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Q&A with Interim Dean Thomas Donley

Professor Thomas Donley
Professor Thomas Donley | Photo by Kathy Hillegonds
Thomas Donley, an economics faculty member for 30 years at DePaul, has been named interim dean of the Driehaus College of Business effective July 1, 2020. We asked him how his expertise in economics affects his approach to his new role and how he would like to see alumni engage with the college.

How do you think being an economist will affect your decision-making process as interim dean?

Economists collect data, analyze trends and then make conclusions about which choices are most likely to achieve a sought-after outcome. These are useful skills for decision-making in any field, including higher education. Interestingly, economics also trains you to recognize the cost of waiting until all information is in and the role of uncertainty in decision-making, which prepares you to make decisions in uncertain times. These are great skills for managing well — whether you work as an economist or not.

I think the most practical tool that arose from my training is the ability to recognize the role of objective functions. I don’t mean in terms of reconciling interpersonal conflicts — but in resource allocation decisions. A clear statement of overall objectives, even unquantified, is a boon to decision-making. It provides a framework.

What are some ways alumni can get involved with the college in these uncertain times?

If you look at our college’s strategic plan, alumni are a recognized key to our success. We have a strong network of more than 65,000 DePaul business alumni and that’s an asset for our college, students and the alumni themselves. Their success is ours and our work reflects upon them as well.

These are challenging times for our students and our alumni. The recent disruption to the economy wrought by the pandemic is significant and severe. Our most recent graduates are entering the toughest job market since the Great Depression, and current students are facing increasing difficulty paying for their education and finding internships or fellowships.

The college is appealing to our alumni to assist our students and recent graduates and current students by helping them secure internships and enter the job market, and we are also seeking support to underwrite those struggling to gain their footing and finish their degrees. The university has cancelled tuition increases for this coming academic year and is increasing financial aid significantly to support our students, but we can’t meet all of the need alone. We are grateful to alumni who contribute to scholarship funds that enable our students to complete their degrees. We also encourage alumni to share their professional experiences and advice as speakers and mentors for our students. This engagement supports our efforts to connect students to the real world of business.