The President Talks Wilson Hall, the Importance of Students, and his Future at Monmouth
Grey J. Dimenna was named the President of the University on Feb. 28. He started his Monmouth career on Feb. 20, 1995, as Vice President and General Counsel and retired July 31, 2013. Since the transition from former President Paul R. Brown, President Dimenna has had some time to reintegrate into the University community. The Outlook sat down with him to get a deeper look into his past, present, and future.
How long do you anticipate being the Interim President?
The trustees have said that they don’t want me using the title “Interim President.” [Rather] they want me to use the title “President,” because, as they said, I am the President and I have the full authority of the President just like any other President has had.
Right now, the plan is that I will be President until June 30 of 2018. The trustees will start to begin the process very soon of looking for a new President. That process usually starts in the spring and there is a whole process. They usually set up a search committee, which consists of faculty, trustees, administrators, an undergraduate student and a graduate student. The search committee takes all of the applications, usually anywhere between 70 and 100, and they go through the applications. The committee narrows them down and gets to a point where somewhere around 12 to 15 applicants exist. Then they ask for references and again narrow the number down to eight people. They then meet with those eight people at an off campus site in order to preserve confidentiality.
That takes place usually late November early December. Then there are usually four candidates that we take to campus usually in the latter part of January. They spend two days and an evening on campus and they meet with everyone you could think of.
There is then a survey that the people who meet with the candidates fill out and the committee collects the surveys and narrows down who they would like to be final candidates and reach an agreement regarding salary and things of that nature. The new President typically starts July 1, which is the start of our fiscal year.
Is this June 30, 2018 date concrete?
My time here could be shorter or could be longer, I hope is it not longer because I promised my wife that I would be finished by June 30 2018. The June 30 date is my best guess right now.
Have you always wanted to be a President of a University?
No I was very happy as Vice President and General Counsel. Being President is a 24/7 job. If you do it right, you are always doing something. You are always going to events, whether it be student events or events in the community. It is a lot of work. During my whole time as General Counsel there was one time when someone nominated me to for a Presidential search at another institution here in New Jersey and I let my name go forward. However, this didn’t go very far and I heard things that I didn’t like so I withdrew.
Why do you think you were chosen for the position?
I think I was chosen because whenever you have a change of presidents, particularly when it is sudden, people can get worried. There are a couple of reasons I was chosen. Number one is that during my 20 years as General Counsel I developed a good relationship with the Board of Trustees, so they knew me and they trusted me. I think, and I don’t want to sound like I am bragging, but I think they thought highly of my skills.
The second reason is that they wanted someone who knew the institution, was familiar with the institution, someone who understood Monmouth and who knew what Monmouth’s mission and goals are. I think the trustees felt that someone who was familiar with Monmouth would be more accepted by the community and that has really panned out because my reception since I have been here has been overwhelmingly positive. So many people have been so happy to see me come back and have said thanks for coming back.
What is one thing you would like to tell the campus community that they may not already know about you?
Besides being the funniest man on campus? I think what I would want the students to know is that my whole time that I was here as General Counsel was that I always told my staff that “Students come first.” This does not mean students are always right, but what that means is that students come first – this is their institution, [and] if they weren’t here we wouldn’t have an institution. We should do whatever we can to make their experience here positive and transformative – to borrow a word from the strategic plan – because that’s why we are here.
I always regretted as General Counsel [that] I didn’t get to spend as much time with the students as I would have liked because I really enjoy spending time with students. That is one of the best parts about this job[…]We had a legal intern program in our office where students who were interested in becoming lawyers could intern and that was probably the way I got the most contact with students.
The program was very educational. I made sure the interns were not allowed to do any kind of office work. Instead they were drafting politics, participating in meetings, drafting correspondents, they were doing the kinds of things that lawyers would be doing. The feedback that we got from doing that program was overwhelmingly positive. I keep in contact with some of those former students to this day. Two of them my wife and I jokingly refer to as our adopted daughters and we travel with them and celebrate birthdays with them. So that is one thing that students don’t know about me, that my core belief system is that students come first.
What do you plan on your relationship with students being like during your time here?
