Remembering Tom DiLorenzo

Tributes to DiLorenzo, former UND Provost and VP for Academic Affairs, pour in from around nation

Former UND Provost Tom DiLorenzo died July 17 from a shooting during an attempted robbery in Charleston, S.C. He served the University from 2013 until his retirement in June 2020. The many accomplishments for which he is remembered include improving student success, promoting women to leadership positions and developing stronger ties with the greater Grand Forks community. UND archival image.

The tragic shooting death of retired University of North Dakota Provost Tom DiLorenzo last Friday in Charleston, S.C., caused an outpouring of memories and comments from University alumni, students, faculty, staff and the greater Grand Forks community.

DiLorenzo was shot early Friday morning during an attempted robbery in downtown Charleston while on a walk with his wife, Suzanne Austin, Charleston police reported. He died an hour later at a local hospital.

DiLorenzo retired from UND on June 1 of this year. Austin began her new job as Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs at the College of Charleston on July 1. Two teenagers were arrested last Friday in connection with the shooting.

Tom DiLorenzo

The news of DiLorenzo’s death hit the UND community hard. And although his seven years at the University had been controversial at times, the number and depth of DiLorenzo’s relationships reveal a side of the man less well-known to the public.

Retired UND President Robert Kelley, who hired DiLorenzo as Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs in 2013, said their working relationship was based on complementary abilities, mutual respect and humor. Sometimes at the end of a trying day, Kelley would seek out DiLorenzo in his Twamley Hall office.

“We’d shut the door and talk about politics, economics and issues we’d been having,” he recalled. “Tom enjoyed using the words ‘analytics’ and ‘solutions.’ He always wanted to find solutions.

“I used to tease him and say, ‘Tom, I’m here at the end of a hard day, and I need some analytics. I’m here for some of your solutions,’” Kelley chuckled. “It would always make him laugh.”

DiLorenzo’s ability to analyze and solve problems was what Kelley valued about the UND provost.

“Tom had a way of approaching issues that permitted finding solutions,” he said. “He had a very analytical way of doing it that helped him reach decisions. He would use his keenly honed intellect to help me resolve some of the issues my office was facing.”

In 2018, Provost Tom DiLorenzo and Sara Garland, chair of the reunion class, shared the podium as DiLorenzo presented a $5,000 personal contribution to an endowment fund from Garland’s Class of ’68, established to aid UND students. UND archival image.

Sara Garland, chair of the UND Alumni Association & Foundation Board of Directors and former chief of staff to retired North Dakota U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad, knew DiLorenzo both on a personal and a professional level. Once UND’s lobbyist in Washington, Garland is now retired and lives in Virginia.

“He would come to Washington, D.C., several times a year, and we’d talk about family, the University, various issues, politics and those sorts of things,” she said. “I got to know him well. We both had grandchildren, which was another link in our friendship.”

In 2018, Garland led an effort on the 50th anniversary of her UND class of 1968 to raise money for an endowment for student scholarships. DiLorenzo attended a reception for the group during UND’s homecoming and addressed members of the class.

“What he did took me completely by surprise,” Garland remembered. “He gave our class endowment a $5,000 personal contribution. It was the kindest, most thoughtful thing. I told him that I will never be able to thank him enough. It was just wonderful and heartfelt act on his part. I will be forever grateful to him for that.”

DiLorenzo was thoroughly committed to the Foundation, attending and speaking at board meetings as UND’s representative.

“We didn’t get lip service from Tom,” Garland said. “He was truly committed to the organization because he understood the connection. He knew UND’s students were going to benefit from the work of the Foundation in terms of student and faculty endowments.”

Former North Dakota Gov. Ed Schafer, who served as UND’s interim president following Kelley’s retirement in January 2016, noted that the University faced some of its greatest challenges during the time he and DiLorenzo worked together. It was a difficult time, and there was controversy about UND changing its nickname.

“I came to UND on a short-term, temporary basis,” Schafer said. “When you’re in that position, you have to develop relationships quickly and have confidence in your management team.”

