attend college, today's BC student is likely to come from a household touting several degrees.
"For most students, it's not question of whether they go to college," added Duffy, "but which of the top colleges they'll choose to attend. They come with a somewhat different set of expectations than previous generations, but one thing remains true: Their parents sacrifice a lot for them to be here."
Duffy also points to the increased presence of graduate students on campus as a significant development, mirroring the University's commitment to graduate education. Their maturity and dedication have helped contribute to "the building of an intellectual community here."
Having seen a generation of BC students pursue professional success and raise families - a former resident assistant recently wrote him to say her daughter would be attending this fall, he notes - Duffy is struck more by similarities than differences.
"If there's one consistent quality I've seen in BC students," he said, "it is their sense of camaraderie. They are bright, upbeat people who seem genuinely happy to be here, and I have felt fortunate to be around them."
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