AQ Welcomes New President Kevin G. Quinn, Ph.D.

Published on

By: Dan Treul '09

Dr. Quinn knows supply and demand. From talking pro sports to rising tuition costs in the United States, economic theory flows naturally in and out of conversation with the economist-turned administrator, recently appointed the eighth president of Aquinas College. And from Quinn’s vantage point, demand for the Aquinas experience is both strong and understandable.

“There’s a lot of stuff written about how a college education doesn’t work out anymore,” Quinn says. “But I can tell you as an economist unequivocally that if you go to a school—especially a good school that has that deep, enriching transformational experience like Aquinas—there are different parts of the human condition that are open to you that are not otherwise.”

That difference was apparent to Quinn and his wife, Terry, the moment they set foot on campus. “It just felt like home when I walked on campus,” Quinn says.

For Quinn, who comes to Aquinas after serving as Founding Dean of the Donald J. Schneider School of Business and Economics at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, that sense of community makes all the difference. “In what seems to be an impossibly quickly changing world,” he says. “Remembering what it is that doesn’t change and what holds us together is maybe more important than it ever was.”

Bringing people together—and onto the Aquinas campus—has emerged as one of Quinn’s most important priorities as he assumes the presidency.

“You have to get people on the campus,” said Quinn. “You must get people on the campus. Those values, the thing that makes it special, it just seeps from the walls. I don’t know how else to say it. It’s critical.”


“Why it matters” is something Quinn has spent a lot of time considering.

“The Dominicans have been around for 800 years,” said Quinn. “What else has been around 800 years? Not a lot. And the reason why they’ve been around is because the values matter.” Helping make sense of a changing world is a task for which Catholic institutions like Aquinas are uniquely qualified, according to Quinn.

“I think that Catholic colleges and universities have to play an essential role in being a forum for ideas,” he said. “It’s important to be a place where different ideas can be discussed civilly, productively and constructively.”

Quinn assumes the presidency as American higher education grapples with difficult questions regarding free speech, academic freedom and political controversy—challenges he believes represent an opportunity for Aquinas. Quinn views the College as a moderating force for constructive debate.

“We live in a very polarized political society,” Quinn says. “Yet, having people get exposed to views that are maybe a little bit different than theirs is an absolutely important role for Catholic colleges. I think it’s really important to remember that the strength of the Catholic Church is due in no small part to the fact that there have been these Catholic colleges and universities where different points of view can be discussed.”


Navigating a volatile political environment is hardly the only challenge facing Aquinas as Quinn prepares to embark on this new journey, however.

“Most important is the question of access and affordability,” Quinn said. “How do we take this thing that is inherently expensive and labor-intensive and create that experience in such a way that it is reachable for a majority of people?” Quinn points to the legacy of the Dominican Sisters and their commitment to education for people of all backgrounds. While Quinn says he intends to raise the national profile of Aquinas College, he also acknowledges the challenges unique to the region.

“In terms of raw numbers, look at the demographics,” he said. “There are fewer young people in Michigan than there have been in a while, so we need to make sure that our financial structure and our organizational structure is ready for that change and can weather and thrive in that change.” Quinn cites expanding graduate programs, event services and conferencing as examples of ways the College can better diversify its revenue streams.


“The thing that drew us here,” said Quinn at the April press conference announcing his appointment, was “the unique tripartite mission of Aquinas College that combines the Dominican Catholic values, the liberal arts experience and career readiness.”

Quinn, who earned his doctorate in energy and environmental economics from the University of Illinois-Chicago, believes the liberal arts experience is an essential component of preparing students for success in today’s economy.

“With the industrial revolution, the nature of work changed,” said Quinn. “What we’re seeing now is that the pace of change and what it means to be employed is accelerating dramatically. We can bank on the fact that someone who is graduating from college now will probably be engaged in work during the span of their professional activity in a field that doesn’t exist right now.”

It is the purpose of the liberal arts, he said, to ensure that students are “prepared given how the world is changing, so that they remain relevant in the labor market.”

“We need to be making the point that your life is going to be different [after graduating],” said Quinn.

There is a responsibility to tomorrow’s leaders, he said, to apply “the transformational power of an environment like Aquinas.”

“ A place like Aquinas must be graduating people who know how to live life in a free society, and eventually become leaders in that society.”


“The faculty and staff I’ve met at Aquinas are amazing,” says Quinn. “Their level of dedication and purpose in what they do is clear, and that is amazing to me.”

Quinn says he appreciates the College’s focus on strategic planning under outgoing President Dr. Olivarez and notes that effort will continue. “In particular,” he said, “as a college, you have to figure out what you want to be and what you don’t want to be.”

“I think that there has to be a really great discussion about what Aquinas has been, what it is now, and how does that inform the direction that we’re going. We need to dare to dream big about what that is, and then it’s about figuring out the ways you can get there.”

Students, faculty and staff will be central to that effort.


That commitment to communication and collaboration doesn’t surprise Quinn’s wife, Terry. The two have been married for 33 years and together for more than 35.

“I know him pretty well,” she laughed. “He never ceases to amaze me with his capacity to learn. He is incredibly open to ideas, he listens and he loves to communicate.”

Terry, who met her husband while the two attended Loyola University, describes a collaborative relationship in which she and her husband frequently share ideas. She said she hopes to spend the first few months “getting to know the area and the College, and organizations and resources I can find to support Kevin and Aquinas.”

With an MBA from the University of Wisconsin—Oshkosh, and a background in business operations and human resources, Terry describes herself as “team-oriented,” and looks forward to making connections on campus. “I love to listen, I love to talk to people,” she said. A lifelong architecture and history enthusiast, Terry said she hopes to be “an ambassador for the history of Aquinas and the campus and Brookby House.”

Like her husband, Terry also views the College as critical to preparing students for a changing future, and points to the importance of the liberal arts. “I am most definitely a product of that,” she said. “Being at a smaller liberal arts college, for a lot of people, that gives you the confidence to be able to experiment, try different courses, follow a passion that maybe you never realized you had, and actually use it.”

Her background in human resources is evident as she talks about the role of Aquinas in shaping career preparedness. “No longer do you see people entering the workforce and spending years in the same organization, or even career path,” she said. “So it’s even more important to get that same kind of liberal arts foundation. There’s a lot you can draw on.”

Terry said she plans to “hit the ground running” to communicate that difference.

“One of the big areas we’ve talked about—and one of Kevin’s priorities—is really to be able to communicate the Aquinas value proposition even more than it is already being communicated,” said Terry. “To be out in the Grand Rapids community and elsewhere to increase enrollment, increase awareness and share the story about what Aquinas can bring to students looking for that sort of experience.”

“You’re going to be seeing a lot of Terry and me in the coming months,” said Kevin. “I believe in the power of community and the power of personal relationships. We plan to be very active in the community.”


As Quinn arrives on campus, Aquinas College faces an unprecedented opportunity. Campus is expanding rapidly, new programs are in the works and a $58 million comprehensive campaign is underway. At the same time, the College must grapple with significant challenges. In particular, shifting demographics have strained enrollment, and recruitment and retention demand critical attention.

Ensuring the College’s future relevance is top of mind for Quinn. “We have to make sure that the experience is relevant for the 21st century,” said Quinn. “One of the great things about liberal arts education is that it has endured for a long, long time. But we have to be careful to recognize what is permanent, and distinguish that from what is transient. We need to make sure we’re not just doing things because that’s the way we’ve been doing them.”

“I want to make sure that the faculty, staff and students feel that the institution is really looking out for them, and that they are a part of something that’s really special and worth doing,” he said.

“ We must keep the promise our heritage provides.”