Dr. Michael MacDowell ’69

Happy at Misericordia

Dr. Michael MacDowell loves life in Dallas—not the home of the Cowboys, but rather Misericordia University; a small liberal arts institution in Pennsylvania, which models the best of what Michael learned in the ‘60’s as a Trinity student.  Entering his 13th year as the president of Misericordia, Michael is keenly focused on the needs of his 1,700 undergrad and 1,100 graduate students.  

By Donna Parker

Michael MacDowell, who received a bachelor’s degree in economics from Trinity in 1969, is president of Misericordia University in Pennsylvania.  The school has received recent praise when it was voted one of the best northeastern colleges by the Princeton Review. 

“It’s a wonderful experience interacting with the students while deriving satisfaction from seeing an institution grow and mature,” says Michael, who earned his master’s degree in economics from the University of North Texas followed by an Ed.D. from Ball State University.

“Anyone who ends up as president of an institution reflects upon his or her own undergraduate experience emulating those themes in programs and ambience.  Trinity was a wonderful model and, as we grow at Misericordia, we’ve tried in many ways to follow what Trinity has accomplished.  We don’t have quite the endowment or academic ranking, but we’ve made significant progress.”

During his 12-year tenure, Michael has maintained an open door policy for students and faculty, spending as much time as possible attending athletic events, recitals, picnics, dances, and programs for them.  He’s also captain of the faculty volleyball team, heading the group that takes on the students during homecoming weekend.

“My wife, Tina Johnson ’69, and I have 1,700 children,” jokes Michael.  “We live next door to a house that enters on a street similar to Oakmont. Students are our neighbors.  Tina has been very important to this whole process.  I’ve found that having a great, supportive and involved spouse really makes a difference when running a college.”

Tina went out with Michael’s roommate in college, but she and Michael never dated until they rediscovered each other at their 25th reunion and married several years later.  Mike lived in Illinois, New York City and upstate New York during his various positions as Associate Professor of Economics at Northern Illinois University, president of the National Council on Economic Education in New York City; and Vice President and Professor of Economics at Hartwick College.

“Each place is different.  They might look the same on paper, but the culture of any institution is very important and takes awhile to figure out.  I’ve found in my current position that it’s critically important to listen to key people and keep two goals in mind:  learn about the institution and respect those you’ll be leading.  A lot is about being intuitive and honing your human relations skills.  You can spend an average day interacting with freshmen and then a few hours later meet with an 80-year-old alumna interested in giving to the University, but not happy with what she read in the school newspaper a few weeks ago; so it’s always interesting.”

When not on the Misericordia campus, Michael and Tina spend their spare time at their boathouse on nearby Harvey’s Lake which, he says, is quite like Lake McQueeney.

Recounting his Trinity days, Michael says he cherishes the time spent with faculty who had an ability to take difficult subjects and turn them into something enjoyable.

“Professors like Joe Ashby, department of economics, and Marguerite Davenport Barzan, department of English, had a tremendous influence on my life.  Dr. Ashby helped me decide on my profession and gave me an overview of how to take a job seriously but not yourself.  Dr. Barzan exposed me to Southern literature which, coming from Southern California, was all new to me and quite enjoyable.   I didn’t have Coleen Grissom, department of English, for any classes, but she was a great person to know.  She possessed tremendous intellect and could spot potential in students immediately.”

“Trinity had a slew of these people who could turn students’ lives around.  Now, as a college president myself, I’m following that model in trying to bring to Misericordia much of what Trinity taught me. . I am very happy, and forty years later am still enjoying the collegiate experience, but from another perspective.”

You may contact Dr. MacDowell at president@misericordia.edu.

After reading this story if you feel strongly about any Trinity alumni who the Alumni Office should profile in future AlumNet issues, please submit your suggestions.  We are looking for suggestions in these four categories:  1) recent grads, 2) grads who innovate, 3) grads in business, and 4) grads who serve the world. Feel free to nominate yourself if you fall in these categories. -- AlumNet Moderator