A Decade of Distinction: Mary B. Marcy to Retire as President in 2021

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After leading Dominican University of California through nearly a decade of transformation and success, President Mary B. Marcy has announced her decision to step down at the conclusion of the 2020-2021 fiscal year. At that time, she will continue her work focused on the future of higher education through an appointment as Visiting Scholar at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and she will also continue her relationship with Dominican through ongoing availability as she assumes the title of President Emerita.

“On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I extend my deepest appreciation to President Marcy for her compassionate and courageous leadership,” said Dr. Carolyn Klebanoff, Chair of the Board of Trustees. "Today, Dominican is well-positioned for the future. The Board is grateful for President Marcy's decade-long dedication to this fine institution, and her commitment to a smooth transition through this pandemic year."

Since 2011, under President Marcy’s leadership, Dominican has gained national attention for a transformation that is rooted in creative programs, purposeful partnerships, and a commitment to academic excellence. President Marcy’s vision led to the creation of the Dominican Experience, which has become a transformative reality for students, as evidenced by dramatic increases in student success, satisfaction, and graduation rates.  

“Today, thanks to the dedication of our faculty and our staff, and the inspired energy of our students, Dominican is an institution with a dynamic present and a profoundly exciting future,” President Marcy said. “It has been a tremendous privilege to serve as Dominican’s president at a critical juncture in the institution’s history.”

Articulating the Vision for Dominican at 130 Years

President Marcy’s inaugural vision was to develop an educational model that would prepare students to succeed in an increasingly complex world. President Marcy was determined that this new model would give all students equitable access to the type of skills that had staying power: the ability to think clearly, to analyze thoroughly, to reason, to assess, and to communicate across difference.

President Marcy created a template for institutional transformation under the rubric of “Dominican at 130.” This year, as Dominican celebrates its 130th anniversary and as President Marcy enters her final year, the University can witness the gains made within each of Dominican at 130’s interconnected initiatives: Program Innovation, the Dominican Experience, and Curricular Alignment. The implementation of this vision has led to dramatic improvements in student success, creative new partnerships and programs, and record-setting philanthropic commitments.

Institutional Transformation: Student Success and Improved Outcomes

Dominican has undergone a significant academic repositioning in recent years, which has resulted in striking improvements in student success; most notably the graduation rate has increased more than 70% in the last 10 years, as the student population has become increasingly diverse. Of the undergraduate student population, 66% identify as ethnically diverse. Nearly a quarter of Dominican students are the first in their family to attend college, and more than 30% are Pell-eligible. 

In 2017, research led by Stanford and the Equality of Opportunity Project revealed that Dominican is 11th out of 578 selective private colleges for moving students from the lower socio-economic quartile to the top economic quartile. For the past two years, Dominican has been recognized by the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education as part of the top third of U.S. colleges and universities for delivering valuable outcomes and quality education. For the past nine out of 10 years, Dominican’s student-athletes have won the PacWest Academic Achievement Award.

In the last eight years, the annual fundraising support for Dominican has increased by more than 30%. Fundraising more than doubled in 2020 from the prior year.  During this period, the University has secured the largest philanthropic gifts in its history. These gifts included record-breaking commitments to support the comprehensive renovation of the 130-year-old Meadowlands Hall into a state-of-the-art health sciences complex, seven-figure gifts in support of the Dominican Experience and the Barowsky School of Business, gifts to complete and expand the Allen Athletics Complex, and most recently, a seven-figure support of the expansion of the athletics program and implementation of coronavirus testing. The Dominican Experience in particular has attracted funding from major donors, as well as The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Teagle Foundation, the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, the Fletcher Jones Foundation, and the William G. Irwin Charity Foundation.

Professional Accomplishments and Thought Leadership

President Marcy has developed and shared with the national higher education community her own scholarship that demonstrates how an approach like the Dominican Experience answers many of the most pressing needs of small, private colleges in the United States in this time of fundamental challenges to their existence and purpose.

Her white papers; articles; numerous presentations, seminars and webinars; substantive media appearances; and her book, The Small College Imperative: Models for Sustainable Futures, all make the argument that the Dominican Experience is a model that promotes the particular strengths of small, liberal-arts based institutions to serve the types of diverse students who are becoming the new majority in American colleges and universities. President Marcy is regularly quoted in the media related to her research and initiatives, including The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Times Higher Education, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Inside Higher Ed.

President Marcy was named Visiting Scholar at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in fall 2018. The appointment allowed her to share Dominican’s transformation with Harvard faculty and students, expand her research, and develop a manuscript based on her 2017 Change magazine article, “Beyond Mere Survival: Transforming Independent Colleges and Universities.” The resulting book, The Small College Imperative, was published by Stylus in 2020.

Program Innovation and Strategic Partnerships

Under President Marcy’s leadership, Dominican has gained visibility as a national leader in independent higher education, and has attracted opportunities to develop new, innovative programs and strategic partnerships. Many are the first-of-their-kind in the nation.

In 2019, President Marcy was invited by the State of California’s Chief Service Officer to lead an effort to develop an innovative statewide program designed to help students pay for college through public service. Planning and implementation grants from California Volunteers and the Corporation for National and Community Service are supporting the pilot, which will see Civic Action Fellows from eight public and private universities begin as AmeriCorps members in the 2020-21 academic year.