Schafer soon realized that he needed DiLorenzo’s help.

“Tom DiLorenzo was a rock-solid, steady hand as we waded through those very difficult problems,” he explained. “He had the ability to understand people and different sides of an issue. While it was a difficult time of change for the University, he was able to walk into a controversy, understand all sides of an issue and not create more friction. He brought both sides together. That was hugely important.”

What Schafer came to admire about DiLorenzo was that the provost didn’t avoid controversial issues.

“He didn’t shy away from controversy; he walked into it,” Schafer recalled. “He didn’t try to give it to someone else or share the responsibility. He just did it. I could always rely on him. When we made a decision, he would get it done.”

Jeff VanLooy, the outgoing chair of the University Senate and associate professor of Earth System Science & Policy, also came to respect DiLorenzo’s approach to dealing with thorny issues.

“It’s not easy being provost, by any stretch,” he said. “There’s a lot of different opinions and thoughts about the way things should go. You’re not always going to make everybody happy, but Tom approached all that very professionally. He was always polite, always courteous and always willing to listen to what people had to say.”

More recently, VanLooy noted DiLorenzo’s role when UND was preparing for a spring flood on the Red River but had to rapidly transition to dealing with the global COVID-19 pandemic.

“Interim President (Joshua) Wynne asked the Senate Executive Committee to start looking at the potential for flooding and how we could prepare for it,” he said. “All of a sudden, the switch flipped and we went into preparation for the pandemic.

“Tom really took charge and was very concerned about the University and its people,” VanLooy added. “I was highly impressed by that. He led the charge when it all started. I greatly appreciated his leadership. It was not an easy thing to deal with, and he set us on a great path.”

As Provost, Tom DiLorenzo spearheaded initiatives between the city of Grand Forks and UND to provide opportunities for students to stay in the community after graduation. UND archival image.

DiLorenzo was also responsible for starting and leading many initiatives to improve ties with the greater Grand Forks community, such as the Young Professionals program. Former Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown remembered the UND provost as a proactive and forward-thinking administrator – and as someone who greeted him at nearly every UND event he attended.

“Tom helped us build a ‘town and gown’ relationship and take it to the next level,” Brown said. “He was very instrumental in many things that helped tie young people to the community, such as the internship program with University students that gave them practical experience in the community and city government.”

Brown credited DiLorenzo for a research program with UND faculty and staff that not only helped solve community problems, but also gave students ownership, which helped retain graduates in the community.

“Tom was very interested in experiential, practical learning that helped cement the city’s relationship with the University,” he said. “There’s a tremendous amount of goodwill from the community toward UND. Tom just made it better.

“Without his encouragement and help, a lot of this wouldn’t have happened,” Brown added. “It just would have been a good idea.”

DiLorenzo’s Biography

In March 2013, Kelley appointed DiLorenzo UND Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. He came from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), where he served as associate vice president for innovation, commercialization and entrepreneurship. For two years, he was UAB’s founding dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

During his tenure at UAB, DiLorenzo created and directed the Honors College, the University Advising Center, the Office of Student Engagement, the New Faculty Orientation Initiative and the Instructional Technology and Innovative Learning Environments (i2T2) Institute.

Prior to his position at UAB, DiLorenzo was at the University of Delaware, where he was chair of the Department of Psychology in 2002. He served as dean of the University of Delaware’s College of Arts and Sciences from 1999 to 2001.  Prior to that, he was chair of the University of Missouri-Columbia Department of Psychology from 1990 to 1999.

Tom DiLorenzo

In September 2018, then-Provost Tom DiLorenzo and Athletics Director Bill Chaves (right) dished up pie and ice cream during UND’s celebration of State Employee Recognition Week. DiLorenzo was known for attending many UND events. UND archival image.

DiLorenzo earned his doctoral degree in clinical psychology in 1984 from West Virginia University, where he also earned his master’s degree in clinical psychology. He held a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology and a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics, both from the University of Pittsburgh. He completed his residency in clinical psychology at the University of Mississippi and Jackson Veterans Administration Medical Centers.

