Fr. Dobbin reflects on 18 years as Univ. president

Alessandro Roco

In 18 years, it is difficult to imagine what one can do. Looking back 18 years ago, many of us were barely walking and speaking. Others of us were looking forward to our first day of pre-K or kindergarten.

But for leaving president Rev. Edmund Dobbin, O.S.A, 18 years was all it took for him to transform the University.

As Dobbin prepares to step down as University president on June 1, he reflected back on his reign and the differences between his inaugural address on October 5, 1988 and now.

“I feel great and very satisfied with my time here,” he said. “We are more focused than we ever were before. In the past 15 years, we’ve found out who we are as a university, and because of that, we have accomplished more.”

Though Dobbin’s tenure as president has been marked with several accomplishments, he never felt as though he was burning out or losing energy. He cited his leadership technique as the major factor for his continued stamina. Dobbin said that he “fed off the energy of all the people he worked with, and I didn’t micromanage.”

“I like to think that I size up people well,” Dobbin said. “So I feel comfortable collaborating with those I work with. Because I collaborated with others and didn’t feel like I had to look over everyone’s shoulder, I felt like we were really able to do a lot.”

His various accomplishments during his time as University president include raising the endowment from $19 million in 1988 to upwards of $270 million now, creating the St. Augustine Center of Liberal Arts, the Center for Engineering Education and Research and the West campus apartments and renovating Bartley Hall and Mendel Hall.

Though Dobbin increased the endowment substantially, “we’re far from getting to where we need to be,” he said. “Other institutions have far higher endowments than we do, but we’re starting to catch up.”

The job he leaves will be one that Rev. Peter Donahue, O.S.A ,will pick up. But Dobbin is confident that Donahue will adapt to the presidency well.

“I know of the job I’ve done, and I know that Fr. Peter will continue the tradition of the school,” Dobbin said. “I know that when Fr. Peter eventually decides to leave the presidency, the school will be in an even better situation than when I left. That’s the sign of an ever-growing university.”

In addition, he reduced the size of the undergraduate student body from approximately 6,750 to approximately 6,200, making the University more competitive and allowing for a higher percentage of students to obtain on-campus housing.

“When I first stepped in, big parts of the University were a mess,” Dobbin said. “We had very outdated facilities, and we had such a high percentage of students living off-campus, especially underclassmen, and I set out a goal to make Villanova feel like more of a home for students.”

Throughout his tenure, he did just that, making it available for more and more students to live on campus.

While the West campus apartments and other renovations across campus made it available for well over 1,000 more students to live on campus, Dobbin still felt like he was not able to complete his plan for housing.

“I really wanted to be able to provide housing for all undergraduates who wanted it, including seniors,” he said. “But I’m confident that the housing situation will be taken care of right after I leave.”

Though he did accomplish much as president, he still wishes to be remembered for the intangibles that were achieved during his time, such as his collaborative leadership style and “getting the University even more focused on its Catholic Augustinian tradition” as he described.

Over the past several years, the University has been rising higher and higher in prestige and in national recognition. What distinguishes the University, Dobbin said, is its continued commitment to its Augustinian identity.

“I’ve seen it so many times that when a school attempts to gain more prestige, it loses its identity and becomes homogenized into focusing solely on education,” he said. “When I met with various college presidents from Catholic schools across the country, they all remarked at how focused the University was on maintaining its own image. I take great pride in that.”

What will Dobbin do after he steps down? He said that he plans on taking a one to two year sabbatical where he plans to decompress and just relax. After that, he plans on returning to the University where he will teach theology. He said that when he comes back to teach, the experience will be interesting because he has never taught undergraduate college students.

Dobbin is unaware of what types of classes he will teach and will leave it to Bernard Prusak, the theology department chairperson, to decide what will best suit him.

Though he said that he loves to lecture, he wonders how rusty he will be after not having taught a class in almost two decades.

“Back when I used to teach, I was a good lecturer,” Dobbin said. “But nowadays with the increase in technology and facilities, students expect more of those who teach them, so it’ll be interesting to see where I fall in when I come back to teach.”

Though it will be a challenge, Dobbin said that this experience, just like all others he has had in the University, should be a success because of the positive atmosphere he has witnessed over the years.

“Certain things like the way the school looks may have changed,” Dobbin said. “But the support from everyone, the faculty, the students, all the way down the line is amazing. The creative spirit and excitement everyone has gives me such high hopes for the University in the years to come.”