Dr. Nicola Pitchford Named Dominican University of California’s 10th President
Dr. Nicola Pitchford, a professor of English whose research and teaching interests include contemporary British literature, feminist theory, race and national identity, and landscape writing, has been named President of Dominican University of California. Her term begins July 1, 2021.
Dr. Pitchford has served in both academic and administrative roles in higher education for more than 25 years. She joined Dominican in 2011, serving first as Dean of the School of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (now the School of Liberal Arts and Education) and, since 2014, as Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty. In 2018 she stepped in as Dominican’s interim President while President Mary B. Marcy completed a research sabbatical.
“Dr. Pitchford’s record is outstanding in all arenas — academic, administrative, and creative,” says Dr. Carolyn Klebanoff, Chair of Dominican’s Board of Trustees. “Through the evaluation process, it became clear that she enjoys the enormous, and critical, respect of her campus colleagues.”
Dr. Pitchford’s immediate focus will be the continuation of work that began under President Marcy’s leadership to fully develop a distinctive model of academic programming and student support, which today is nationally recognized as the Dominican Experience.
Dr. Pitchford served on the original design team to establish this signature student learning experience, developed over the past decade with a focus on maximizing Dominican’s strengths and fostering equity. In 2014, Dr. Pitchford co-chaired the Dominican Experience Task Force, composed of nearly 30 faculty and staff. Their charge was to align and expand Dominican’s academic and co-curricular strengths within the principals of engaged learning.
In recent years, Dr. Pitchford has joined President Marcy in raising the profile of the Dominican Experience by presenting successful outcomes at national conferences, as well as addressing prospective students, alumni, and local organizations. Today, the Dominican Experience places the University among a small group of institutions transformed around a clear vision of hands-on learning, personalized mentoring, and community engagement.
“I will continue the outstanding work that has been accomplished under President Marcy’s tenure to focus on what I believe is the core task of higher education in a changing world: the education of the whole person, nurturing habits of critical thinking and flexible intelligence that equip our students to engage ethically and carefully with others and to adapt their skills to both existing and emerging community challenges and career opportunities,” Dr. Pitchford says.
As Dominican’s chief academic officer, Dr. Pitchford’s key initiatives included leading the University’s faculty in revising and streamlining the entire undergraduate curriculum to incorporate high-impact practices and increase flexibility and student choice. Dr. Pitchford launched the Dominican Research Collective program of small year-long discussion groups for faculty engaged in research, supported by micro-grants from the Academic Affairs office. She also secured $100,000 in Mellon Foundation funding for integrating community-based learning into multiple classes across disciplines.
Dr. Pitchford has helped shape the University’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and develop campus-wide priorities as a member of the faculty-staff-student Diversity Action Group (DAG). Recently, she participated in a year-long listening and planning project with DAG and the Associated Students of Dominican University (ASDU) to support the student experience in three primary ways: programming, education, and advocacy. This work led to the drafting by DAG of a campus-wide Strategic Diversity Plan and the appointment of a student-facing Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to lead the campus community in implementing the Strategic Diversity Plan, ensuring it is aligned with Dominican’s mission and institutional strategic priorities to more fully support Black, Indigenous, other People of Color, and LGBTQIA people — whether as students, employees, or other members of the community.
“Dr. Pitchford’s commitment to these goals is decades-long, not just a response to the times,” Dr. Klebanoff says. “At Dominican, she has been a champion for our students, who through the Dominican Experience have access to the kinds of opportunities that help them succeed in college, life, and career, regardless of personal background or major.”
As Vice President, Dr. Pitchford created the Office of Institutional Effectiveness, combining assessment, accreditation, and institutional research functions for greater efficacy of data and information use. She also led the successful reaffirmation of institutional accreditation from the WASC Senior Colleges and Universities Commission (WSCUC) and served as accreditation liaison officer between Dominican and WSCUC.
While Dr. Pitchford’s duties have evolved over the years at Dominican, she has remained guided by Dominican’s values of study, service, community, and reflection while supporting the academic programs, advocating for the faculty, and enhancing the student experience. At the core of her work is the belief that a liberal arts education is a critical component of a student’s academic journey.
In a 2012 article published in Dominican’s alumni magazine, The Torch, Dr. Pitchford noted that a liberal arts education is an active part of an ongoing commitment to democratization and expanding inclusion. Universities like Dominican, she said, must “articulate and embody the argument that the education we offer makes sense in a diverse, fragmented nation and world.”
“When we talk about reforming America’s higher education system to meet the challenges of a globalized world, we might be wisest to look at today’s liberal arts and programs such as the one we have created at Dominican,” Dr. Pitchford wrote. “The liberal arts offer not only the basis for an adaptable, innovative workforce, not only the grounding in moral and civic thought that building democracy will require, but also methods for engaging responsibly with social and economic issues.”
