by Carolyn Arnold ’05
Julie Dolan, the new vice president for finance and treasurer, is no stranger to the financial workings at an institution of higher learning. Indeed she is the perfect fit for her new role at Fairfield, where she plans to continue its legacy of healthy fiscal support of the University’s strategic plan.
Dolan came to Fairfield in July 2010 to fill the position left by William J. Lucas ’69, who retired after 41 years of service to the University. Prior to her position at Fairfield, Dolan was associate vice president for fiscal affairs at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H.
Lucas established a tradition of fiscal integrity that helped the University to grow, and the Fairfield community sought a successor who would understand the vital role that the finance department played at the University.
When the University announced the selection of Dolan, President Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J. said, “Because of this moment in the evolution of Fairfield University, and with the economic challenges that we face in the coming years, a vice president for finance with comprehensive and sophisticated financial expertise and a proven record of leadership in higher education is essential if we are to achieve the ambitious goals that we have set for ourselves as a community. I am delighted that Ms. Dolan has agreed to join us and bring her extensive experience, as well as her collegial spirit, optimism, and energy, to our University.”
As vice president, Dolan is responsible for the accounting and financial reporting functions, as well as the management of computing services and human resources. Ultimately, her office is meant to provide an environment that is secure and encourages the accomplishment of the academic mission.
It sounds like quite an undertaking, but Dolan has the qualities to ensure success. “I’ve been in this field for my whole career,” she said. “This is what I do,” she added cheerfully.
Her professional career includes work at both large and small universities, showcasing Dolan’s familiarity with how academic institutions operate. Prior to Dartmouth, she served as the director of operations at Peabody College of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University. From 1995 until 1999, she served as assistant dean of finance in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, and then as acting associate dean. From 1989 to 1995, she held a series of posts at Tufts University, including manager of financial analysis and assistant director of the Office of Financial Planning and Budget.
It’s clear that Dolan has the experience to contribute a lot to Fairfield. She was interested in the position because, “it was a chance to bring my talents and experience to an institution that is continually moving up.” It also gave her an opportunity to work in new fields such as human resources and information technology.
After all of her years in higher education, there is still no other field in which she would want to use her talents. Dolan knew early on that she wanted to work in higher education. “It’s what I consider my calling and vocation,” she said.
Preferring a career in finances for universities over finances on Wall Street, Dolan was a political science major at Stanford University where she took many education and public policy classes. Once she graduated, she began working for small nonprofits dedicated to education.
Soon, she decided that she wanted to build her career at higher education institutions. “I found that I really liked the finance side of higher education and thought that the best thing to do would be to get an MBA and apply those skills to a university setting.” To accomplish this she went to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania where she focused her MBA on public policy.
Dolan began her duties at Fairfield over the summer and reports that she is happy with her new community. “Everyone has been warm and welcoming,” she said. “It’s been really fun to get to know all of the people I’ll be working with.”
The transition to the state of Connecticut has also gone smoothly for Dolan. Although she noted that life in Connecticut is a bit different from life in New Hampshire (there are fewer trees and more cars in Connecticut!) she’s excited to live in a ‘zone six’ state instead of ‘zone four’ New Hampshire. “I expect to be growing a lot of tomatoes here, which are hard to grow in Hanover because of the cold,” she explained.
And she hasn’t missed the “Live Free or Die State” just yet. Her daughter, Elizabeth, a senior at Hanover High School, and husband, John, remain in New Hampshire for the year while Elizabeth finishes her high school career. This means a lot of travel back and forth for Dolan, particularly in the fall for her daughter’s field hockey tournaments.
Once her daughter begins college, her husband will move to Connecticut. Currently he is president of the nonprofit Vermont Institute of Natural Science in Quechee. Dolan looks forward to that time, especially since her family will bring their two dogs, Bunny, a Saint Bernard, and Jéfé, a Pyrenean Mastiff. “My husband jokes that I can’t have the dogs with me in Connecticut because I’d never come back to visit,” Dolan said.
Dolan has dived right into her new duties at Fairfield. Part of her eagerness comes from the fact that Fairfield can be considered a ‘young’ university.
“It’s nice to be at a relatively young institution because it continues to grow and change and make its mark,” she said.
The situation is not without challenge as Dolan arrived at a time when finances for all institutions are difficult because of the economics in the country.
“Fairfield’s situation is different from universities which have large endowments like Harvard and Yale,” Dolan explained. This can be both a blessing and a curse because while a large endowment is a good thing most of the time, in a financially uncertain period, universities which rely on their endowments for operational purposes will take a bigger hit in an unstable market.
Where does that leave Fairfield for the coming years? “Because it has a smaller endowment, Fairfield is more dependent on tuition,” Dolan said. That means it needs to bring in the best possible class to study at Fairfield every year.
To do this, Dolan said that her overarching goals in the division of finance match up with the University’s main goals: to provide the best education in the Jesuit tradition and to be well known for it.
Dolan and her division will ensure that the underlying infrastructure is in place “so that those people at the frontlines of the University can continue to deliver a great education to our students.”
When looking at the advantages and challenges Fairfield has as an institution she noted that she was grateful for the relatively small size of the University because “it gives everyone the ability to have more of an impact on the institution because it is not a gigantic bureaucratic entity.”
Of course there are disadvantages that come with a smaller institution as well. For example, there are only so many resources it can tap into. Still, Dolan believes that the focus of Fairfield is strong, which is a very positive thing. “Fairfield’s mission and identity are more realizable then at a place that has so many constituencies and fiefdoms.”
Dolan joked that Harvard would be a good contrasting comparison for what a small university can accomplish. “Harvard is sometimes seen as a collection of 11 schools, all of whom share the color crimson. That’s not exactly what you want in a unified institution,” she said.
“At Fairfield, we are not like a cloth that is a bunch of different pieces of material stitched together. We can be seen as an intricate and well-crafted tapestry which produces a very beautiful whole piece.”
Looking forward, Dolan said that Fairfield has several advantages: “When the market took a huge nose dive, schools that were endowment dependent saw a much greater, sharper decline. More than they are used to dealing with.”
Businesses that experienced the same decline have the reputation of “lopping things off here and there,” Dolan said. If a business experiences economic difficulties they scale back quickly. This is much harder to do at universities. “A university provides an education that takes a minimum of four years. Also, academic institutions have a longer life. They are expected, by and large, to live on for one hundred, two hundred, three hundred years or more. Very few companies do the same.”
In other words, universities are long-lived institutions, which means they don’t radically go up and down in size, mission, or product. “You just can’t function that way. That’s not a good or bad thing, just unique to universities,” Dolan explained.
Ultimately, Dolan is optimistic going forward. “In general we’re on good financial footing,” she said. “We had another year of a balanced budget and enrollments are strong. We weathered the worst part and had to tighten our belts, like other universities, but we’ve been conscious of looking at the long term.”
In the coming years, Dolan’s division will continue to be as efficient as possible and look for ways to free up resources for academic and student priorities. “We need to make sure the infrastructure services and programs are as well run as possible in order to devote resources towards the mission.”
The focus remains on providing the best Fairfield experience for students. “Part of what we are trying to do is to help people understand the long-term value that comes with a Fairfield education. Students who invest in Fairfield reap the rewards for the rest of their lives. That includes their education, lifelong friends, career opportunities, a strong alumni network, and developing themselves to reach their full potential as human beings.”
As for Dolan, look for her to leave her mark in the coming years. She noted “I’m in the education field because I want to help change the world, and for me, education is the best way for that to happen. To be at a place that is still evolving and on the upswing is very exciting.”