Edmund J. Dobbin, O.S.A.
Stepping Down Announcement
In his inaugural address on October 5, 1988, the Rev. Edmund J. Dobbin, O.S.A.
likened an institution's identity to an individual person's identity; as
something ultimately unique. Villanova University's identity is embodied in its
charter and its mission statement, but it also includes a collective
consciousness. "Our identity is who and what we are, have been and aspire to
become," Father Dobbin said.
Serving as the 31st president of Villanova University, Father Dobbin has
guided the Villanova community into the 21st century with an enhanced sense of
identity and a reaffirmed commitment to the University's Catholic, Augustinian
mission. Through a comprehensive strategic planning process and the careful
management of endowment resources, Villanova has implemented innovative
curricula, increased scholarship funding, expanded faculty endowments and
improved its physical plant during Father Dobbin's tenure.
Villanova's record of achievement under the Dobbin presidency has had a
wide-reaching impact. This year, for the 15th time, U.S. News & World Report has
recognized the University's commitment to teaching and learning in its selection
of Villanova as the number one ranked regional institution in the North.
A Superior Student Body
Over 10,000 students, including approximately 6,300 full-time undergraduates,
from 49 states and more than 29 foreign countries, are pursuing their education
at Villanova. Of those students accepted for enrollment each year, more than 120
qualify for the University's prestigious Honors Program and 49 percent of
Villanova's incoming first-year students rank in the top 10 percentile of their
high school class.
While Villanova students work hard and take advantage of the academic,
professional and spiritual opportunities available to them, they also
participate in more than 150 registered student organizations, compete on 11 men's
and 13 women's sports teams at the NCAA Division I level, and volunteer for
community service at a rate in excess of 75% of the student body.
Villanova's national and international reputation, as well as its students'
academic experience, has been enhanced by distinguished faculty. The
University's 515 faculty, 90 percent of whom hold the highest degree in their
respective field, have steadily garnered national recognition, including
Fulbright Fellowships, Guggenheim Fellowships, and a host of teaching awards.
A Fellow Alumnus
Raised in Staten Island, NY, Father Dobbin received his Bachelor of Arts in
Philosophy from Villanova in 1958. In 1962, he received his Master of Arts from
Augustinian College as theological preparation for his ordination to the
priesthood. In 1964, Father Dobbin received his Master of Science in
Mathematics, with a minor in Physics, and in 1968, he received his Licentiate in
Sacred Theology, both degrees from the Catholic University of America. In 1971,
he received his Doctor of Sacred Theology from the University of Louvain,
A recognized scholar and administrator, Father Dobbin served as a
member of the Villanova University Board of Trustees from 1979 to 1987. He was
appointed associate vice president for Academic Affairs in 1987, a position he
held until his inauguration as University president in 1988.
VILLANOVA, PA – The Reverend Edmund J. Dobbin, O.S.A., president of
Villanova University since 1988, informed the University’s Board of Trustees at
its June meeting of his intention and desire to step down from the office at the
conclusion of the 2005-06 academic year after 18 years of leadership.
In keeping with the practice utilized for the selection of Father Dobbin as
president in 1988, the Board of Trustees will appoint a special committee with
representatives from the faculty, student body, administration, alumni,
Augustinian Order, and the Board of Trustees to evaluate candidates for further
consideration by the full Board of Trustees.
In his inaugural address delivered in the fall of 1988, Father Dobbin
outlined his vision for Villanova’s future that included enhanced academic
programs, an updated physical plant, new student life initiatives, and a
stronger endowment, as well as a campus-wide recommitment to the University’s
Augustinian heritage and the notion of what it means to be a community of
scholars. Father Dobbin’s vision translated into a concrete course of action for
Villanova that has led to its emergence as one of the nation’s leading Catholic
Under Father Dobbin’s nearly two decades of leadership, Villanova has enjoyed
a period of unprecedented progress. In that time, Villanova has engaged in an
ongoing strategic planning process that has guided every facet of the
University’s growth and success; strengthened its fundraising efforts and grown
its endowment from $18 million to $240 million; improved its financial profile
through careful fiscal management and planned savings which has led to favorable
ratings by leading bond rating agencies; attracted record numbers of
undergraduate applicants, creating Villanova’s most selective and academically
accomplished classes in its history; planned or completed new buildings or major
renovations in each of its colleges and schools; established new
interdisciplinary curricula and degree programs throughout the University;
expanded international programs and collaborations; positioned its students to
compete successfully for prestigious national scholarships and fellowships,
including Rhodes Scholarships, Gates Cambridge Scholarships, and Fulbright
Grants; created an increasingly distinguished faculty which has steadily
garnered national recognition, including Fulbright Fellowships, Guggenheim
Fellowships, and a host of teaching awards; and implemented new programs to more
effectively engage alumni and parents in the life of the University. All of
these accomplishments have contributed to U.S. News and World Report ranking
Villanova the number one University in the North for fifteen consecutive years.
