Momentum Award: Thomas Mogan

When Boston College hired Thomas Mogan as the new dean of students, it didn’t realize it might have just hired the future of BC’s basketball team.

The sport runs in Mogan’s family. His father coached high school basketball for 30 years, and Mogan has continued that tradition by coaching recreational and CYO basketball programs. He has three sons—one a sophomore in high school, another in eighth grade, and the youngest in fifth grade. His 14-year-old is already over 6-foot-5, and his 16-year-old is 6-foot-4. It’s just what the administration and Jim Christian ordered.

Mogan grew up in the island city of Brigantine, N.J., surfing and enjoying the beach as a kid. While an undergraduate at the University of Delaware, he spent his summers coaching kids of all ages at various sports camps. As a history and political science major, he briefly considered going to law school, but opted instead to take a year off after graduation and became a history teacher at his old high school when a teacher went on maternity leave.

Although he loved the kids, Mogan couldn’t see himself as a high school history teacher forever, teaching the same classes and coaching the same teams year after year. He followed a friend to the University of Florida where he joined their fledgling master’s degree program in sports management, later interning for the university’s recreation department and volunteering with the student activities board.

Mogan fell in love with the student activities side of his job when he worked at a small community college in South Jersey. He worked with their athletic department—a career route he briefly considered before getting involved in student activities—and their clubs and organizations, primarily advising the student government.

Mogan left the community college after only two years, accepting a position at Villanova University in 1995. He initially worked with their campus activities board and their fraternities and sororities, before being promoted to the director of student development in 1998, a role in which he spent the next 17 years. In total, Mogan worked for Villanova for nearly 20 years—leaving for BC one week shy of his 20th anniversary at the school.

“In my going away party, they gave me the clock you get for 20 years,” Mogan said with a laugh.

BC hired Mogan to fill the void left by the former dean of students Paul Chebator, who retired from the University after the 2014 academic year. BC functioned throughout the fall of 2014 without a dean of students until Mogan was hired and joined the University in January.

When Mogan got to BC, he immersed himself in the culture, immediately going to as many events as possible. Students enjoyed how visible he was, and they’d often see him at cultural programs, panel discussions, and various other events throughout the week.

He immediately put an emphasis on changing the stigma associated with the dean of students office—that the dean of students was only there to dole out punishment to students. Mogan wants to make it clear to students that his office promotes a culture of care, that they want students to be successful on campus, and wants to show students he supports them.

“You could tell he was really engaged in the whole life of the student,” said Barbara Jones, vice president of student affairs and the administrator who lead the search process for a new dean of students.

“I think he has the ability to help them reflect on the conversation, to really think about what it is they’re seeing, hearing, doing and help them to sort through the issues in a way that not everybody can do,” she said.

Mogan brought his experience as director of student development with him from Villanova, where he stressed—and still continues to stress—the importance of setting aside time to meet with students and actually get to know them. He says it’s how he learns what is going on at the school and what issues he can address.

He piloted an outreach program that helped satisfy both of these needs. Dinners with the Dean brought groups of students face to face with Mogan throughout the spring semester, usually for the first time, wherein he was able to get past the names and majors and learn about their experiences at BC. Originally he had planned to hold five dinners with 12 students each, but when the slots filled up within 30 minutes, he expanded the program to eight dinners with 14 students each.

He’d ask each student to identify a high point of his or her time at BC, as well as identify a struggle or a concern he or she was having. He’d distill a common theme from the answers and center the rest of the table conversation around it. It’s how he’s found areas where he thinks the University can improve and help meet students expectations and improve their experience.

“I really love working on a college campus because I enjoy working with students, and I feel like students really do have a lot to teach us,” Mogan said. “I just love every semester, and every year is a new opportunity to engage a whole new group of students.”

When Mogan came to BC, he left the Greek life social scene and replaced it with clubs and organizations. They not only provide involvement opportunities for students, he said, but also add a social aspect to the campus. Most notably, he said, the student government at BC is larger than at Villanova, and as a result, they haven’t shied away from tackling the more challenging issues on campus.

Mogan has already developed a stronger relationship with UGBC leaders than the Office of the Dean of Students in the past, both outgoing and incoming, and will be taking on the role as a formal advisor to UGBC at the beginning of next year. He has worked closely with Thomas Napoli, UGBC senator and A&S ’16, on his proposal for free expression, and is interested in making progress on an issue that was stagnant in the fall semester.

Napoli said that over the past few years, BC has been reluctant to address the social issues that have been popping up on campus, from racial issues, to social justice clubs not getting proper recognition, to the lack of University-wide discussions about GLBTQ students on campus. No administrator wants to be the one to stick his or her neck out to address these topics, he said.

Beyond actively working to make himself available to students within UGBC, Mogan regularly meets with students late into the evening or on weekends—Napoli said that Mogan is setting a precedent on how to address students on delicate national matters. Although the University remained silent in the fall on the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, Mogan—alongside Dr. Ines Maturana Sendoya, director of the Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center—immediately addressed the issue of the racist chants uttered by a fraternity at the University of Oklahoma that made national news at the same time as the 50th anniversary of Selma and the death of Tony Robinson in Madison, Wisc. The letter to the student body, written in collaboration with Sendoya, set a new tone for students for how they are being represented on campus, Napoli said.

Even if he can’t—in his structural position—enact sweeping free expression reform, Napoli said he completely trusts Mogan is trying to fully understand the how issues on campus affect students and enact policy changes to address them.

“From my perspective, Dean Mogan is the highest level administrator I’ve ever worked with who has really made a concerted effort to move forward on these social issues, and honestly, that takes courage because he’s being watched by everyone,” Napoli said.

Mogan left his family behind in Philadelphia when he moved to BC in January. His wife is the director of academic advising at Villanova, and they decided it was best to let their children finish out the school year before moving. Mogan is anxious to move out of his apartment in 2000 Commonwealth Ave. after the harsh winter caused a pipe to burst on the 10th floor. Even though he was seven floors below and didn’t have to move out, he experienced a significant amount of leaking and water damage. He’ll be moving into a house with the rest of his family on Beacon St. that they are renting from the University. Even though he’ll be a little bit more removed from campus, Mogan plans to continue to heavily invest in outreach to the student body.

“I hope next year when I have those dinners with the Dean, those will be in my house,” he said.

Featured Image by Michael Sullivan / Heights Editor

About Gus Merrell 51 Articles
Gus was the Assistant News Editor for The Heights in 2015. He has since moved to the business side as the Collections Manager and plans to make The Heights lots of money. You can follow him on Twitter @gusmerrell.