[Fresh] Interview with Father Dobbin, O.S.A., University President

Kelly Donio (kelly.donio@villanova.edu)
Mon, 14 Nov 2005 13:36:38 -0500

Interview with Rev. Edmund J. Dobbin, O.S.A., President of Villanova
Written by Daniella Bellafiore, Student Life Intern

Fresh@News: Of all your accomplishments, what are you most proud of?

Father Dobbin: I am most proud of articulating the Catholic Augustinian
mission of the University and fully integrating it into all of the
strategic planning that has gone on.

Fresh@News: You have been the longest running president of Villanova
University. What are some trends in higher education that youíve seen
while being President?

Father Dobbin: One significant trend that has occurred is the race that
exists for prestige among universities as they compete with one another.
As a result of the various polls that have come out in magazines and
newspapers, universities are competing as brand names would compete.
This competition leads to rising costs, which is a real challenge for
all the institutions. It also tends to lead to some superficiality, as
universities lose focus on some of the real values in higher education.
The metrics used in these surveys often distort and overlook some of the
best things happening.

Fresh@News: How have these trends affected Villanova?

Father Dobbin: Villanova has taken advantage of these trends, as our own
reputation has done very well in the ďrace.Ē At the same time, we have
held a high ranking by precisely staying closely focused on our mission,
rather than letting the polls or the need to be competitive drive what
we are doing. Because we are staying close to the Universityís mission,
we have developed a strong reputation.

Fresh@News: Can you explain the Strategic Planning process and how the
academic plan, Transforming Minds and Hearts, came to be?

Father Dobbin: In the early 90ís, soon after I became president, we
began the strategic planning process intensively. We took the
Universityís mission statement as a starting point, as well as the
principles that I had outlined in my inaugural address. From both of
those documents, we laid out 14 key goals of the university. These goal
became the broad blueprint of our planning and focus for all of these
years. Under each of these broad goals, our plan of action goes into
greater detail, as we track our success in achieving the goals and
objectives carefully through observing statistics and studying surveys.
Instead of planning on anecdotal information, we base our achievement on
factual information.

Our initial strategic planning was broad, focusing on what kind of
university we wanted to be and the quality of education we wanted to
provide for students. The Augustinian vision drove that picture. For
example, we decided to downsize the full time undergraduate student body
from 6,750 to 6,200, even though we easily could have expanded it. We
also wanted to raise the quality of studentsí experience here. During
the mid-90s we started focusing on the 2nd phase of planning, and we
turned more specifically to the academic plan, Transforming Minds and
Hearts, which grew out of the overall general plan. The most important
things that have happened at Villanova have happened because we are
focused strongly on the academic quality of experience at Villanova. The
focus is on integrating the learning with the Augustinian mission, to
create a more holistic approach. As such, we implemented programs such
as the Core Humanities courses, which connected learning to the
Universityís mission.

One aspect of the plan that we continue to move towards is integrating
more scholarship and research into the learning environment. We are
creating more opportunities for research even among our undergraduates,
stronger graduate programs, and increasing the number of doctoral
programs. This is done with a strong sensitivity so that the
undergraduate education is not in any way negatively affected by it. We
are insisting that the more intensive research emphasis positively
affect the undergraduate education, as it enhances the academic atmosphere.

Fresh@News: What were some challenges presented over the years?

Father Dobbin: The biggest challenge has been finding the financial
resources that can give us capability to compete at an ever higher
level. Originally and traditionally the emphasis at Villanova had not
been on the endowment. However, the schools that we compete with are
more heavily endowed. Therefore, we need to raise the endowment funds
and the capital funds to meet our current and future needs. Weíve done
that through successful fundraising and good management. The University
uses resources and planned savings, so that we are always investing in
the future of the institution.

Fresh@News: Many buildings have been constructed during your time here
as president. How have these major constructions changed the face of the

Father Dobbin: One thing Iíll note is how perfectly the facilities
construction has conformed with the goals of our strategic planning. The
engineering, business and science buildings, as well as all the new
buildings, were built precisely to provide the right atmosphere for
academic learning. The science building, Mendel Hall constructed in
1964, was completely gutted, refitted and significantly expanded to
become the Mendel Science Center. Likewise the newly expanded and
renovated Bartley Hall is a state of the art business school facility.
The added buildings keep the campus beautiful and are major assets
facilitating the active learning environment which we are ever improving

Fresh@News: How has the general student population changed?

Father Dobbin: The general student population was originally altered in
the early nineties by the downsizing which I mentioned above. Although
this was originally done to alleviate overcrowding, it had the added
effect of making the University more selective. That selectivity has
increased each year since as the University has become more attractive
to students. We are pleased that the students who are attracted to
Villanova appear to choose us because of their affinity to our mission.
Hence, even as the academic profile of the student body rises, the warm
friendly feel of the campus remains as a tradition. While our students
are proud, they arenít elitist. Attending Villanova, they develop
academic and social skills, which traditionally have made Villanovans
successful in their professional careers and will make our current
students ever more capable in the working world.

Fresh@News: How do you feel about resigning after 18 years? What is your
next step?

Father Dobbin: I feel great about it, largely because Iím not really
leaving at all. I am a tenured faculty member in the Theology Department
and will continue to teach here. I have done this all my life, before
being president. I donít see myself as resigning from Villanovaójust
stepping down as President. Iím confident in my decision. Iíll be 70 in
November, so its time for me to step down and another generation to come
in. I still have plenty of energy, though, and feel good about this change.

Fresh@News: If you were to go back to the beginning of your role as
presidency, what do you wish you knew then that you know now?

Father Dobbin: In a way I wish I fully appreciated then how incredibly
effective the dynamism of this community is. As I look back, I marvel at
how easy it has been to lead Villanova because of all of the love that
our people - faculty, staff and students - have for the institution and
the competence of the people. I knew to a degree then, but knowing what
I know now would have made my job a bit less stressful. This University
is a great place to attend and to lead.

Fresh@News: What do you see as the role of a universityís president in
the 21st century? How has that role changed from what it used to be?

Father Dobbin: The role of Villanova's presidents in the 21st century is
more about following up on the momentum that has been built thus far and
bringing Villanova to the next levels of academic excellence. The
University has a great planning culture. What that entails is a constant
scanning of the needs and opportunities in our Church and society which
Villanova might better prepare our students to respond to, while always
staying focused on our basic mission. Our mission as a university is
already committed to developing people who are leaders who can bring
intelligence, skill, love and compassion on our world. Therefore, the
next presidentís task is to keep that momentum up, raise the bar, and
keep it on the rise.

One of the most exciting things I have found as President of Villanova
has been exploring the options in front of us. Iím sure the next
president will enjoy that, because itís not just dreaming. Many of the
things we dream about are doable. We have the momentum and capability to
go in that direction. Itís what Iíll miss most; looking at the future
and exploring with people on campus where Villanova is going into the
future. I think our future is very positive.

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