Q&A with Paul Dunn, senior executive assistant to the president at WWU

Paul Dunn began his duties May 17 as senior executive assistant in the President's Office at Western Washington University. Dunn was hired earlier this spring after a nationwide search. He will be responsible for a wide range of duties, including overseeing the coordination and facilitation of various responsibilities and projects of the President's Office and serving as part of the senior administrative team.

During the past two years, the President's Office has had four positions either left open or eliminated because of budget considerations. Dunn was hired to fill a similar position left vacant when Buff Schoenfeld left to take a new position in California.


Paul Dunn discovered a passion for learning during a high school philosophy class that carried him to the Great Books program at St. John’s College. Eager to balance an education grounded in Western classics with his interests in Eastern culture and thought, Dunn worked after graduation to finance extended travel in Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, Tibet, and India.

Upon his return, Dunn enrolled in the Ph.D program in Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he wrote a dissertation about skepticism and the philosophy of language.

In addition to teaching philosophy during his studies, Dunn also worked at the UW-Madison’s Health Sciences IRB reviewing medical research for ethical compliance.

Most recently, Dunn was director of Special Communications at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Foundation, where he wrote speeches and correspondence for the hospital’s senior leadership, as well as transformational gift proposals.

Both natives of the Pacific Northwest, Paul and his fiancée Michal Anne Whiton will be married in Philadelphia in July.

What is it that attracted you to the possibility of working at Western?

Dunn: Several things made it seem like a great fit. First, Western is a nationally respected institution with unique environmental and academic strengths. I went to a tiny liberal arts college (400 students) and did my Ph.D at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (around 40,000 undergrads), so I’ve had some experience at the extremes of the higher ed spectrum. I think Western occupies a “sweet spot” in terms of size and mission, and its commitment to providing undergraduates with extensive research, service learning and social engagement opportunities really sets it apart from other schools. Supporting an institution that provides such a unique experience for students, and a vital source of intellectual, economic, and social capital for the region was very appealing.

While there are significant challenges for Western and other schools in the region, it’s also a time of great opportunity. The economic downturn won’t last forever, and the institutions that can position themselves well now will have great advantages when things turn around. Having a chance to work with President Shepard and the senior administration of a first-rate school like Western at this time was another attractive aspect of the job.

I also was really attracted to Western's strong academic focus led by such excellent faculty, whose scholarship and skilled teaching is a distinguishing mark for Western.

Finally, Western's location was a big factor (as it no doubt is for us all!). My fiancée and I are natives of Mount Vernon and Seattle, respectively, and have been looking forward to returning home to the Pacific Northwest for some time. Being able to be near our families, and indulge our passion for skiing, paddling, hiking and biking really sealed the deal.

What will you be doing in you new job?

I'll be helping to strategically manage the president’s time and communications so that he can be maximally effective in addressing the University's priorities. That encompasses a broad and shifting range of tasks, but the general idea is to enhance Bruce’s effectiveness wherever and whenever I can.

What would you like the Western community to know about you?

I'd like them to know that I'm curious to learn more about all aspects of the institution and life in the Bellingham area.