TIAA Institute Theodore M. Hesburgh Award for Leadership Excellence


The TIAA Institute Theodore M. Hesburgh Award for Leadership Excellence is named in honor of the late Theodore M. Hesburgh, president emeritus of the University of Notre Dame (IN), esteemed leader in higher education, and former member of the TIAA and CREF Boards of Overseers for 28 years. This award is intended to recognize a current college or university president/chancellor who embodies the spirit of the late Reverend Hesburgh, his commitment to higher education, and his contributions to the greater good. The winner of the Hesburgh Award will receive a $20,000 cash prize for his or her institution. 

This award is not open for public submission. Please contact with any questions.


​2020 Winners: Shirley Reed and Joseph E. Aoun

Carrying on the Hesburgh Legacy

ACE and TIAA are proud to welcome two outstanding individuals to the TIAA Institute Theodore M. Hesburgh Award winners circle! Congratulations to Joseph E. Aoun, president, Northeastern University, and Shirley A. Reed, president, South Texas College.

The award is named for Father Theodore M. Hesburgh, who served as president of the University of Notre Dame for 35 years and on the TIAA and CREF Boards of Overseers for 28 years. He held 16 presidential appointments, involved in virtually all major social issues—civil rights, peaceful uses of atomic energy, international development, immigration reform, and many more. Fr. Hesburgh's clear vision and moral stances made him one of the most influential and respected figures in American higher education, and beyond, in the twentieth century. His wisdom and dedication continue to inspire new generations of educators and advocates.

The now 12 men and women recognized with the Hesburgh Award have led a wide range of institutions, from the largest four-year public system in the nation with more than 100,000 annual graduates, to a private 300-student institution that needed to be rescued, and a pioneering online competency-based college. They have successfully weathered existential challenges including an epic hurricane and crippling budget cuts. Their institutions serve among the highest numbers of low-income, minority, and immigrant student populations—and rank among the top engines of social mobility. Our two newest winners are charting the path forward during what will go down in history as one of the most disruptive years ever. In addition to facing challenges wrought by the pandemic, colleges and universities also are expected to actively engage in helping to stem the tide of systemic racism and model diversity best practices on their campuses. It is clear that urgent concerns surrounding equity and inclusion are inextricably intertwined with institutional responses to the pandemic.

The average length of presidential tenure for the Hesburgh Award winners is 22 years—an incredible testament to their passion for higher education and their commitment to service. Their empathy, loyalty, and devotion have benefited their institutions and their many constituents in countless ways. Their experiences and insights are both meaningful and inspiring; by recognizing them with the Hesburgh Award, ACE and TIAA aim to help nurture leadership excellence across and throughout the sector.   

Fr. Hesburgh once said, “VISION is what leadership is all about." That comment provides perfect context for this year's award winners.

Joseph E. Aoun is the seventh president of Northeastern University and is a well-known higher education thought leader and renowned scholar in linguistics. He is spearheading the university's ambitious Northeastern 2025 strategic plan, which calls for bold action to align education and research with the realities of the age of artificial intelligence.

Shirley A. Reed, the founding president of South Texas College, has devoted the last 26 years to making higher education accessible to the Latinx community of South Texas. Through Reed's leadership and foresight, South Texas College serves a region of nearly 1 million people along the U.S.-Mexico border who did not previously have access to a community college.

ACE and TIAA were both founded in 1918. The relationship between these organizations and college and university leaders is symbiotic. TIAA's success is intertwined with higher education's and vice versa. It is no surprise, therefore, that ACE and TIAA are jointly committed to supporting and recognizing leadership excellence. This deep commitment is entrenched throughout ACE and TIAA and reflected in our respective core values and vision.

Thank you to President Aoun, President Reed, and all those who lead our nation's colleges and universities with passion and excellence. You are guiding lights and forces for positive change.


Past Award Recipients

The TIAA Institute Theodore M. Hesburgh Award for Leadership Excellence has been bestowed yearly since 2010, when William E. (Brit) Kirwan became the first ever recipient. Click to expand the area below to learn more about previous winners and past college and university recipients.

Previous Winners

2019 - Mark P. Becker

2018 - Paul J. LeBlanc

2017 - Gail O. Mellow

2016 - Patricia A. McGuire

2015 - John Sexton

2014 - Scott Cowen

2013 - Diana Natalicio

2012 - Charles B. Reed and Eduardo J. Padrón

2011 - Freeman A. Hrabowski, III

2010 - William E. (Brit) Kirwan

College and University Recipients of the Hesburgh Award

Southern New Hampshire University

Baruch College

University of Wyoming

University of Colorado

Wagner College

Barnard College

Indiana University Bloomington

Babson College

Utah Valley State College

Community College of Denver



This award is generously sponsored by the TIAA Institute.