“It has been a privilege to serve Villanova as its president,” Father Dobbin
said. “Throughout the years, I have been fortunate to work with exceptionally
talented faculty, staff, students, alumni, parents, and friends deeply committed to the University
and its Augustinian mission. Their passion has helped transform Villanova and
continues to drive its progress. I am proud of what we have accomplished
together as a community and I am confident in the future of Villanova
“It is in light of how much has been accomplished at Villanova that I have
chosen this opportunity to announce my desire and intention to step down. We
have successfully reached many of the goals outlined in our initial strategic
plan. Now, as the University embarks upon an even more aggressive plan that will
guide the institution over the next decade, it is time for the next era of
leadership. Villanova will always hold a special place in my heart and I look
forward to remaining involved in the University community.”
A recognized scholar and administrator, Father Dobbin was a member of the
Villanova University Board of Trustees from 1979 to 1987 while he was assigned
to the Washington Theological Union. He was appointed associate vice president
for Academic Affairs in July of 1987 and was inaugurated as Villanova’s 31st
president on October 5, 1988.
“Villanova today is a stronger, more vibrant institution than at any other
time in its history,” Board chairman John G. Drosdick said. “Its innovative and
challenging academic programs attract more of the best and brightest students
each year from throughout the country and around the world. The University’s
firm financial footing has led to an increase in financial assistance, helped
attract leading faculty, and provided the leverage necessary to transform the
campus into a modern living and learning environment.
“All of this has been accomplished thanks to Father Dobbin’s strategic vision
and his boundless enthusiasm for the University. His leadership has solidified
Villanova’s national reputation and has reaffirmed its commitment to its
Augustinian mission. He will leave a legacy of growth and achievement that has
positioned the University to successfully face the challenges of the next
century. The future is very bright for Villanova.”
Villanova is in a uniquely strong position to initiate this transition having
the benefit of Father Dobbin’s continued vigorous leadership of the University
for the full period necessary to successfully conclude the presidential
selection process. Villanova will continue to build upon the remarkable progress
it has enjoyed under Father Dobbin’s guidance as the University seeks his
Drosdick stated that, “As Father Dobbin’s leadership of Villanova continues
during this transition process, he has also committed to redoubling his
important efforts on behalf of Transforming Minds and Hearts: The Campaign for
Villanova, the University’s $300 million fundraising effort that was publicly
launched in December 2004.”
Drosdick continued by stating that, “We are grateful for Father Dobbin’s
extraordinary contribution to Villanova as its longest serving president and his
continued commitment to the University and its mission.”
Father Dobbin was raised in Staten Island, N.Y., and received his Bachelor of
Arts in Philosophy from Villanova in 1958. In 1962, he received his Master of
Arts from Augustinian College as theological preparation for his ordination to
the priesthood that same year. In 1964, Father Dobbin received his Master of
Science in Mathematics, with a minor in Physics, and in 1968, he received his
Licentiate in Sacred Theology – both degrees from the Catholic University of
America. In 1971, he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Sacred Theology from
the University of Louvain, Belgium.
Father Dobbin’s leadership has impacted every aspect of the Villanova
educational experience and has led to its emergence as one of the nation’s
leading Catholic universities. Highlights of Villanova’s transformation under
Father Dobbin’s guidance include:
A University Strengthened and Prepared for the Future
A Strategic Planning Committee of the University's Board of Trustees was
created in 1989 to conduct a campus-wide evaluation to define the University’s
mission for the coming century. The committee’s recommendations formed a
comprehensive Strategic Plan that called for an increased endowment, reduced
enrollment, and substantial improvements to Villanova physical
A Future of Promise: The Strategic Plan, A Future of Promise, guided the
University through the 1990’s, a decade of growth and achievement that enhanced
the educational experience and improved its national profile.
Transforming Minds and Hearts: The Academic Strategic Plan: Villanova’s
Strategic Plan has been regularly reviewed over the years and was recently
updated. Transforming Minds and Hearts: The Academic Strategic Plan is designed
to guide the University to meet the challenges of the next decade and reaffirm
Villanova’s position as one of the nation's leading Catholic universities by
virtue of the vibrancy, effectiveness, and distinctiveness of the undergraduate
education it offers, the quality and impact of its graduate programs, and the
excellence of its faculty.
