‘I don’t think it was ever a job’: Outgoing director of admissions reflects on tenure after 9 years leading admissions
Tom Naatz | Friday, August 30, 2019
Outgoing director of admissions Bob Mundy marked his last day on the job Friday after nine years on the job. After taking on a role with the University admissions office in 1983, the 1976 Notre Dame alumnus is retiring after 36 years of service.
Though he spent the majority of his working life at Notre Dame, Mundy said he never saw his profession as a standard, conventional job.
“For me, I don’t think it was ever a job,” he said. “Notre Dame has always been in my core … [it’s been] much more of a calling, or a vocation, if you will. I’m just happy to contribute to this place — and that’s been a gift.”
In his three and a half decades in the Notre Dame admissions office, Mundy has witnessed significant changes in the admissions process. For example, over his time at Notre Dame, the number of applications received yearly by the University has nearly tripled.
“When I started here, we had fewer than 10,000 applications — I want to say we had around 8,000 applications — and now we’re around 22,000,” he said.
Despite the sizable increase in applications, Mundy said the University has not simply recruited applicants just for the sake of recruiting applicants. Rather, the focus has been on building a pool of applicants that hold an interest in Notre Dame, he said.
“We’ve been very intentional as we develop plans and strategies to recruit students who might have an interest in Notre Dame,” he said. “I think we’ve been pretty careful about trying to send the right message. And if it doesn’t resonate with you we understand that. I think we’ve been good about growing the applicant pool in a meaningful way, of students who — for the most part — will understand the core values of the place. We haven’t just been out there looking for applications. We see that in the students who apply and in the talent level of those students. … Not only have the sheer numbers increased, but the talent level within the applicant pool has increased.”
In assessing why applications have increased so much, Mundy said students are generally applying to more schools and focusing on rankings, such as the U.S. News and World Report ranking of top colleges.
“In some respects you have students applying to more institutions,” he said. “That certainly is a factor. And then there is this disproportionate focus on the U.S. News Top 25 or Top 50.”
While acknowledging that the application process has become more intense, the former high school teacher said he always encourages students to take a deep breath as they undergo the process.
“It’s certainly become so much more … I guess energized is the word,” he said. “When I look at it from a student side it’s become more stressful. That’s something I wish hadn’t happened to the extent that it has. Students and families start fretting about this as early as ninth grade, sometimes before. Having taught high school, I’m always trying to be protective, if you will, of students. I’ve always been very insistent on this when I meet with a student: Make sure you enjoy your junior year, it’s going to be a great lead-up to your senior year, which you should enjoy even more. Don’t let the intense nature of the college process overcome those good times. Obviously you can’t ignore it, but try to find that right balance.”
Mundy said the University itself has changed as well. For example, he said, the school’s intellectual rigor has improved in some ways.
“Certainly the academic talent among the students, the academic expectations among the students and the faculty has grown,” he said. “One obviously leads to the other. And that’s an amazing opportunity — great students coming in and faculty saying, ‘I want to challenge these students.’ As you know, there’s a very strong undergraduate focus here,” he said. “I’m always really happy to say to parents and to students, ‘Our faculty are teaching. They love being in those classrooms with the undergrads.’ That energizes them. … That wasn’t different when I was here, but I think it’s more consistent now across all areas.”
Regarding specific achievements, Mundy pointed to the University’s increased emphasis on diversity that has taken place on his watch.
“I think it’s been the commitment of the University and this office to [become] a more diverse institution,” Mundy said. “You often hear ‘diversity’ in the broadest sense of the word — whether it’s socioeconomic background, whether it’s racial background, whether it’s citizenship, whether it’s academic interests — and I think Notre Dame realizes the great value in providing that experience here and in supporting it. I’m a first-generation college student, so I’ve got a soft spot for first-generation college students. Notre Dame has been terrific in not just saying to me personally, ’You go do that,’ but ‘There’s great educational value in this for everyone. Let’s be intentional in recruiting students and hopefully attracting those students to Notre Dame.’’
Admissions work is inherently a double-edged sword, Mundy said. While it can be difficult to turn down such a large number of applications, he said it is gratifying to interact with talented members of the incoming class.
“Like any job, it has its moments,” Mundy said. “You end up disappointing 85% of the people who engage with us in a really serious way by application. That’s not, naturally, a good feeling. But then when I get a chance to meet students, I just randomly remember students from the admissions process. Sometimes I remember because they write a great essay and tell a great story and I email in the fall and say, ‘Hey, you wrote a great essay. Let’s have coffee.’ And I spend 30 minutes with a student and I just come back so fully energized. I realize we have to disappoint some really neat young men and women, but these 30 minutes that I just have is awfully reassuring.”
Mundy commended the admissions staff, many of whom are Notre Dame graduates, for their hard work and dedication in building the freshman class.
”We tend to hire a fair number of Notre Dame graduates here — often, right out,” he said. “That’s very reassuring too. Both literally with the staff that’s here right now and then more metaphorically with all the staff I’ve worked with over my years it’s mind-boggling how hard they work, how relentlessly committed they are to this place and the values of this place. They do incredibly hard work all for the name of helping this place become better by building a better or mission focused, academically excellent class.”
Ultimately, Mundy said, for him, what sets Notre Dame apart is its emphasis on teaching students how to use their talents and gifts to serve the wider world.
“Something I will always tell admitted students, ‘You’re obviously here because you’ve got some amazing gifts,’” Mundy said. “… I’ve never said Notre Dame is better than any place. I’ve always said we’re different from every other place. And that’s how. ‘Bring these gifts here. We’re going to nurture those gifts, we’re going to challenge you to grow academically, spiritually, personally, having international opportunities, having research opportunities, having opportunities to serve others, all in the name of taking these great gifts and sharing them.’ That’s what I think helps make Notre Dame such a different place on the higher education landscape.”