The California Civic Action Fellows program was built on the success of Reimagining Citizenship, a scholarship and public service program developed in partnership with the City of Novato. Fellows receive paid on-the-job training with the city. In turn, Dominican provides a substantial scholarship, offers targeted mentorship, and grants the students credit toward a minor in Community Action and Social Change.

These two programs — Reimagining Citizenship and Civic Action Fellows — present a new, innovative way for financing higher education, and underscore the value of civic engagement and community service. The students in these programs are highly diverse, largely first generation, and willing to work and give back for the opportunity to pursue higher education. Students gain both the intellectual capacity and the practical experience necessary to serve as informed, engaged citizens in their own community.

In 2018, President Marcy led the negotiation of an accreditation incubation partnership between Dominican and San Francisco-based coding academy Make School. The unique partnership allows Dominican’s students to study for a minor in coding and software design, tapping the sort of practitioner expertise in emergent, high-growth fields that colleges, especially small colleges, often struggle to access. The partnership expanded access to computer science, historically a male-dominated discipline, to Dominican’s student population: 75% female and 66% students of color.

In 2015, President Marcy established the endowed Dominican-Oxford Global Scholars Program, which provides scholarships for Dominican undergraduates to study at the University of Oxford’s St. Catherine’s College. Having earned both her Doctorate of Philosophy and Master of Philosophy from Oxford, President Marcy was aware of the unique educational experience that studying at Oxford would provide Dominican’s students.

In both 2012 and 2016, Dominican was appointed by the Commission on Presidential Debates as a national voter education partner. In 2016, Dominican led a new initiative that utilized technology and social media to involve college students in the presidential debates. Students from colleges throughout the United States participated in a televised event at Dominican that served to highlight concerns during the 2016 presidential election. The project received national media coverage, greatly expanding the University’s visibility.

The Dominican Experience

The University was well-positioned to pursue innovative programming after embarking on a comprehensive strategic planning process in 2013. President Marcy led the campus in creating a comprehensive and integrated Dominican experience for all students. The process reimagined the University’s support systems and curriculum to prioritize access to the research-driven experiences that support student learning and success.

This model is now known as the Dominican Experience.

The Dominican Experience places the University among a small group of institutions transformed around a clear vision of student engagement and high-quality learning. Today, every undergraduate student at Dominican, regardless of major, has access to personalized coaching, takes part in some community engagement, completes signature work, and develops a digital portfolio to provide a portable record of their educational experience.

Simultaneous to the development and implementation of the Dominican Experience, President Marcy stewarded several notable initiatives that advanced engaged learning on a large scale. The University developed series of “signature activities,” including the annual Scholarly & Creative Works Conference that provides every graduating student the opportunity to present original research or creative work. An annual University-wide Community Engagement Theme allows students, faculty, and staff to connect research around a focused cluster of issues, problems, or themes. The inaugural theme of “Democracy & Equity” inspired a broad array of inter-disciplinary and highly collaborative events, course sessions, and projects.

The capacity of Dominican’s engaged learning programs has grown remarkably. Since 2011, the service-learning program has seen more than a 100% increase in student hours spent on-site with community partners annually, with upwards of 15,000 hours reported in 2019-2020. Dominican received a coveted Higher Education Civic Engagement Award from The Washington Center in 2015 and holds a Community Engaged Classification from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

President Marcy has presented widely on the Dominican Experience and student success at such venues as the Association of American Colleges & Universities Annual Meeting, Association of Governing Boards, Council of Independent Colleges Presidents Institute, Education Writers Association Conference, and the Harvard Experienced Presidents Program, among others.

Curricular Alignment

In 2017, seeking to embed engaged learning in every aspect of a student’s college journey and to ensure the longevity of the Dominican Experience, President Marcy supported a comprehensive revision of the University’s curriculum. The general education program shifted away from a pathway focused on specific academic disciplines to a core curriculum defined by skills and competencies that provide greater responsiveness to student exploration and streamlines the time to degree.

Dominican also strategically added new programs that respond to workforce demand and build on institutional strengths. New Physician Assistant, Global Public Health, and Health Care Leadership programs are designed to prepare graduates for some of the country’s fastest-growing careers, as is the new Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Med certificate launched in fall 2020. In 2017, the University launched a low-residency MFA in Creative Writing; in addition to the genres of poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction, Dominican offers a track in Narrative/Poetic Medicine, which allows students to embrace the special role that creative writing can play in the process of healing. In fall 2020, Dominican introduced a new Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA) program to prepare graduates for careers in the rising field of data analytics.

Higher Education Leadership

On July 1, 2020, President Marcy was elected to the WASC Senior College and University Commission, where she currently serves as a Commissioner for the accreditor.  She also is a member of the Board of Governors of the Commonwealth Club of California, the Presidents’ Trust of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, the Executive Committee of the Association of Independent Colleges of California (AICCU), and the Advisory Board of InsideTrack. She was an Arthur Vining Davis Fellow at the Aspen Ideas Festival and has previously served on the Council of Independent Colleges Board of Directors and Executive Committee, and on the Steering Committee of CIC’s Project on the Future of Independent Higher Education.

Prior to joining Dominican, President Marcy served as Provost of Bard College at Simon’s Rock and Vice President at Bard College from 2004 until 2011. Previous to her leadership at Bard, she worked in both public and private institutions of higher education, including a grant-funded Project on the Future of Higher Education.


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