- During his presidency, Father Dobbin has led efforts that have raised more
than $320 million for Villanova University:
The Villanova Campaign, which concluded in 1997 with $140 million in
commitments, is the most successful fundraising effort in the University’s
history to-date and provided resources to strengthen the endowment, meet
pressing campus needs, and led to the establishment of the first endowed faculty
chairs at the University.
Transforming Minds and Hearts: The Campaign for Villanova,
the University's multi-year, $300 million fundraising effort, has enjoyed
tremendous success since its public launch in December 2004. More than $74
million in commitments has been pledged over the last twelve months
representing the most significant and successful period of fundraising
activity in the University's history. With more than $180 million in
commitments to date, The Campaign for Villanova already exceeds the combined
results of all previous University fundraising efforts.
- The University’s endowment has grown from approximately $18 million to
nearly $240 million as a result of its successful fundraising efforts and
through a series of creative strategies designed to provide a new, solid
financial foundation as a basis for funding critical capital improvements.
- Two bond rating agencies, Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s
have assigned Villanova University the ratings of A2 and A respectively. The
ratings are based upon a comprehensive review of the University’s financial
data, enrollment statistics, and operating performance which confirms that
Villanova offers an educational experience that is in great demand and that its
financial operations, on an annual basis, are strong and efficient.
- The University has been transformed by the investment of more than $350
million to update its physical plant and create a modern living and learning
environment for its students. These efforts were guided by a Campus Master
Facilities plan that was created as part of the University’s overall strategic
planning process in 1989 and has since been refreshed to reflect changing campus
New construction projects include: The St. Augustine Center for the Liberal
Arts, the Center for Engineering Education and Research, the Health Services
Building, the Structural Engineering Laboratory, and the West Campus Complex
which features eight apartment-style residence halls, recreational facilities, a
weight room, study lounges, a convenience store, and a mail room.
Renovation and expansion projects include: The Mendel Science Center, Bartley
Hall, and the St. Thomas of Villanova Church.
Campus expansion: The University acquired the Villanova
Conference Center which is located approximately one mile from campus and
provides classrooms, meeting space, dining facilities, and lodging to meet the
needs of the Villanova community.
Planned projects: Plans are in place to address the physical plant
needs of the College of Nursing and the School of Law, as well the construction
of an Intercollegiate Athletics and Recreation Facility.
- It was during Fr. Dobbin’s tenure as chair of the Big East Conference
that the Big East Presidents engineered the restructuring and reconfiguring
of the Conference, including the addition of five new members, which has
secured the future for one of the nation’s most prominent and successful
A Renewed Focus on Villanova’s Catholic, Augustinian Identity
- Villanova renewed its focused commitment to living out its Augustinian
mission in every facet of University life through the establishment of the
Office of Mission Effectiveness, the Endowed Chair in the Thought of St.
Augustine, the Department of Humanities and Augustinian Traditions in the
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Institute for the Study of St.
Augustine, the Augustinian Historical Institute, and St. Thomas of Villanova
- The Core Humanities Program, a comprehensive, interdisciplinary two-course
curriculum required of all students regardless of their chosen course of study,
was implemented to provide each first-year student with a solid foundation in
the humanities while integrating elements of the University’s Augustinian
identity in an environment designed to stimulate thought, discussion, and
- University students have enhanced their commitment to serving others.
Three-fourths of all Villanova students participate in at least one community
service activity during their undergraduate experience. In 1996, Villanova’s
community service program was recognized with the prestigious Fr. George Mader
award from the Catholic Network for Volunteer Services and in 2004, the national
office of Habitat for Humanity recognized Villanova’s program as having more
volunteers than any other program in the country.
A Community United by Shared Villanova Experiences
- An extensive volunteer network has been established in support of the
University and its fundraising efforts. Alumni, parents, and friends – working
together on cultivation and solicitation committees – developed strategies to
reach every member of the Villanova community with opportunities for
involvement. These efforts led to the overall success of The Villanova Campaign
and have helped Transforming Minds and Hearts: The Campaign for Villanova exceed
fifty percent of its $300 million goal to-date.
- Parents have become much more involved and engaged in the Villanova
community through the Parents’ Program, a collaborative effort between the
offices of Student Life, Enrollment Management, Career Services, and
Development. Led by The Parents’ Committee, which is composed of parents of
current Villanova students and recent graduates, the Parents’ Program seeks to
create a deeper involvement among parents in their children’s unique educational
- The University’s Board of Trustees has been diversified to have a
broader geographic representation among alumni, parents, and friends to be
more reflective of Villanova’s emerging profile as a national University.
