Brennan O’Donnell to Step Down as MC President

By Kyla Guilfoil, Editor-in-Chief

Brennan O’Donnell will leave his position as president of Manhattan College following the spring 2022 semester. Brother Daniel Gardner, who works in Academic Affairs in the Center for Graduate School and Fellowship Advisement, will serve as interim president beginning on July 1. 

O’Donnell announced this transition in an email sent to the MC community on Friday, March 4. He explained that he will be taking a sabbatical beginning in July 2022, and will return as a professor of English. 

“It is with mixed feelings, and after much reflection and prayer, that I have decided that this academic year will be my last as president of Manhattan College,” O’Donnell wrote in the email. “This was not an easy decision, but I know that the time is right to pass the torch. The future is bright for Manhattan College, and I am confident that we will be in good hands with Brother Daniel Gardner, FSC, at the helm while the search for a new president moves forward.” 

In the same email sent by the Office of the President, there was a second message from William N. Dooley, chair of the Board of Trustees. 

“The Board has been in discussions with Brennan for a while regarding his desire to take a sabbatical prior to transitioning his role to President Emeritus and Professor of English,” Dooley wrote in the email. “At the Board’s request, for reasons that benefited the college community, he agreed to postpone his plans. On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I want to thank Brennan for doing so and for his 13 years of service to and leadership at Manhattan College.” 

O’Donnell told The Quadrangle that discussions regarding this transition began in 2019, when the Board of Trustees proposed that O’Donnell extend his current contract to 2024. O’Donnell agreed to extend his contract to a maximum of five years and a minimum of three years, which would have opened the opportunity for him to transition from president in 2022. 

“At that time, I thought 2022 might make sense because by that time we would have completed a number of big projects, most importantly: building the Higgins Center, finishing the Middle States Self-Study, and raising at least $165 million for the Capital Campaign, ‘Invest in the Vision,’” O’Donnell wrote to The Quadrangle. “As it turned out, that projection was pretty accurate, so this is a good point for the college to make a fresh start on some new plans and projects.” 

Dooley recognized the achievements the college has seen under O’Donnell’s leadership since he stepped in as president in 2009. 

“Throughout his time as president, Manhattan College has consistently ranked high in academic-quality surveys such as US News and the Princeton Review, while distinguishing itself especially as a top college for return on investment and for supporting military veterans,” Dooley wrote in the email. “He has spearheaded the building and opening of both the Raymond W. Kelly ’63 Student Commons in 2014 and the Patricia and Cornelius J. Higgins ‘62 Engineering and Science Center in 2021.” 

Dooley continued to recognize the growth under O’Donnell, citing the reestablishment of the MBA program in the O’Malley School of Business, the Arches program and the Career Pathways Program. 

According to Dooley, the college’s endowment has grown from $40.4 million in 2009 to $148.2 million in 2021. 

While the Board of Trustees’ Executive Committee begins the search for a permanent president, Gardner will serve as interim president. 

“When it became apparent that Dr. O’Donnell had decided to conclude his term as president, it was discussed that, at the appropriate time, a fellow Brother might serve as the interim president during a national search for a Dr. O’Donnell’s permanent successor,” Gardner wrote to The Quadrangle via email. “When I was first approached by the Brothers to take on this role, I indicated that I was open to serving on an interim basis when the time came.” 

As Gardner currently serves as an administrator in Academic Affairs in the Center for Graduate School and Fellowship Advisement, he will be making a notable transition into the role of interim president. 

“My years at Manhattan College have left me humbled by our amazing community of dedicated scholars and students,” Gardner wrote in an email to The Quadrangle. “During my tenure as interim president, I will be led by Saint John Baptist de La Salle’s mission of uplifting the lives of our students through education as well as other Lasallian principles and values that are at the core of what makes Manhattan College strong and our future bright.” 

Dooley emphasized the Board of Trustees’ confidence in the new appointment in his email message. 

“Those of us who know Br. Dan, know him as a passionate and engaged member of the Manhattan College family,” Dooley wrote via email. “In addition to being well-regarded and highly respected by members of our college community, his deep familiarity with the institution and our community will enable him to make the transition seamless for our students.” 

After leaving the position of president in July 2022, O’Donnell plans to focus on rekindling his scholarship affiliation. 

“I’m looking forward to doing lots of reading and studying, getting myself caught up with scholarship in the areas I’m most interested in: poetry, poetics, religion and literature,” O’Donnell wrote to The Quadrangle. “I didn’t go to graduate school to be an administrator. I spent 17 years as a faculty member and always intended to return. A couple years ago, I was invited to contribute an essay to a collection of essays, and I remembered how much I love doing what I originally studied to do!” 

O’Donnell added that he is most looking forward to working with students in the classroom once he returns from his sabbatical. 

“[I will remember] the many, many dedicated and caring people I’ve been blessed to work with over the past 13 years,” O’Donnell wrote to The Quadrangle. “As I said in the announcement to the community: Manhattan is all about people united in a shared sense of purpose. It’s a really wonderful place.”