The inspiring legacy of the Rev. James Hoff will live on in Cincinnati long after those who knew the man are gone. As president of Xavier University from 1991 to 2000, Father Hoff presided over what arguably was the most dynamic decade in the school's history. His death from cancer on Friday leaves a void that can best be filled by reflecting on all that he left behind.
He took a small, generally anonymous university and turned it into a nationally recognized center of scholastic and athletic excellence. During the Hoff years, Xavier's endowment grew from $24 million to $84 million; the grade-point average of incoming freshmen went from 2.9 to 3.46; and the annual U.S. News & World Report rankings took it from unrated to a perennial position among the top 10 schools in the Midwest. Undergraduate applications rose by 33 percent during the same period, and the retention rate for freshmen hit 90 percent.
Under Hoff's leadership the campus was modernized with new academic buildings and a residence hall, as well as the 10,000-seat Cintas Center. He is widely credited with helping build the foundation, not just with the arena, but with a dedication to excellence, for Xavier's successful basketball program that led to this past season's historic NCAA Tournament showing.
But Father Hoff was much more than a successful college administrator. He was a leader, a teacher and a spiritual guide in the best Jesuit tradition. He described that tradition in a 2001 interview as "the opportunity to education the whole person, to educate people intellectually, but also morally and spiritually and ... to be good citizens. We talk today about working for the betterment of society, being men and women for others, not just working for yourselves."
Hoff broke down many of the perceived walls that often separate universities from their surrounding communities. He worked to involve Xavier with the surrounding community through various outreach programs, a tradition that has been continued under his successor, the Rev. Michael Graham.
"He raised the bar for the entire university and got us over it," Graham said in April when it became known that Hoff was ill.
Father Hoff's example was to keep raising the bar, and to keep helping each other over it.
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