- The Alumni Association was revamped to provide a focus on sustaining and
enhancing the emotional bond between the University and its alumni by regularly
communicating Villanova news and highlights, providing opportunities for service
and involvement, and offering innovative programs and initiatives that promote
alumni participation. Reflecting the global nature of the University’s student
and alumni populations, Father Dobbin has overseen the national and
international expansion of the Alumni Association and has personally visited
more than 50 chapters throughout the country and around the world.
A Campus that is Increasingly Talented, Distinguished, and Diverse
- The quality of students that Villanova attracts has risen considerably.
Applications for admission have risen by nearly ten percent and now average
close to 11,000 per year. Corresponding average SAT scores have risen more than
60 points from 1207 to 1270, and nearly half of students graduate in the top ten
percent of their high school class, an increase of 14%.
- An emphasis upon diversity has led to the creation of a vibrant,
multicultural campus community. Applications from minority students have
increased by more than 140 percent and the number of minority students enrolled
has increased by nearly 200 percent. On campus, students benefit from programs and
initiatives that are coordinated through the Center for Multicultural Affairs
which was established to strengthen and facilitate the University's commitment
to diversity and is designed to assist and support the University with its
mission of being a community of people who share common values and whose culture
reflects the true Augustinian spirit.
- Villanova’s reach was expanded significantly by increasing the levels of
funding for financial assistance. Since 1989, the University has increased its
financial assistance resources by nearly 900 percent to the current budget of
nearly $29 million in need-based grants to full-time undergraduate students. In
addition, more than $8.7 million in scholarship assistance to students is now
budgeted to promote academic excellence and diversity, representing an increase
in excess of 300 percent in that same period.
- As a result of the recruitment and enrollment of a more talented student
body and the establishment of the Office of Undergraduate Grants and Awards,
University students are competing more favorably – and successfully – for
prestigious national awards. Since 1989, more than 550 University students have
applied for nationally competitive scholarships and fellowships, including
Rhodes Scholarships, Marshall Scholarships, Gates Cambridge Scholarships,
Fulbright Grants, and others. Of these candidates, 143 advanced to finalist
status and 79 received awards, including two Rhodes Scholars, two Gates
Cambridge Scholars, and four Truman Scholars.
- Villanova Athletics has produced seven national championships, 33
conference titles, 22 Olympians, and two Rhodes Scholars. In that same period,
Villanova student-athletes have accounted for 23 academic All-Americans, three NCAA Top Eight Award winners, and an NCAA Woman of the Year award. These
characteristics define Villanova’s rich athletic heritage, while encouraging
Wildcat student-athletes to broaden their horizons and develop skills that are
paramount to achieving success in life after college.
- A commitment to recruiting and retaining superior teaching scholars has been
supported by the creation of more than fifty new permanent faculty positions and
the establishment of more than thirty endowed faculty positions, including
fellowships, professorships and chairs, as well as two endowed college dean
positions. In addition, University faculty now benefit from the Villanova
Institute for Teaching and Learning (VITAL) and the Center for Instructional
Technology (CIT) which each provide resources to help faculty become more
effective in the classroom.
- Villanova faculty have secured more than $57 million in grants and awards
to support research activities.
A Commitment to Innovation in the Classroom and Beyond
- An emphasis on creating distinctive graduate education initiatives has led
to the establishment of doctoral programs in Philosophy, Engineering, and Nursing,
as well as twelve new master’s programs and two dozen certificate programs. In
addition, fifteen combined five year bachelor's-master's programs have been
launched across the University.
- The curriculum has been enhanced throughout the University to address
student interest and provide programs that prepare them to effectively meet the
challenges of a changing world. These enhancements include the creation of a new
core curriculum in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the
establishment of new academic majors and concentrations, including East Asian
Studies, Criminal Justice, Environmental Studies, Writing and Rhetoric,
Entrepreneurship, Ethics, Information Science, International Business, and
- An increasing number of Villanova students – more than 2,500 since 1989
– have taken advantage of study abroad programs during the spring and fall
semesters, including 313 in 2004-05. Thirty four percent of this year’s
graduating seniors took part in international educational opportunities
during their undergraduate experience.
- The University has established innovative partnerships with
international institutions, such as the Villanova Study Center at the
National University of Ireland in Galway. The Study Center exists to
coordinate students’ educational and cultural experiences in Ireland while
serving as an on-site liaison to the University.