As Dominican has proven, private liberal arts universities can effectively serve the needs and interests of first-generation and students who identify as ethnically diverse (respectively 25% and 66% of Dominican’s undergraduate student body). Research led by Stanford University shows that Dominican is 11th in the nation out of selective private colleges for student social mobility — an accomplishment Dr. Pitchford intends to draw on.
“Building on Dominican’s exceptional success as an engine of socioeconomic mobility and racial equity will be crucial to our future,” Dr. Pitchford says. “I anticipate with joy the ways in which these students will change this educational paradigm, as we continue to move from an exclusionary historical model to a truly expansive, engaged and responsive one.”
Dominican’s 10th president has a background as diverse and compelling as the University she has helped shape for the past decade. She has worked as pastry chef, played bass and flute in an experimental rock band, and her varied research interests include the history of the Booker Prize.
After graduating cum laude from Pomona College with a BA in English and Creative Writing, Dr. Pitchford initially planned a career in social work but ended up working as a professional baker, and then in political and community organizing. In a 2012 interview with the Marin Independent Journal, Dr. Pitchford explained why she was drawn to pursue a doctoral degree in literature: “I found that I wanted to be able to think about ways of looking at the world as a means of creating more of a just world.”
Throughout her academic career, Dr. Pitchford has remained committed to advocating for the rights of others, especially those who — like her —came to the United States as immigrants. Much of her work at Dominican has focused on providing students from all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds with an education that changes lives.
“What originally drew me to Dominican was the combination of our specific educational model and a student body that looks like the rich diversity of the future American demographic,” Dr. Pitchford says. “I remain compelled by the vision of an institution that makes available a high-touch, intimately scaled, liberal-arts based education to students who have never been able to access this in the past.”
Dr. Pitchford also holds a deep appreciation for Marin County, particularly its natural beauty. Her mornings often start with a run along the hills near her San Rafael home — hitting the trails in time to watch the sun rise and appreciate the cries of coyotes. In 2018, she attended the Rural Writing Institute, and has continued to study the history of Marin County and Coast Miwok land, composing her own place-based narratives. Yet, Dr. Pitchford is keenly aware of the social and economic disparities that exist in one of the country’s wealthiest counties, and the important role Dominican must continue to play in Marin and beyond to ensure that higher education serves not just individuals but also the greater society.
Deepening ties with community partners in Marin and the greater Bay Area, she says, will be a priority of her presidency.
“Our students and faculty are ideally suited to being problem-solvers in partnership with business, government and nonprofits, and I think we can leverage our resources most effectively in joint learning and workforce development projects,” she says. “I’m eager to engage our collective creative energies in considering both how we can build on the innovative partnerships we have and also how we can develop new ones to address community challenges — of which there will be no shortage in the post-COVID context.”
Dr. Pitchford began her academic career as a teaching assistant while pursuing her doctorate at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She eventually earned both an MA and PhD from the University of Wisconsin in English, with an emphasis on modern and contemporary U.S. and British literature.
Dr. Pitchford is the author of a book on the novels of Kathy Acker and Angela Carter and has published and presented on the British novel, Black British writing, nature writing, the liberal arts, and global engagement of faculty.
One of the threads woven in and out of Dr. Pitchford’s scholarly interests over the years is the history of the Booker Prize (now the Man Booker Prize). Her research has focused on the critical controversies that have attended various prize-winners, as a lens through which to consider larger cultural debates surrounding contemporary British fiction. Her work examines how the Prize and the novels that win it often seem to crystallize, in the popular media as well as in literary discourse, a number of significant issues, including the increasing visibility of regional and marginalized literatures within Britain, as well as the problematic status of "high culture" in the ostensibly classless, democratic society of postwar Britain.
Before joining Dominican, Dr. Pitchford served as Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs and Associate Chief Academic Officer at Fordham University from 2009-2011. Dr. Pitchford joined the faculty at Fordham in 1995 as an Assistant Professor of English and received tenure in 2001. She also served as Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of English, Co-Director of the Literary Studies Program, and as Chair of the Department of English, where she oversaw 59 full-time faculty on two campuses.
Dr. Pitchford is a member of the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC), the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities (AICCU), and the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP). She has served on the AICCU Restart Higher Education Task Force (2020), WSCUC accreditation teams (2020 & 2018), the National Fulbright Screening Committee (2008) and has been an occasional manuscript reviewer for PMLA (journal of the Modern Language Association).
Dr. Pitchford, 55, was born in the United Kingdom and moved to the United States in her early teens. She lives in San Rafael.
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