New president drawn to mission of Dominican University

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Glena Temple. (Photo provided)

Students, faculty and staff at Dominican University in River Forest will find themselves in an unfamiliar position this fall: getting to know a new university president.

Glena Temple assumed the presidency of the university on Aug. 2 after the retirement of Donna Carroll, who led the institution for 27 years. Carroll’s tenure saw the institution transition from its identity as Rosary College and grow in enrollment and number of majors and members of faculty and staff, while the operating budget quadrupled.

Temple was still moving into her office — a different space from Carroll’s office, one in an academic building just down the hall from classrooms — when she spoke to Chicago Catholic.

She planned to be on campus at the end of August to physically lend a hand to students who were moving in, she said, and she wants to spend some time getting to know the university community.

Temple previously served as president of Viterbo University, a Catholic institution in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, and is a scholar in botany and plant sciences as well as a leader in educational administration.

“The board is thrilled to welcome Glena Temple as Dominican’s next president,” said Tom Abrahamson, board chair and member of the search committee. “The search process brought forward a diverse field of extremely accomplished candidates. Dr. Temple brings with her an exemplary record of achievement and leadership at multiple levels of higher education and a keen awareness of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for Dominican. The board is certain that under her leadership Dominican will continue to realize its vital mission of preparing students to pursue truth, to give compassionate service and to participate in the creation of a more just and humane world.”

Temple said she has had an eye on Dominican for some time.

“I’ve watched Dominican at a distance as they’ve become a Hispanic-serving institution,” Temple said, referring to the U.S. Department of Education designation for schools whose population is at least 25% Hispanic. Last year, nearly half of Dominican students and more than 60 percent of undergraduates were Hispanic. “They’ve done intentional outreach into the community, they’ve launched new programs to meet community needs. I’ve always thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful to work at a place like that?’ There are so many things being done at Dominican that are inspiring.

“Within higher-education circles, Dominican was one of those schools where I would often go out and look for best practices at,” Temple said. “Serving first-generation students with a diverse student body at a Catholic faith-based school — it’s a small network, so I would frequently look and see what Dominican was doing.”

She appreciates the connection between the university and the Sinsinawa Dominican sisters, who founded St. Clara Female Academy, the school that would become Dominican University, in Sinsinawa, Wisconsin, in 1848. Viterbo, sponsored by the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, is located next to the community’s motherhouse, while Dominican is more than 150 miles from Sinsinawa.

“One of my concerns coming in was whether the campus would have that same love for the sisters, and I don’t know how Dominican does it, but they seem to have that same feeling of really treasuring the sisters and really treasuring that history, which is not always found in Catholic higher education systems,” Temple said.

“I was moved by the mission of Dominican and the story of the Sinsinawa sisters and their commitment to education, historically educating the immigrant population and meeting the educational needs of the regions they serve. I want to be part of that. I really believe in the transformational power of Catholic higher education, the holistic approach, to not just the curriculum but how we support our students. Dominican seems to have all those pieces.”

Her science background informs her educational leadership, she said.

“I appreciate and enjoy data and spreadsheets,” Temple said. “Certainly, my leadership is data-informed. I wouldn’t say data-driven, because mission has to be at the core of how you make decisions. But I am certainly someone who’s very curious about what changes we can make to improve student learning and wanting data to help drive our understanding of the effectiveness of that.

“We’re looking frequently at what’s effective in admissions, what are the risk factors for retention in an institution. The scientist in me continually wants to change that one variable and measure the impact. Sometimes in higher ed you have to change four variables at once and it gets a little messier.”

Her academic career in biology relates to working with the complexities of educational institutions, she said.

“When we study biology, it’s a complex system and things are overlapping and interrelated and you don’t always really understand all the impacts of how those systems interact with one another, and I think that is also true of higher ed,” Temple said. “You might be trying to study one system in isolation, but you quickly realize you can’t do that. You have to understand the complexity of the whole situation. You also have to appreciate the beauty and the magic of these overlapping systems for the outcomes they are trying to create.”

Dominican University is facing the same challenges as all colleges and universities, including changing demographics, and challenges that are particular to its mission.

“The holistic educational experience and working with first-generation students, how we in Catholic higher education do this in an engaged, involved manner — that’s very labor intensive to do that work in the way we do it,” she said. “I think we all value that we get to know our students, that we get to know their stories, we get to know their passions and their vocations and help them develop their calling.

“I’m so proud of that, but it takes a lot of people and effort and time, and efficiency isn’t necessarily what we look for always in those conversations. How do we provide that holistic experience that we all care about while keeping the cost of college down? We have to have a clear commitment and vision about the importance of this work we do and the importance of doing it within our mission and our Catholic and liberal arts frame because we know it makes a difference.”



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