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Dominican president transformed college; 'we opened this place up'

[caption id="attachment_17144" align="alignright" width="150" caption="Joe Fink"][/caption]

SAN RAFAEL -- In 1988, a young college president was hired to come on board at the 600-student campus of Dominican University in San Rafael.

He expected to stay three years.

Now, two decades later, Dr. Joseph Fink is in charge of a student body of more than 2,000 students.

And at 68, he is ready to move on, announcing his retirement in 2011.

“I was one of those rare people who became a college president in my 30s,” he said. “It is not an easy job; you have to respond to faculty, students, alumni and the community, but it has been a great run.”

When Dr. Fink arrived at Dominican in 1988, total assets were $15 million, revenue was only slightly above $7.2 million and the physical campus was in need of renovation and modernization.

Today, Dominican University of California’s assets are over $100 million and revenue exceeds $58 million. Recent campus enhancements include a state-of-the art-recreation center, a new residential village and a $21 million science research facility.

Currently, the university is renovating the 122-year-old Edgehill Mansion into the Dominican Heritage and Alumni House. Adding to those new facilities, Dominican also has greatly improved its IT infrastructure and has added state-of-the-art technology throughout campus.

BioMarin Pharmaceutical and Dominican University have partnered to offer research-based Master's of Science degrees administered by the college.

Last year, Dominican and the Buck Institute for Age Research in Novato created a similar program. The master's in biological sciences is a research-intensive program unlike most similar post-graduate programs in that the students get real on-site lab experience.

“This is the nation’s first M.S. in biological sciences with an emphasis on age research,” said Dr. Sibdas Ghosh, associate dean for academic development and professor in the department.

Now that the science department has innovated and is showing promise, the college is focusing its attention on other programs.

The business school is going through the accreditation process, there is a bachelor’s of fine arts partnership with the Alonzo King Lines Ballet and the athletics department has gone NCAA Division 2, which is a big step for a school that small, said Dr. Fink.

“This will be good for marketability,” he said.

The business school is in the second year of the accreditation process with the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.

“We are trying to hire,” Dr. Fink said. “This is a big investment in money and time and people.”

He said the process will likely not be complete by the time he retires.

The ballet program began because the school recognized the need for dancers to get a liberal arts education.

“We are co-training the dancers while they study ballet,” he said.

Dr. Fink said the school focuses on having a strong liberal arts core throughout each department.

“We know these students will go on to change jobs, change careers. In some cases we are training them for jobs that will not exist, so we feel that an equal education for all our students is essential.”

Meanwhile, Dominican has raised $70 million in the past 12 years, he said. The money has gone to many parts of the campus, but the bulk has been put toward scholarships for students who otherwise would not be able to go to a private school, he said.

“We responded to the demographic,” he said. “The college used to be homogenous, now it is heterogeneous.”

He said 30 percent of the graduate students and 40 percent of the undergrads are students of color.

“Our graduation rates are better than state schools, better for people of color. What I am really proud of is that we opened this place up,” Dr. Fink said.