President Balances Budget, Work, Play

Posted: September 30, 2010 in Profiles

While awaiting the upcoming issue, enjoy this May 2010 profile of Dan Carey by staff writer Michael Stock.

“I’m happy to tell you that I think my background is very similar to a lot of Edgewood students.  Well, maybe not a lot.”  These, his first words of the interview, describe the mystery around Dan Carey.  Despite Carey’s efforts to get involved with campus life and the student body, few Edgewood students seem to know anything about their president.  Some don’t even recognize the name.  So is he the familiar, average guy, or the distant authority figure?

Carey, 64, became Edgewood College’s eleventh president in 2004.  “I’m one of the people that love my job,” Carey said, “but it’s pretty demanding.  If people think it’s a glorious job or somehow glamorous–I guess is the word I’m really looking for–if they think it’s a glamorous job, it’s not.”

 “I think sometimes maybe people are surprised a college president would have a very modest background.”

Carey has short, white hair and glasses.  He’s wearing a blue sweater with a button-up dress shirt underneath.  Carey dresses based on his meetings of the day.  Some days it’s a sports coat, tie, and dress shoes.  “Today,” he said, “I can be in tennis shoes and a sweater.”

Carey is friendly in conversation, his laid back Midwestern speech punctuated with a hint Southwestern drawl.  He is welcoming, accustomed to being approached and interviewed.  “I think sometimes maybe people are surprised a college president would have a very modest background.”

Carey came from a farming background in Iowa.  His dad, three brothers, and one sister were all a part of the daily operations: “We milked thirty or so cows.  We raised corn, beans, alfalfa.”  Carey was the first in his family to got to college, something  made possible only by scholarship and work-study programs.  “I worked in a packing house a couple summers.  I worked highway construction.  I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to go to college.  Because I was first-generation, I’m very proud of the fact that Edgewood serves so many first-generation students.”  Always prepared to promote Edgewood, he added, “Generally more than a fourth of the freshman class is first-generation every year.”

Carey went to St. Benedictine College in Kansas.  He was an English major with minors in education and philosophy.  He student-taught in a high school.  “My plans were originally to be a high school teacher,” he said, “to get a master’s in counseling, become a guidance counselor, and eventually become a principal.  But then I got drafted.”

Carey was an infantry officer, spending a year in Vietnam.  Afterwards he stayed in the reserves for 25 years, where he retired as a full colonel.  Carey was able to begin graduate school right away, financing it through the GI bill.  “I’m pretty sympathetic to veterans today,” he said, “because I know what they go through.  And I like it that we get to serve some of the veterans here.  I think that’s pretty cool.”

Carey said his goals changed, and he figured out that he wanted to work with college-aged students.  He earned a master’s in psychology, counseling, and guidance and went through a Ph.D. program for higher education in college student personnel administration.  At graduate school in Colorado, Carey met his wife.  ” A friend introduced us.  I was already back from Vietnam, and she was working on her master’s in reading.  She started working at a school system.  We were married.”  As he lets that thought sink in, for the first time in the interview Carey seems to loosen up.  “Those were really happy years,” he said.  “We’ve been married for about 35 years.  It’s pretty amazing, really.  They have two sons in their twenties.

At his second job, Carey was already the dean of students at a small private school.  “From there I was able to get a VP job for student development at St. Mary’s in San Antonio,” he said.  “I was there for 11 years.  I really enjoyed those years in San Antonio.”

“I didn’t stay in one place but I was always kind of in the middle of the country,” Carey said.  He became vice president at St. Louis University, later achieving his first presidency at Benedictine College where he once had been a student.    Carey held the position for nine years before coming to Edgewood.  “I prefer the Midwest; that’s a true statement,” he said.  “I think people are a little friendlier and not in a rush.  I like to travel to see the family. My wife’s family and my families are in the Midwest.”

Carel also likes to travel abroad.  “We have to expand our minds to think about our responsibilities as global citizens,” he said.  “Visiting Pompeii was pretty cool–where the volcanic flow came and people had no warning.  Seeing where they dug that all out was interesting.”

“Spent time in Italy with my older son. Took the trains around.  We visited Malta, Rome.  Australia and New Zealand are beautiful, beautiful places.  I’ve been to China a couple of times–Hong Kong about three times.  Asia is interesting.  Thailand is interesting.  I wouldn’t mind going back to Vietnam.  As a non-military person I’d like to go back there sometime,” he said.

Carey said he is grateful to be able to see the world: “We’ve been fortunate to able to do some travel.  Early on when we were married, my wife and I didn’t have any money so we could try to do one trip every year.”

“As I’ve been able to have better salaries, we’ve been able to travel a bit more, Carey said.  According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, for the year of 2006-2007, Carey’s pay and benefits totaled $386,786, though no up-to-date figures have been published.

In Carey’s down time around here, he tries to attend every play on campus, or catch half a basketball game.  ” I like sports,” he said.  “I’ve played a lot of tennis.  I like to try and stay in shape.  Just a couple years ago I started playing golf.  It goes pretty well with this job–one of our major donors has invited me to golf with him in an event.  I’m not real good but I have a lot of fun.”

