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Kevin Duffy, Led Student Affairs for 24 Years

Kevin Duffy (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

By Sean Smith | Chronicle Editor

Published: Dec. 13, 2012

A funeral Mass was held Dec. 8 in St. Ignatius Church, Chestnut Hill, for Kevin P. Duffy, who served for 24 years as Boston College’s vice president of student affairs during one of the University’s most transformative eras.

Dr. Duffy died on Dec. 4 of complications resulting from a fall. He was 70.

Dr. Duffy’s tenure as student affairs vice president from 1976-2000 coincided with significant changes to Boston College, from its physical plant to the make-up of its student body, as it became more of a national — and international — Catholic university. This period also saw an increasing demand throughout higher education for greater attention to college students’ non-academic needs.

As vice president, Dr. Duffy helped develop many key services to meet such needs, 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.

Interviewed by Boston College Chronicle shortly before stepping down from his vice presidency — he went on to serve as an assistant professor and director of internships in the Lynch School of Education Higher Education Graduate Program until his retirement in 2007 — Dr. Duffy reflected on how the changes at BC had affected his own role: Where his position had once been “more of a ‘dean of men,’” it had evolved “to a far more comprehensive administrative role."

He added, "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."

Dr. Duffy also was lauded for reviving one of Boston College’s most storied student organizations, the Fulton Debate Society, and upon his departure from Student Affairs the society chose him as the namesake for an award in debate excellence.

“Kevin always had a great understanding of, and an enthusiasm for, the role of Student Affairs in the lives of the students and in the University,” said Margaret Dwyer, former University vice president. “He was devoted to the Jesuit ideal of the education of the whole student. In that connection he was very active in the Conference of Jesuit Student Personnel Administrators, where he joined with colleagues across the country in identifying best practices and in seeking to meet new and changing needs of students.”

“Kevin lived the Ignatian mission,” said Director of Employee Development Bernard O’Kane ’70, who served under Dr. Duffy as administrative officer in the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs. “He believed deeply in student formation. His advocacy for students, especially those marginalized, was unwavering. At times, his positions placed him squarely in between the University administration and the students, but he always saw the issue through. He had unbridled generosity, with his time, resources and spirit. He was a mentor to me and to many younger administrators.  

“One of his favorite phrases was ‘University citizen,’ which referred to someone he admired at BC who took responsibility for things far beyond his or her role. Kevin was truly a University citizen.”

A New York City native and a graduate of Cathedral College with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, Dr. Duffy came to BC in 1968 as director of student services, and was housing director from 1970-76. He also held a master’s degree in counseling from Fordham University and a doctorate in higher education administration from BC.

Dr. Duffy also was a prominent national figure in the field of student affairs. He held such leadership positions as president of the Jesuit Association of Student Personnel Administrators (JASPA) and the Boston Association of College Housing Administrators, Region 1 vice president of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA), and co-director of six NASPA Region 1 senior student affairs officers’ retreats. He served on eight college accreditation teams or visitation committees, and made more than 60 presentations at regional and national conferences of NASPA, JASPA, the Society for College and University Planning (SCUP) and various other professional associations.

His professional honors included awards from NASPA as a “Pillar of the Profession” as well as for Outstanding Service and for Support for Graduate Students and New Professionals, the Yanitelli Award from JASPA, the St. Ignatius of Loyola Award for a Career of Service to Jesuit Higher Education, and Martin Luther King Award for Advocacy on Behalf of Students of Color from Boston College.

Dr. Duffy is survived by his wife, Dr. Persis C. Rickes; his son Mark A. Duffy and grandchildren Nolan, Oceana and Phelan Duffy; and brothers Bernard and Brendan Duffy.