Molly Burke made a tough decision when she left the classroom at Dominican University to become dean of the business school. Now she finds herself making another tough choice in reversing direction.

After 14 years at the helm of Dominican’s Brennan School of Business, an exciting and challenging era that put her at the forefront of significant change, she’s stepping down and returning to teaching.

“When I appointed Molly to dean, one poignant [aspect] was taking her out of the classroom,” recalled Dominican University President Donna Carroll, “because she’s such a terrific teacher.”

Carroll said she felt the need to offer a synopsis of Burke’s accomplishments because Burke herself tends to downplay her role in the school’s success.

“She’s the last to claim her accomplishments,” said Carroll.

“It’s been fun to do so many exciting things and to, literally, transform the university and the business school,” said Burke. “I absolutely love this place. I think Dominican University is one of the best educational enterprises I know of. It has been incredibly exciting to work for Donna.”

Carroll said a key characteristic underlying Burke’s success was her special ability to foster strong relationships, a skill which helped Burke develop a first-rate faculty, attract a major endowment, and broaden Dominican’s reach around the globe.

But Burke’s path to the dean’s office wasn’t paved with burning ambition. She started working at Dominican in 1973, in student affairs, rising to dean of students before leaving to attend Northwestern to earn a Ph.D.

“I never ever thought after attending Northwestern I’d ever come back to Dominican,” she said. When she received an offer to work part-time, however, she took it. When Carroll arrived as president in 1994, she said, “I’d like you to be dean of the business school.”

“I thought I’d do it for a short time, and I did it for a long time,” Burke said.

During that time, she transformed the Brennan Business School faculty into a source of pride for the school.

“In a large sense, I think Molly Burke’s greatest legacy was her focus on a quality curriculum,” said Carroll. “She’s built a strong, well-credentialed faculty.”

“We have excellent teachers. We have hired fabulous faculty,” Burke concurred. “They have not only academic degrees and confidence and research skills. They’ve almost all of them worked in business, so they bring a very practical understanding to students in the classroom.”

Besides the Brennan School of Business’ faculty, Burke said she’s most proud of the partnerships Dominican has forged with universities in China, India, Poland, the Czech Republic, and perhaps, soon, Italy. Every year Dominican staff travels with graduate students and some under graduate students to study in places like China and London and South America.

“So they’re not just reading books,” she observed. “They’re going overseas to study American and domestic corporations in those countries.”

The practice is reciprocal. “People from China send their professors over,” said Burke. “They sit in our classes and learn how we teach.”

Carroll said Burke was also instrumental in creating the Christopher Endowment, a development made possible by the very excellence Burke fostered.

“She built the program and went out and got the funding,” said Carroll, who said attracting such an endowment presents a major challenge.

“You marry a curriculum’s strength to a donor or benefactor who’s interested in that program,” said Carroll. “You have to be able to demonstrate you have a program of distinctive strength. She was able to tune into Doris Christopher’s focus on business ethics,” Carroll said,

Ethics form a cornerstone of the Dominican experience, Burke said, which she credits to Norm Carroll, the founder of the business school in 1977. She’s proud the school’s embrace of ethics was pro-active, not reactive.

“The emphasis on business ethics [at Dominican] started with [Norm], not Tyco or WorldComm,” she said. “We are not at the business ethics table because of fraud or deceit. We were there when the school was founded.”

Burke values business education more for what it can give the world than how it benefits any single individual. “Our role is to make the world a better place, not just to make people richer,” she said quietly. “I know that sounds like such a platitude. But if you know any of the people here, it really shines through.”

Burke said she won’t miss the 80-hour weeks after July 1, but much of her newly available time will be dedicated to caring for her husband, who is battling an illness.

And there will be teaching again. She’s happy about it though admitting to some trepidation. It’s been 10 years since she took control of a classroom. “This is a different generation of students,” she said. “I think writing is important. And I’m going to be challenged to make sure the students I teach value writing as much as I do.”

She’s helped raise the instructional bar at Dominican, but it’s a bar she’ll soon measure herself against.

“I’m joining an incredible faculty,” she said. “I’m joining the all-star team, and I hope I can hold my own with such talented people.”

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