- Scholarship resources have been established to encourage students to
study for a semester, a summer, or a year in another country. One such
opportunity is the Connelly-Delouvrier International Scholarship Fund, which
was established to provide financial support for one semester of study
abroad for academically talented students taking courses in the Honors
Program and to students who are Presidential Scholarship recipients.
- With the development of the West Campus complex, the University has
become a truly residential institution that can now accommodate seventy
of its undergraduate student population. These enhancements have helped to
effectively satisfy student housing requirements and allow the University to
implement residential learning communities which fully integrate academic
and student life programming in the residence halls.
- Technology has been fully integrated into every facet of the University
resulting in an advanced living and learning environment that features
wireless networking throughout campus, student laptop programs in the
Colleges of Commerce & Finance and Engineering, and the growth of distance
learning programs. These initiatives recently led the Princeton Review to
rank Villanova as one of the nation’s top ten “most connected” campuses.
I am delighted to have this opportunity to extend to you a hearty welcome to Villanova.
The Villanova University website will give you a glimpse into our multi-faceted life with
a marvelous variety of experiences, and, most of all, its people, students, faculty, staff
and all the others who make Villanova what it is today.
Villanova University challenges our students to
recognize that much is expected of them intellectually, that college
life must be built on learning, on study and investigation, on
dialogue and debate, on growth. In turn, it is my hope that our
students will challenge others as well as themselves. Welcome!
Rev. Edmund J. Dobbin, O.S.A.
Distinguished guests, colleagues, members and friends of the Dobbin,
Augustinian and Villanova families. I thank you most sincerely for coming to
share this joyful moment with me and with Villanova.
The Villanova community speaks often of its institutional mission, as most other
colleges and universities are wont to do. In my remarks this afternoon I shall
shift the metaphor and speak rather about my perception of Villanova’s identity
as a university. An institution’s identity, like an individual person’s
identity, is something concrete, something ultimately unique. Our identity is
who and what we are, have been and aspire to become. It includes our collective
consciousness of who we are, have been and aspire to become. This consciousness
is not merely subjective. It is embodied in the very fabric of the institution:
its symbols, its charter, its mission statement, its way of life, its lore. It
is fashionable today to sum these up and to speak of the institution’s story.
The institution’s story should be told and retold to focus the community’s sense
of identity and commitment to its mission. Today I could not begin to tell
Villanova’s story. Instead I shall abstract a few essentials from that story.
- Villanova is an American university. Founded in 1842 as Villanova College,
Villanova officially became a university in 1953. We cherish our long standing
membership in the community of American higher education. We desire interaction
at every level with our sister American institutions of higher learning locally,
regionally and nationally. We subscribe wholeheartedly to the “Characteristics
of Excellence in Higher Education” endorsed by the Middle States Association
Commission on Higher Education, including intellectual freedom as well as
integrity and the striving for excellence in all programs.
Since it has become a university, Villanova has continued to emphasize and to
enhance the widely recognized quality of its undergraduate programs. Graduate
education, which is intrinsic to a university, has been more limited in extent
at Villanova. Traditionally the University’s better known graduate programs have
been professional programs preparing highly qualified practitioners in such
fields as law, engineering, nursing and business. In recent years several of our
graduate programs in the liberal arts and sciences, which originally were
established primarily to prepare secondary school teachers, have developed a
much more rigorous orientation toward research and scholarship. We intend to
foster and considerably to amplify this development in all our programs—graduate
and undergraduate—in accord with the underlying principle that there is a
natural synergism between learning and research.
- Villanova is a Catholic university. We are deeply conscious of our Catholic
heritage and of our responsibility to bring the Catholic tradition to bear on
the intellectual and cultural climate of our time. We see no conflict between
being Catholic and being a university. Particularly as an Augustinian Catholic
university we perceive a congeniality between being Catholic and being a
university. St. Augustine lived centuries before the emergence of the first
universities in the middle ages. Almost surely, however, he would have played on
the etymological similarity between the greek derived word “catholic” (which
means universal) and the latin derived word “university.” Augustine always used
the word “catholic” with a strong suggestion of the universality which it
- Villanova’s character as an Augustinian university transcends the
institution’s historical and continuing relationship with the Augustinian Order.
It transcends the presence of courses, lectures and institutes devoted to
Augustine’s thought, desirable as these may be. It certainly transcends an
uncritical advocacy of Augustine’s philosophy fifteen centuries after his time.