DiLorenzo’s obituary is posted on the website of a Charleston funeral home.

In May, the UND Alumni Association & Foundation’s board of directors passed a resolution recognizing DiLorenzo for his extraordinary service and leadership. It noted his initiatives to improve graduation rates, role in developing UND’s strong online education presence, championing of new teaching and learning models, being a voice for the entrepreneurial spirit, and active strengthening of UND’s relationships with the Greater Grand Forks Community.

“Dr. DiLorenzo’s extraordinary leadership and courage have skillfully guided the University through times of uncertainty and change with a strategic eye on the horizon,” the resolution read.

Garland summed up the thoughts of many when she said, “I just thought the world of him. It’s such a loss to his family and to academia. Having his life end just as he was on the cusp of starting a whole new chapter, it’s just so unfair.”

Below is a collection of comments about Tom DiLorenzo, noting his passing and recognizing his achievements.

Higher education

Mark Hagerott, chancellor of the North Dakota University System: “We offer our condolences to Suzanne and the rest of Tom’s family at this very tragic time. Dr. DiLorenzo was dedicated to the University of North Dakota for seven years before his recent retirement, and his sudden death leaves us to mourn his loss as well as have deep respect and reverence for his service to his campus community.”

Andy Armacost, UND President: “When I began my transition to the UND Presidency in mid-January, Tom was one person who took it upon himself to take care of me. From visits across the campus, to friendly breakfasts between just the two of us, to meetings with alumni, he was the epitome of a professional. He thought of my needs above his own and made every effort to ensure I learned as much about UND as possible. This was even more remarkable because as I was preparing to take over on June 1, he was set to begin his retirement on that same day. Tom worked tirelessly to the very end of his tenure. In fact, the final email I received from him was Friday, May 29, at 8:15 p.m., the evening before he was heading south to Birmingham to rejoin Suzanne at UAB.”

Joshua Wynne, former Interim President, Dean of the School of Medicine & Health Sciences and Vice President for Health Affairs: “I worked productively with former Provost DiLorenzo for his entire, roughly seven-year tenure at the University of North Dakota. Sciences. He was incredibly helpful during my one-year tenure as interim president. I found him to be a person of high standards and an incredibly hard worker. I am very saddened by his unfortunate passing. I wish his wife and family the most sincere of condolences.”

Debbie Storrs, Interim Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs: “Tom invested in people and challenged them to grow and learn. He cared deeply about UND. He encouraged us to think differently, look forward, and envision a better university. He was committed to equity and hired many women into leadership positions.  With his leadership, we made great progress at the university in many areas in the past seven years, including improving student success. His new adventure was abruptly ended. It is hard to put to words the sadness, especially in the world we live in today. He will be missed. His impression on UND is felt, and we will continue to think forward. My thoughts are with his family.”

Meloney Linder, Vice President for Marketing & Communications: “Tom served four presidents in seven years. During his tenure at UND, UND faced difficult financial times. He made tough decisions, but it was my experience with Tom, he did so because he believed they were important to put UND in a better position to face the challenges facing higher education. He was action-oriented, and he believed there was great work taking place at UND and wanted to make sure our community, our state, and beyond were aware of it. On a more human side, Tom always expressed his gratitude to others for their work.”

Lori Reesor, former UND Vice President for Student Affairs: “It was a privilege and honor to work with and learn from an innovative leader for four years. What always drove Tom was his belief that higher education could make a difference in people’s lives. He cared deeply about the student experience. I learned a lot from Tom and considered him a mentor and friend.”

Tom Erickson, State Energy Research Director at the UND Energy & Environmental Research Center: “The Provost was a great leader to work for and, even more importantly, a great leader to work with. He was visionary and always focused on advancing things to the next level, pushing me to do the same. His support was integral to the creation of both the Energy Hawks Program and the State Energy Research Center at the EERC.”

