Robert ‘Mickey’ MacFarren Career paths are filled with many twists and turns. As FDU President J. Michael Adams says, “You reach a point at which an idea or an individual presents an opportunity.” That idea or person influences the direction of a career path. “It generally doesn’t turn 90 degrees,” he elaborates, “it generally turns 10 degrees and you move on.” Robert “Mickey” MacFarran, BA’92 (R), experienced several such turning points.

MacFarran’s career path got off to a rocky start. After attending FDU from 1958–1959 — he and the University parted because of his poor academic performance — he held jobs in construction and as a gas station attendant. Opportunity presented itself when he was inducted into the military, where his path led to the position of military policeman and subsequently to a civilian position on the police force.

“The choice was pretty clear. Did I want to carry a five-pound book or a 50-pound bag of cement?”
— Robert MacFarran, BA’92 (R)

However, his work was not financially satisfying at the start, and he took a second job in a lumberyard to make ends meet for his wife, Nancy, and their two children. While there, a friend suggested, “Why not go back to college?” The opportunity was there through the Veterans’ Administration educational grants and the Law Enforcement Education Program, which helped finance books and other educational expenses. MacFarran recalls, “The choice was pretty clear. Did I want to carry a five-pound book or a 50-pound bag of cement?” So he attended Rockland Community College in Suffern, N.Y., where he earned an associate’s degree in criminal justice and thus increased his chances of being promoted to sergeant and eventually to lieutenant, his rank at retirement.

During his 26 years of police work, MacFarran also attended the Bergen County Police Academy and the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Va., through which he earned college credits at the University of Virginia.

MacFarran decided to return to FDU and complete something he felt was unfinished in his life — a bachelor’s degree. With the help of Kenneth Vehrkens, dean of New College of General and Continuing Studies, and Thomas Swanzey, associate professor of English and associate dean of New College, he was guided through degree completion.

MacFarran always has been active in his community of Mahwah, N.J. He has coached several sports; served as the volunteer chair of the town’s recreation committee; and did safety lectures in the community’s schools. He also did some substitute teaching and worked part-time as a security consultant in the private employ of former president Richard Nixon.

Upon his retirement from police work seven years ago, another twist of fate presented an intersection in MacFarran’s career route. The vice principal of Mahwah High School suffered a heart attack and went on medical leave. The school approached MacFarran. “They asked me if I could do discipline, so I filled in for him for about four months.”

“Being a disciplinarian is not much different from police work,” he comments. “Teachers make lesson plans, review their material and so on. As a disciplinarian, I can’t plan ahead. I come in and I have to deal with what is there at the time, solve the problem and move on to the next thing. It’s much the same thing a police officer is trained to do — thinking on your feet.”

“It’s all in the choices. Nobody controls you but you.”
— Robert MacFarran, BA’92 (R)

The response he got was positive. One student, he recalls, told MacFarran, “You gave me more detentions in four months than I’ve had in the past four years, but I deserved every one of them.” MacFarran believes there is no such thing as a good kid or a bad kid. “It’s all in the choices. Nobody controls you but you.”

When the vice principal returned to his post, the administration decided to split the job into two: the vice principal, who would be responsible for the administrative end of things, and the dean of students, who would be responsible for discipline. MacFarran, who had earned a teaching certificate, was encouraged to apply for the dean of students position, which he now has held for six years.

His career path thus has led to an excellent fit between man and position. MacFarran gives the kids at Mahwah High School the benefits of the knowledge he has gained along this winding path. “I am able to tell the kids, ‘I understand you. Forty years ago, I was you.’”

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