It consists, rather, of certain characteristics of Augustine’s thought and
legacy which have become essentials of Villanova’s identity, embedded in
Villanova’s symbols and varied forms of self-expression. They constitute much of
what the members of the Villanova community mean when they speak of the “spirit
of Villanova.” They provide the thread of unity and the key for interpreting
Villanova’s mission statement. They are not unique to Villanova, as Augustine’s
heritage is not, but by emphasizing them Villanova actualizes its own unique
- The first of these Augustinian essentials has to do with the relationship
between the mind and the heart. The centerpiece of the University’s seal is a
heart on fire. The heart, the perennial symbol of restless human desire, is on
fire with a divinely enkindled love. It burns with the unquenchable desire to
know, which ultimately only the divine can satisfy. A book recently published by
Cornell University Press characterized Augustine’s theory of rhetoric as “a
rhetoric of desire,” a “hermeneutics of love.” There is a reciprocity between
love and knowledge. Although love depends upon understanding, Augustine stresses
conversely that love enables all human knowing and not simply that knowing born
of religious love which we call faith. Even the detached, objective pursuit of
the scientist is carried along by what Augustine calls “the ardent love of
Recently several prominent educators, most notably Derek Bok, the President of
University, have called upon higher education to recognize the need for
education in values and moral reasoning. In an Augustinian university values
must provide the ambiance as well as the object of our reasoning. These
underlying values must include, besides the values that we hold by consensus as
Americans and as participants in the community of American higher education, the
convictions mediated to us by our Catholic tradition and among these,
specifically in our time, a concern for justice and peace in our society, and
more generally a heightened social awareness.
- A second Augustinian essential, related to the first, is the stress on the
role of community. From the moment of his conversion, in each of the transitions
of his life as a Christian—as layman, as priest, as bishop—Augustine insisted on
living in community. His brand of monastic life was a blend of Christian common
life with the greek common pursuit of wisdom. In several of his writings
Augustine plays the role of a Christian Socrates, raising questions and sharing
openly in the developing insights of the group. Villanova, of course, is not a
monastic community, but it has always prided itself on its sense of
community—students, faculty, staff, alumni. Villanova is and always has been a
friendly place, a caring community. I think without doubt that this is due in
large part to our Augustinian heritage. This same heritage challenges us in
these days to deepen and to broaden that sense of community. Our academic
community should even more truly be a community of discourse. Faculty
interaction, the classroom and the laboratory, student life, all should reflect
an openness to people and ideas, a sense of inquiry in dialogue, a critical
sense, a moral and loving concern. The University seal represents these traits
of an ideal Augustinian community with the inscrolled words unitas, veritas,
caritas (unity, truth, love). In human community, unity and love lead to truth.
In the University’s seal the book of Sacred Scripture together with the bishop’s
staff upon which the flaming heart rests symbolize the Christian Catholic
tradition. A keen consciousness of that tradition combined with the traits of
community just outlined provide the surest key to preserving the University’s
Lest this emphasis on Catholic identity seem exclusive, I hasten to add, and not
as an afterthought, that this is not the case. For almost a century and a half
Villanova has welcomed other Christians and people of other faiths. Some of our
most distinguished faculty, alumni and student leaders have been of other
faiths. Their presence as fully incorporated members of the Villanova family is
not only welcome but essential to our mission. Recall the Augustinian stress on
the universality connoted by the word “catholic.” For Augustine, the truth which
the Church is called to proclaim is a public truth. It is the truth for which
every human heart is restless. It is not the private preserve of any group or
sect. The Church’s mission is to proclaim and defend that truth and then to
explore it endlessly with the whole of humanity as a sounding board. In his
writings Augustine often appeals to the “weighty authority of all peoples” as
supporting and even enhancing the authority of Sacred Scripture and the
authority of episcopal succession in the Church. As a bishop of the Church,
Augustine brought the Christian Message into the public forum exposing his
arguments to the gaze and critique of wide audiences. A modern Catholic
university might serve this purpose well. Other Christians and people of other
faiths are most welcome conversation partners in this joint pursuit of truth,
both within the University and without.
Likewise, for almost a century and a half, women have been part of Villanova’s
life, often serving as the most conspicuous exemplars of loyalty to the
institution. In an all-male institution until the 1940’s, women generally filled
subordinate but important staff positions. Now that we have achieved virtual
parity in student enrollment between men and women, we have seen vividly the
richness that women can bring to every aspect of the University’s life. Clearly
we are called to expand considerably the presence of women in our faculty and
higher level administrative positions. The urgency of this call is prompted not
simply by federal legislation, not simply, but surely, by the demands of
justice, but by the quality of community life to which we aspire.