DeAnna Carlson Zink, CEO UND Alumni Association & Foundation: “Tom was a great ally of the UND Alumni Association & Foundation. He spoke at or attended dozens of UNDAAF events every year … always with a smile on his face and a warmth of character that shown brightly. He cared deeply about University of North Dakota students, and his decision-making was always guided by what would be best for them. His passion for higher education was matched only by his spirit of caring and giving. My condolences to his family and to all who grieve his passing. Rest in peace, Tom. You will be missed.”

Paul Todhunter, Professor of Geography: “Tom served as Provost/VPAA during a very challenging period at the University of North Dakota, a time that produced its share of emotional ups and downs. The thing I remember most about Tom was his consistent external demeanor and positive verbal communication. No matter how challenging things seemed to become, he always projected the message that we could and would get through each issue. He received strong criticism at times but never gave the impression that he took things personally or held grudges. Most people would not hold up so well under such difficult conditions.  He was fully committed to doing what he felt was best for the University of North Dakota. This was one tragic event.”

Andrew T. Hsu, College of Charleston President: “Our time with Tom was too short – much too short. He and Suzanne had only just moved to Charleston a few weeks ago. Tom was celebrated not only for his collaborative leadership style, but also his belief in experiential learning and how the city of Grand Forks served as an extension of the UND classroom. Given time, Tom would have seen parallels of that dynamic here in Charleston as well. From what I understand, Tom – as you would expect of any lifelong academician – held education in the highest esteem, even calling it the ‘ultimate equalizer’ because he knew that education was the only way a person could take full control of his/her/their life and ensure a future of success.”

In this June 2019 photo, then-UND Provost Tom DiLorenzo (left) and Evolve Grand Forks’ Executive Director Collin Hanson (right) presented certificates to the Challenge winners in attendance at the Main Street GF Challenge launch. The ceremony recognized the student winners and their ideas for enhancing the community. UND archival image.

Grand Forks city government

Mayor Brandon Bochenski: “The news of Dr. DiLorenzo’s death came as a great shock to our community. Jenny and I are praying for Dr. DiLorenzo’s wife, Ms. Austin, their family and friends, the Charleston, S.C. community, the entire North Dakota University System, as well as the many in Grand Forks that were fortunate to have known him. Because of Dr. DiLorenzo’s dedication and the bonds he created, the path has been paved for a bright and prosperous future on campus and with UND’s partners. Our community could not have been more blessed to have had such a strong advocate and leader.”

Todd Feland, City Administrator: “I’ve had the honor and privilege of working closely with Tom on a handful of really important and strategic projects that are now hallmarks of the Grand Forks Town and Gown relationship. There are a number of partnerships and initiatives currently in place, including our internship program, research partnerships, the MainStreet GF Challenge, and Coulee to Columbia infrastructure projects, that really would not have happened without Tom’s work ethic, greater-good attitude, and ability to work effectively with community stakeholders. He was a driving force in this community, and this news hurts on a personal level.”

Keith Lund, President and CEO, Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp.: “My condolences to you and so many at UND whom Tom impacted. The Grand Forks Region EDC staff and leadership was extremely saddened to learn of Tom DiLorenzo’s sudden passing. Tom was a former board member and a true friend of the EDC. He worked very strategically and intentionally to form greater connections between UND and the community, and envisioned new ways for UND students to connect to regional industry. Tom was famous for encouraging the EDC to ‘think bigger’ when planning community initiatives alongside UND, wanting to drive as much value for both the community and students as possible. He had a big impact on the EDC and me, personally. His legacy will ripple through our region for years to come.”

Quotes from the Grand Forks Herald

Gracie Lian, former UND Student Body President: “He was always so warm and welcoming and ready to listen to the student voice, which I think was so important. He really did care about student opinion on things.”

Matthew Ternus, UND Student Body President: “Tom worked tirelessly to help better UND. Tom was a servant leader during his time at UND.”

Mark Kennedy, former UND president and Colorado University System President: “Tom cared. He cared about his family. He cared about delivering on the mission of higher education to open up opportunities for students and the community. It was never about him, it was about the students, the faculty, the university. The world is a better place because Tom lived.”