Carey’s job, as he describes it, seems to be a combination of public relations and bringing in cash.  For schools that are tax-supported he said, “You could have good and bad years–but you’re pretty sure you’ll have enough money to run your school.  You might have to cut back a sport or something.  It depends; there are some pretty tough times at some schools right now.”

“Some independent schools are going to be in trouble,” he said, “and Edgewood is not going to be in trouble.”

“At a private college, you’re really responsible; we’re not supported by the government directly,” he said.

Carey said Edgewood must balance its own budget, bringing in enough money through tuition and through gifts to make sure it can keep everyone employed and grow.  Tuition, in fact, has been raised this year.  “We can’t raise our tuition enough to do what we need to do.  We’ve got to slow down how much we raise tuition every year because families aren’t going to be able to afford it.  We’ve got to find other ways to do some of those things or we’re going to be in trouble,” he stated.  When Carey’s talking about tuition he seems at his most uncomfortable, staring forward at his desk, twisting and squeaking his pen cap.

“Some independent schools are going to be in trouble,” he said, “and Edgewood is not going to be in trouble.”

He approaches his job with a sort of business model: “You have to be entrepreneurial.  You have to develop new sources of revenue.  You can’t be stagnant.  You’ve got to be creative.  What are things that employers need?  What are the things that employees need to move up within an organization?  What are things we can do to be in partnership with the local and regional community?”

Cary added, “It’s a fascinating job, I mean, it’s never boring.”

Carey’s typical work schedule is this: he is usually at work at eight.  He pounds through e-mails.  “I get that knocked out,” he said.  He reads The New York Times and Chronicle of Higher Education Online, as well  as a website that delivers him all the stories on higher education.  Sometimes he has a board meeting or he gets ready to meet the deans.  Or he’s sending e-mails and contacting people Edgewood is trying to raise money with.

“It’s a lot of fun, but it’s demanding”

As far as meetings, he says that every day is different.  “Probably what people would be most surprised at is, actually, I work quite a few evenings,” he said.  “Sometimes that’s a lot of fun.  It might be dinner with a donor.  It might be an event at the Overture Center where we are interacting with other people.”

He has learned to multitask, inviting donors to dinner and a play on campus.  “Now that’s really cool,” he said.  “I’m supporting students and the department and showing off Edgewood to maybe board members or donors.”

“So there’s a lot of give and take with the schedule,” he said, “and sometimes that includes a piece of the weekend—sometimes I’m off all weekend–but most weekends I’m not.”

“It’s a lot of fun, but it’s demanding.  A 60-hour work week is not out of the ordinary.  But now then again I get to go golfing  with one of our major donors,” he remarked. “So is that work or is it play?  What do you think?”

“Some of the work is play,” Carey continued.  “Even thought it’s fun, you’re still on the job.  You still represent Edgewood College and still behave a certain way.”

“The coolest part about the job though,” Carey said, “is when you’ve done all those things–when you’re balancing the budget and you’re doing programs and you’re hiring good people and if you got people that aren’t doing so well that you help them move out–the best part is the students.”

“It all starts with the student, and that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing.  I love seeing students change and grow and mature and expand their views; it can be magical.  If students do what they’re supposed to, and we do what we’re supposed to do–the professors, staff, and administration–it can be a magical four of five years,” he said.

Another important aspect of Carey’s job is improving services for students.  “Our retention rate is better than what it used to be.  I think it could be a lot better yet–I’m no satisfied–but it’s the best it’s been.  But now let’s go!  Let’s go to the next level,” he said.  Edgewood has added post-baccalaureate programs which fill up and generate revenue.  “We’ve added a number of things to help us, and when the big financial crunch hit, we didn’t have to lay any people off, we didn’t have to stop hiring.  A lot of schools weren’t able to do that.  THat’s why it’s so important that we stay on the ball and keep our eye on where we need to go.”

Future plans to improve Edgewood for students include “a new visual and theatre arts building.”  The building has been in planning for nearly two decades, receiving a private donation, but has been continuously delayed.

“If you’ve been up to the current arts area, it’s sub-standard,” Carey said.  “It’s not appropriate space.  That’s our big push right now–to raise some additional money, and get bids out and get a shovel in the ground and build that building.”

Carey is also excited about the office space this project will open up for the business and nursing schools.  “When that happens all these other things can happen,” he said snapping his fingers.  “All kinds of things can fall into place.”

Carey says he likes it at Edgewood.  “I’m pleased you’re profiling a number of people.  I would like to underscore that I’m really happy here.  My wife is happy here.  We’re close by and we kind of know what’s going on on the campus.  We go to church over here.  For us, this has been a really good match.  it’s fun to work hard when you enjoy what you do.”

So what’s next for Daniel Carey?

“I started a workshop here at Edgewood for people thinking about being a college president,” he said.  “This year it will be out in New Hampshire.  I’ve been approached by a couple of search firms that specialize in college presidency searches.  So I might do search work whenever I retire–help match people up with jobs.  Wouldn’t that be cool?”

He will be doing most of the organizing online, only going to New Hampshire for a couple days.  He will remain in Madison, and adds that he doesn’t want people thinking about his retirement too soon.


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