One of the positive signs of the times is our society’s growing awareness of
cultural differentiation within our world and within our own society itself.
There is a strong consensus developing within American higher education of the
need for preparing students to live in a more culturally diverse environment and
on the importance of institutions themselves reflecting that diversity. This
presents an exciting challenge to an institution which religiously and
culturally identifies itself as “catholic” in the literal sense of the term. It
is my firm conviction that a rich religious cultural tradition becomes richer
and its identity more sharply focused when it interacts intelligently with other
traditions. So again the Villanova community hears the call to broaden itself,
this time to people of other race, color and economic class. Again the primary
motive is the ideal of community to which we aspire.
- A third Augustinian essential of Villanova’s identity has to do with the
unity of knowledge. The University’s mission statement says: “Villanova
emphasizes the disciplines of philosophy and religious studies.” This is not
intended to grant privileged status to two academic departments but to recognize
that those disciplines are especially concerned with the integration of
knowledge in light of the Catholic religious and intellectual tradition. For
Augustine, philosophy and theology were virtually identical, largely due to his
sense of the public, universal character of the Christian Message. Most often,
when he employed the term “philosophy,” he referred less to a particular subject
of study than to an aspiration to unity which permeates all liberal study. He
understood philosophy in its etymological sense as “a love of and desire for
wisdom,” which receives its ultimate satisfaction only in God. When he did speak
of philosophy in a more specialized way, it was the higher discipline which
enabled learners to integrate what they had discovered in the liberal arts and
other learning experiences into a concentrated exploration of ultimate reality.
Today with the emergence of the empirical and hermeneutical methods employed by
a vast array of specialized disciplines, philosophy and theology do not even
aspire to be “higher” disciplines exercising hegemony over other fields of
study. Rather, they are partners in the human quest for knowledge and wisdom,
probing rigorously, with their own canons of inquiry and verification, broader
questions of relevance to human life as a whole. The study of the liberal arts,
the sciences and the practical professions within the context of this broader
pursuit of wisdom is Villanova’s ideal. John Henry Newman, in his classic The
Idea of a University states aptly that “religious truth is not only a portion
but a condition of general knowledge.” (84)
The integration we seek involves more than philosophical and theological
questioning. While preserving the gains we have achieved in the rigor and
specialization of the many disciplines in our curriculum, we must find ways of
connecting the learning which is taking place within them. Learning must occur
“across the curriculum.” The learning of such skills as writing, logical
reasoning, quantitative reasoning and ethical reasoning cannot be relegated
solely to specialized introductory courses. We must take care to ensure that
these skills are used and developed throughout the whole curriculum. Likewise,
the content of courses across the curriculum must connect. For example, major
scientific discoveries have moral, political, social, economic, even religious
and philosophical implications. How are these multiple dimensions to be brought
to bear on the scientific discovery under consideration without
over-simplification? No one person possesses expertise in all of these areas.
Increasingly, our faculty have been trained to a high degree of specialized
expertise in their fields. Without wishing in the least to compromise that
specialization, I am convinced that greater integration might be achieved by
some creative curriculum designing, done by a faculty that appreciates the
importance of integrated learning for the students and for themselves. In my own
specialized academic career, I have often discovered the richest insights for my
specialized study through interdisciplinary connections. One of my delights
since coming to Villanova last year has been observing a definite interest among
some of our faculty in favor of such integration of learning, as well as the
further integration of theoretical learning with practice, of classroom with
life. I intend to encourage these possibilities as especially consonant with
The few essentials of Villanova’s identity, which I have been describing
succinctly and somewhat abstractly, translate into concrete courses of action
for the University’s future. Villanova has no intention of increasing the size
of its student enrollment. In fact, our undergraduate population is now beyond
our desired expectations, due to an unexpectedly high yield of accepted incoming
freshman this year. In the future we intend to reduce slightly and to control
more carefully the size of our student body. The growth for which we shall plan
is a growth in quality: quality of life on campus and quality in all programs.
These are some of the specific initiatives under consideration:
- On-campus housing for at least 1,400 more of our students than we can house
at present. Approximately 94% of our applicants seek resident status which is
available for fewer than 50% of our undergraduates. This forces literally
thousands of our students to find off-campus housing with the ensuing stresses
placed both upon the quality of student life and upon the relationship of the
University with its neighbors. We shall plan this new housing to be
aesthetically and functionally conducive to the intellectual, cultural and
social ambiance which we seek for our students.