I want to be as visible as possible, particularly with students. I was told earlier that I was in the Rebecca Stafford Student Center more than a lot of presidents have been in the past year or two. I have been going up to students and introducing myself. I took part in the most recent Mondays at Monmouth program, which is prospective students so when they came to Wilson Hall here I was talking to parents and students.
Recently, I ran into a prospective student who was here visiting on her own for the second time and her mother was about to take her picture and I got in on the picture. We started talking and I told her why she should come here. I later ran into them again and we started talking. I asked them if they had ever seen my office and they said they had peaked in the door.
I told them to come up and I showed them the office and showed them the conference room. I found out she was interested in biology so I walked her down the hall and had her speak to Michael Palladino, Vice Provost for Graduate Studies and Former Dean of the School of Science, and she took her on a tour of the new science building and it turns out that she is coming to Monmouth; I found out from admissions last week.
What areas of the campus do you think are strong?
We have a very strong faculty. They are so dedicated to our students. I love our small classes. A strong upcoming area of our community is our nursing and health studies area. We are going to be starting an athletic training program and an occupational therapy program in the coming years. We are also starting something that came out of our strategic plan and it is called the Institute of Health and Wellness, which is very exciting, and will pull together all the various health professions and serve as a resource for the surrounding healthcare community.
I think our academic programs and our student center focus are our real strengths. And my job as President here for the next year and a half or so is not to make any huge shifts here at Monmouth but to basically keep the progress that we have seen moving forward. I want to keep the good things about Monmouth going. I think we have a great strategic plan, a great campus, and a great institution. I want to keep it moving forward so that when the next president comes in he or she can hit the ground running and can move it even further ahead.
Do you plan to follow Former President Paul R. Brown’s initiative to educate the campus on Woodrow Wilson?
The Wilson Hall controversy is something I heard secondhand since it happened after I retired. That is something I plan on speaking with in the office of Equity and Diversity soon. I think Diversity is extremely important.
While I was General Counsel the Office of Equity and Diversity reported to me. Diversity and non-discrimination are issues that are very important to me. In fact, The Outlook had a reporter in London around the time that I had just gotten here asking questions about gender-neutral bathrooms. Mary Anne Nagy, Vice President for Student Life and Leadership Engagement, and I discussed that and the answer was obvious; no we aren’t going to change our policy.
What the federal government is doing is not any requirement on us. We are free to do whatever we want in that area and Monmouth is an inclusive environment community and we are not backing away from that.
What are some of your hobbies?
I ride a Harley Davidson; I ride bicycles a lot and I rode over 5,500 miles on them during the 2016 calendar year which was my first year of retirement. I started taking lessons and learning how to play guitar. The one bad thing about taking this job is that I don’t have the time to play the guitar anymore. I also love spending time with my wife, Nancy. She is my best friend and is a wonderful person. That’s the other bad thing about taking this job is that I don’t get to spend enough time with her as I would like. She is being very supportive though.
Where did you grow up?
Schenectady, New York and Vestal, NY is where I mainly grew up which is right outside of Binghamton where I went to college. Basically I spent a lot of time in upstate New York camping and doing a lot of outdoor activities. It was very suburban.
Where did you go to college?
I went to college at Binghamton University in Binghamton, NY. It is near the Pennsylvania border about an hour outside of Syracuse and then I went to law school at Syracuse University.
Do you have any children?
I have one daughter [and] she lives in the Los Angeles, CA area; she went to Rutgers. I also have a stepdaughter who lives in Arizona.
What advice do you have for current college students?
My advice would be to take courses that strengthen your communication skills, both oral and written. With any job you get, the ability to speak coherently and to persuade people of a position as well as the ability to write persuasively is key. People that can do that have a real leg up in whatever profession they go into and I did not do that as much as I should have when I was in college. Another piece of advice is to get involved on campus. That is another thing that I didn’t do as much as I should have. It is great for building your resume, but also helps you develop as a person.
Any final thoughts?
I have been having a blast so far. It is a lot of fun to be the President and speak to the students more and I look forward to the rest of my time here.
PHOTOS TAKEN by Alexandria Afanador