Presidential Affinity for McKendree


Katherine Gemmingen, Head Copyeditor

Photos from McKendree University

Near the end of January, I sat down for a meeting with McKendree University’s new president, Mr. Daniel Dobbins. The campus never really had an official “welcome to McKendree” event for President Dobbins, and I wanted to find a way to introduce McKendree’s newest president to the community.

For those of you who have never met or seen President Dobbins around campus, the man is tall. You really don’t understand the concept of an imposing figure until you’re a 5’2 girl walking into the giant space that is the president’s office in Wildy Hall to shake hands with a president who is easily a foot and a half taller than you are, not to mention this is the same man who was the focus of a less than positive piece that you had previously published. Height aside, I can genuinely say that Mr. Dobbins was nothing but thoughtful, welcoming, and interested in the questions I had for him.

We started off our conversation not with a question from me to Mr. Dobbins, but the opposite. President Dobbins asked me about my experience on and off campus, what I study and am interested in, and what I plan to do after McKendree. Some might think that this was a method of evading the questions I may have had, but Mr. Dobbins was truly interested in what I had to say – positive or negative – about my McKendree experience.

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President Dobbins and His Future Wife (Holman Library Archives)

President Dobbins and his wife both graduated from McKendree in 1981, marrying later that year. He spoke fondly of her, and he told a story of how he had walked past her after an 8 am class several days a week but was so dazed from the economic material that he didn’t notice at first; once he did, he “just had to meet that girl.” While a student at McKendree, President Dobbins also played basketball for the school, which is not surprising given his height. He also has served on the Alumni Association Board as president and served on the Board of Trustees for 32 years.

Given that he has played some role with McKendree ever since he graduated, I was interested to know what it was like for Mr. Dobbins to be at McKendree full time. He described how it was energizing, with the students as fuel, and that the student body is complex. He stressed the importance of finding common issues and working to solve them. As far as changes to the university are concerned, President Dobbins says that you can adjust to the physical changes, but the student body’s capabilities have changed the most. He spoke about how students at McKendree today have a high level of intellect and that the “caliber of students in the classroom and outside the classroom” is truly impressive. He also spoke of how high he views the faculty and staff, especially with their calibers as well.

I also asked Mr. Dobbins if he had ever expected himself to be president and how he made the decision to take the position. He immediately affirmed that he had never imagined himself in the position, but that he has felt a sense of owing the university ever since he graduated. He views himself truly as called to be a servant leader dedicated to giving back to the university that gave him privileges in the rest of his life. He said he has “an affinity for McKendree,” and it showed through my conversation with him.

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President Dobbins

Mr. Dobbins said that he hopes to “celebrate success of all kinds” throughout his presidency; it seemed important to him that we celebrate both academic and athletic achievements. He also hopes to see the non-student-athlete population recover as he believes that is critical to McKendree’s success. The percentage of non-student-athletes has declined in recent years, and President Dobbins hopes to see that percentage rise again with efforts directly focused on recruiting such students. He spoke of how he wants to use a sustainable business model, and that he is particularly concerned about “green in your pocket sustainability.”

One of the hallmarks of the presidency at McKendree is living at the Stevenson House, but I was unsure if Mr. Dobbins had moved into the historic house. He said that since he and his wife already have a residence in O’Fallon, he hopes that he can find a “higher purpose” for the house that can better serve the needs of the university.

Right after his selection as president was announced, the Review posted an article, “McKendree Does Not Care About You” that criticized the decision to pick Mr. Dobbins as part of a larger set of issues plaguing McKendree. I felt that it would be cowardly of myself to not ask about an article that, while I didn’t write, I had a large role in publishing. Mr. Dobbins said he “didn’t read it” and that “everyone has passions, but [he] is doing this for the university.” He also spoke of how McKendree cannot “afford stereotypes” and that we need to be here for each other. He explained that he felt that the article would be a distraction for him coming into his new position and that there simply was not a place for such a distraction.

I suppose the most unfair question I asked President Dobbins was what his favorite memory of McKendree is. I mean, the guy has been involved with McKendree for decades, so I imagine there are quite a few good memories. He told me that meeting his wife was definitely a favorite, but that he also feels that the “best McKendree memories are someone else’s.” By that he meant that hearing what other people view as their favorite memories of McKendree is special for him.

I truly did not know what to expect when I walked into this interview, but I do know a few things now. President Dobbins is extremely committed to McKendree and to making it a flourishing establishment. He seems level-headed, was nonplussed by my questions, and truly cared about hearing from a student’s perspective. Since our interview, I have seen President Dobbins a number of times on campus and at a swim meet, and he has said hello. While I still cannot quite bring myself to call him Dan like he hopes students will feel comfortable doing, I know that he has good intentions for McKendree.

 

This article was based on an interview conducted January 24, 2020, and supplemental information was used from the following:

https://www.mckendree.edu/strategicplan/dobbins.php

https://www.mckendree.edu/news/board-names-daniel-dobbins-president.php

https://archive.org/details/mckendreanbein1981mcke/page/16/mode/2up