- We are in the process of establishing several task forces to study and to
make recommendations concerning the quality of life at Villanova. Two of these
will report directly to the President. One committee will study ways of
heightening the intellectual and cultural atmosphere on campus. Villanova’s
academic programs, on the one hand, and its student-life programs, on the other
hand, have been becoming better and better. We want to bring them closer
together. Learning is not restricted to the classroom, laboratory or library,
nor is enjoyment restricted to extracurricular activity. A member of our
student-life staff recently remarked to me that we are coming more and more to
view our student activities as co-curricular rather than as extracurricular. We
are confident that we can find concrete ways of making these integrations and
thereby raising Villanova up another notch in academic excellence.
A second committee reporting to the President will study the Catholic character
and ambiance of life at the University. The committee will make concrete
recommendations for fostering a dynamic Catholic Christian environment at
Villanova which is truly ecumenical in the sense described above.
- The additions or replacements of physical facilities, for which we are
strategically planning, also are intended strictly to enhance the quality of
life and programs. They include:
a) New office space for faculty and administrative staff. (current space is
b) A modern health care facility that will provide more
adequately for the physical and psychological well-being of the members of our
University community. (this will replace an infirmary that is more than fifty
c) State of the art science and engineering laboratories and seminar
space to provide the integrated quality of learning which we plan to provide.
- I mention a final initiative, which we are planning, because it is so crucial
to the success of two of the strategic objectives considered in my remarks on
Villanova’s identity. Villanova needs desperately to increase its endowment.
Using income generated by endowment is the most sensible way for the University
to provide financial aid to students of low and middle income families who
increasingly are finding Villanova too expensive to attend. We are deeply
committed to control costs even as we seek greater excellence. We realize that
raising tuition to provide financial aid to the less fortunate is an inefficient
way of keeping Villanova open to students of varied economic background. Income
generated by endowment raised for that purpose would be a preferable and fairer
alternative. Also, endowed chairs or professorships might be very attractive
gifts for donors interested in enabling Villanova’s increasing pursuit of
research oriented teacher/scholars.
Finally, these remarks on Villanova’s identity—Who we are and what we hope to
become—are the observations of one person. One person’s perceptions do not
constitute nor do they adequately express an institution’s identity. I pledge
myself to work with all Villanova constituencies in bringing the University’s
identity to even sharper and richer focus.
I have a special message for one constituency, my fellow alumni and alumnae. You
are the largest, and undoubtedly a very important, repository of Villanova’s
collective consciousness. No one knows better than you of Villanova’s
extraordinary knack of engendering deep loyalty, affection and love in those who
work and study here and then continue to identify with us long after they
depart. Let me assure you that this spirit is still alive at Villanova among the
students, faculty and staff, even as the University has grown in size and
stature as an academic institution. The students especially, many of them your
sons and daughters, have been a delight to me since I have taken office. I have
been impressed with the friendliness, poise, interest and obvious talents of so
many students who, on their own initiative, have welcomed me, congratulated me,
advised me about their own activities and offered me advice about my own. If the
students are any indication, Villanova’s momentum is undoubtedly upward.
Finally, to our distinguished guests and friends from outside the Villanova
community: Although my remarks have concentrated internally on Villanova’s
identity, they are presented with a sure awareness of your presence and for your
benefit as well as our own. Villanova enjoys and anticipates cordial, friendly
and productive relations with all of you, in so many different ways. It is my
hope that a Villanova, self-aware and willing to share that self-awareness,
might be a more suitable partner in our many shared endeavors.
I thank all of you wholeheartedly for your presence here today.
Dear Members of the Villanova Community:
At the June meeting of the University’s Board of Trustees, I announced my
intention and desire to step down as president of Villanova at the conclusion of
the 2005-06 academic year.
This is a decision that I have considered for some time. It is obviously
difficult to step down from a position that I enjoy so much. However, with the
University positioned strongly to face the challenges of the future, the time
has come to prepare for a new generation of Augustinian leadership at our great
It has been an honor and a privilege to serve Villanova as its president. What
distinguishes our University are the people that make up the Villanova
community. In my time here as a student, as a trustee, and as president, I have
been fortunate to work with exceptionally talented faculty, staff, students,
alumni, parents, and friends deeply committed to the University and its
Augustinian tradition. Their passion has helped transform Villanova and
continues to drive its progress. I am proud of what we have accomplished
together as a community and I am confident in the future of Villanova
Rev. Edmund J. Dobbin, O.S.A. '58