New Detroit Mercy president Donald Taylor begins tenure

July 01, 2022
Two men look at a tablet and other devices on a desk inside of a Student Union office.

The Donald Taylor era at Detroit Mercy began on Friday, July 1, as the University's new president received his ID card, moved into his new office in the Student Union and continued to meet new colleagues.

Learn more about Taylor's vision for the University in an article that was featured in the Spring 2022 edition of Spiritus magazine.

The Bold Vision of Donald Taylor

University of Detroit Mercy’s 26th president is eager to get to work.

Donald Taylor has been on what he calls “a listening tour” since late February when he was appointed Detroit Mercy’s 26th president.  

Several campus visits, often accompanied by his wife, Lechia, have included tours of the McNichols, Novi, Riverfront and Corktown campuses, one-on-one and group meetings with members of the leadership team, staff, students and faculty. 

“I’m learning,” Taylor said in March. “You’ve got to really learn about the culture of the institution before you can lead it. I’m doing this now so that I can hit the ground running on July 1.” 

He likes what he’s hearing and learning. 

Detroit Mercy’s strong commitment to social justice, led by its founders the Religious Sisters of Mercy and the Jesuits, the strength of many of its programs, the deep emotions the University evokes and, most important, the University’s current trajectory, show that Detroit Mercy has broad support from students, alumni, employees and the community. 

“This institution has an outstanding reputation and a long, storied tradition of excellence,” Taylor said.  

That’s part of what led him to seek the position after serving his first presidency at a private, 2,100-student Catholic university near Philadelphia. 

Donald Taylor, left, and wife, Lechia, outdoors on the McNichols Campus.Taylor comes to Detroit Mercy with nearly 30 years of higher education leadership experience. Since 2014, he has served as president at Cabrini University in Pennsylvania. 

He helped lead Cabrini through its transition from a college to a university two years later, creating schools of Education; Business, Arts and Media; Humanities and Social Sciences; and Natural Sciences and Allied Health, each headed by a dean. The new University’s first two doctorates, in Educational Leadership and Organizational Development, were also instituted under his leadership. 

In his tenure, four academic centers of excellence were created at Cabrini that focus on immigration; urban education; domestic violence and early childhood education; and global business. Donor funding supports two of them. 

During Taylor’s tenure as president, Cabrini ranked among the top 40 Most Transformative Colleges in the nation by Money Magazine, an indicator that showcases schools whose alumni report high levels of success. In 2019, the university was also ranked as one of the Best Northern Universities by U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Colleges Edition.” 

Identifying the needs of the community, Taylor partnered with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to provide scholarship support for DACA students in a first-of-its-kind agreement. He also created educational pathways for students to attend Cabrini by establishing nearly two dozen additional partnerships with K–12 schools (dual credit), institutions of higher education (4+1 degrees), and educational nonprofits across the region, the nation and the world. 

A native of Memphis, Tenn., he understands the transformative potential of education. It was instilled in him by his hard-working, blue-collar parents. 

He and Lechia are the first in their families to attend college and both have siblings who did not graduate from high school, but later earned their GEDs. Lechia is a nurse and certified case manager. They have a son, Seth. 

“We know the value of education and how it transforms lives and what doors it opens,” he said in his 2014 inauguration address at Cabrini. 

He earned a Bachelor of Science in Education and a Ph.D. in Cell and Molecular Biology from the University of Memphis and was a research scientist in the biomedical sciences early in his career. He joined the faculty at Benedictine University near Chicago, where he served as director of the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology program, William Scholl Endowed Professor in the Health Sciences, inaugural dean of the College of Science, and provost and vice president for Academic Affairs.  

“I’m a scientist by training,” Taylor said. “I like solving problems.”

On his listening tour, he hears some opportunities for this institution. 

“When you think of Jesuit and Mercy institutions nationally, you think of Marquette, Boston College, Xavier, College of Saint Mary, and Georgian Court University, to name a few,” he said. “We should be on that level.” 

He sees room for growth in several areas, many of which involve Detroit Mercy becoming more thoroughly embedded in metro Detroit. There are opportunities to help the University shape programming to create graduates who have the skills identified by local businesses and civic institutions.  

He says the University should continue to look for unique ways to create programming, possibly online, for micro-credential certificates for those already working in careers. He would like to see more community-based research projects in which students and faculty work with local organizations and foundations to identify needs and solutions. Allied health programming could significantly increase building on the strong relationship that already exists between the University and the healthcare community.

Individual members of the Detroit Mercy community will also have an important role to play, he says. Taylor will call on students, staff, faculty and alumni to live the Detroit Mercy mission through service. Building a strong volunteer workforce of people with skills from arts and healthcare to business and the sciences would help spread the Detroit Mercy mission through service. 

Increased enrollment is another goal. 

“But it can’t be growth for the sake of growth,” he said. “It has to have a targeted focus.” That target might be first-generation students, which makes up about a third of Detroit Mercy’s student population. 

And then there is the question of making sure campus life is vibrant and active, with modern facilities for learning and for residential students and event programming that creates a buzz among students, staff and faculty. Athletics is one area where he sees the possibility of creating community: Strong athletics lead to strong school spirit.  

So how do these things happen? As might be expected, Taylor has a process. Securing resources, promoting the vision, communicating University priorities and urging people to think more entrepreneurially are the first steps.  

Then, he says, the University community has to take a hard look at what it can give up. 

“I will be asking people to do more things,” he said, “and they can’t do them on top of what they are doing now. We have to determine what we should stop doing.” 

Taylor knows this is a bold agenda, but he believes the University is on the right trajectory. 

“This institution has made tremendous strides,” he said. “Everything is in place to take the next step to be the university of choice for metro Detroit and beyond.”

By Ron Bernas. Follow Detroit Mercy on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. Have a story idea? Let us know by submitting your idea.