President leaves behind 18-year long legacy

Raynor Denitzio

The true measure of success is not looking at how far you’ve gone, but rather at how far you could have gone.

Holding the presidency of Rev. Edmund Dobbin, O.S.A. to this standard, it is hard to imagine the University could have gone any farther in the past 18 years.

“Whoever the president is, there is a tone they set. Hopefully they’re setting goals that are clear to strive for,” Rev. John Stack, O.S.A, vice president of Student Life, said.

In his inauguration speech on October 5, 1988, Dobbin clearly set out goals for the University to achieve, including calls for “on campus housing for at least 1,400 more of our students,” “the addition or replacement of physical facilities,” including “a modern health care facility,” and “state of the art science and engineering laboratories and seminar space,” and increasing the endowment.

When Fr. Dobbin took over the office in 1988, the geographical landscape of Villanova was very different.

Although the quality of the service existed, the physical facilities were not on par with the quality of the people.

One such example was the student health center, which was located in Middleton Hall near Campus Corner.

Although the doctors and nurses at the health center were of high quality, the facility had not been renovated since the 1940s. “Needless to say, we needed a new health center,” Stack said.

In addition to the Health Center, the West campus apartments, the St. Augustine Center for the Liberal Arts, the Structural Engineering Lab and the Center for Engineering and Engineering Research all came into existence under the guidance of Dobbin. Furthermore, St. Thomas of Villanova Church, Mendel Hall and Bartley underwent overhauls and the Villanova Conference Center was acquired.

Even as he steps aside, plans are in the works for new law and nursing schools, as well as new athletic facilities.

Making all this possible was the increase in the endowment, which funded this expansion. Under Dobbin, the endowment has risen to $240 million dollars. In addition to the increased endowment, the University’s financial health also improved. Moody’s Investors Service and Standards and Poors both graded Villanova highly in their review of the University’s bond rating.

These are only the tangible changes.

“What’s less visible is the increase in the quality of the faculty and the increase in the quality of the student body,” said Stack.

Indeed, the prestige and competitiveness of the University on an academic scale has risen under Dobbin’s tenure.

The average SAT score of students now range from 1260-1400. This year alone, applications were up 24 percent, with nearly 13,000 students seeking admission.

Furthermore, the University has seen two Rhodes Scholars, two Gates Cambridge Scholars and four Truman Scholars during the Dobbin Presidency.

This has earned national recognition, as the University has been ranked number one in the North for fifteen consecutive years by U.S. News and World Report.

“I think most college presidents are somewhat critical of US News and World Reports and say they don’t account for this or that, but if they’re going to have these rankings, and you’re going to be in them, you might as well be number one,” said Stack. “It’s nice to get that recognition but I think it’s well deserved.”

In many ways, the job of a leader is to delegate, and in this regard, Dobbin was a master.

Although the temptation exists for leaders to appoint those who are less capable than themselves so the appointees do not outshine the leader, Dobbin appointed many capable men and women to positions at the University who were instrumental in its growth during his 18 years as president, according to Stack.

“I think he gives us enough room to think he’s not looking over our shoulder,” said Stack.

Looking at the University where it was in 1988, and seeing the course which it has traveled over the past 18 years, it is hard to imagine anyone could have steered Villanova as far as Dobbin has.

Looking over his inauguration speech from 1988, it is nearly an exact outline of the improvements to the University over the past 18 years.

“The average tenure for a college president is four to six years, maybe longer at a religious institution where someone from the order is appointed,” said Stack. “Eighteen years, and 18 productive years at that is remarkable.”