President Steve Morgan’s retirement leaves the University of La Verne searching for a new vision.
by Kevin Garrity
photography by Michael D. Martinez
Steve Morgan sits, legs crossed, hands folded. A grin slips onto his face as he peers out his office windows that overlook Founders Hall’s front lawn, home of the freshly painted University rock, its translucence exaggerated against the gray sky. The rock is bright white, a clean canvas, a new beginning. “Society changes, and institutions have to change in order to make sure everybody is prepared for the future,” Morgan reflects.
Not since Ronald Reagan was president and “Back to the Future” was tops at the box office has the University of La Verne been forced to find new leadership. But with the recent announcement that Morgan will retire in 2011, after an impressive 25 years of presidential service, the future he so fondly envisions will not be led with him behind the desk, but by a new vision, one that is being formed by a select few on a search committee.
A University legacy
Steve accepted the position of University president in 1985 amidst recession-caused low financial times for the University, but even today with California’s education financing shakier than a common aftershock, La Verne’s promise, under Steve’s guidance, continues to weather the storm. “I think he has been fantastic; he had the ability to keep La Verne being La Verne,” says Ken Calkins, University Board of Trustees member since 1980 and member of the new presidential search committee. “He came in during a time of financial problems for the institution, and I think from that came one of his greatest strengths: He understands La Verne.” Calkins, a retired educator, had a hand in selecting Morgan as the University’s president in 1985 and will now occupy a more intricate role in finding his successor.
Emmet Terrell occupies his time during the day as the deputy superintendent in the Pomona Unified School District, but this evening he walks on campus as co-chair of the presidential search committee and as Board of Trustee member for 11 years. His tenure has only known Steve Morgan at the helm. “First and foremost he is about people; he values people. He has been involved with much more than the University of La Verne; he is involved in the greater community. He really is a special kind of guy.”
Morgan says his retirement decision was part of a long plan that always saw him retiring at the normal age of 65, but for a University that has not seen new leadership in more than two decades, the announcement still left many in the community wondering what is next for La Verne.
Jonathan Reed, dean of arts and sciences at ULV, hopes the new president will continue President Morgan’s commitment to academics. “I have seen significant growth and depth at the University since I have been here, and I believe that Steve has laid a solid foundation for success in the 21st century.”
“The University was struggling financially, and from the College of Law perspective he provided enormous support for us to help move us toward getting full approval from the American Bar Association,” states Allen Easley, dean and professor of the University of La Verne College of Law.
“In the future, I look at the University as being stronger down the road because it will build on the foundations of its earlier days. All of us contribute to adding a bit more to that foundation of an institution, and then the next generation builds on that,” Morgan reflects.
A new united vision
Areas that will outlive Morgan’s presidency and be first on a new president’s list of chores were brought to life by a recent visit by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. In WASC’s findings, La Verne needs to unite with one common vision for the University that brings together the community, values and intricacies of its mission statement.
“Our mission needs to resonate particularly with our HSI [Hispanic Serving Institution] status. Nearly half of our undergraduate operations are Latino, and that is a strength, and we need to continue to develop that by hiring more diverse faculty and by reaching out in new ways to be a diverse community in Southern California,” articulates Glenn Gamst, chair of the psychology department.
But Calkins and Terrell are not exactly sure what definitive qualities they will seek to make a new University president; in fact the process is just underway. It is a process whose importance is not measured with strict guidelines, but may come down to something deeper: chemistry. “There will be a chemistry that you can’t even describe. It will be something that we know when we see it,” says Calkins. “We want somebody who obviously has experience in education, but also somebody who is going to really champion the undergraduate program at La Verne. We are really proud of our other programs, but the undergraduate program is the nucleus of La Verne.” Adds Terrell, “It’s a tough time in education right now in California so we are seeking somebody smart, creative and passionate. With this role comes a great opportunity to establish a lead role for the University of La Verne. I guess what we are looking for is a superman or superwoman.” With the search team in place, both trustee members agree that this decision is the most important that they have ever had to make in their professional lives.
Morgan envisions the new president will continue emboldening the campus, and he has complete confidence in the Board of Trustees and the rest of the search committee to ensure that the future of La Verne is promising. “The University president has a variety of roles, and I think it’s helping the institution create a vision and own that vision, and helping the institution move toward the fulfillment of that vision. The key is to develop a vision—people buy into the vision because it’s theirs—and they help develop the vision, and then you move together toward that,” Morgan explains. “We look back to our founding, and we were all housed in the old hotel, and it was just a handful of people than what we have today. I would just imagine that in the next 10, 20, 30, 100 years this institution will continue to strengthen and meet the needs of the students.”
All of the colleges on campus will be represented on the search committee staff to voice the opinion of their colleagues. Gamst will serve as the College of Arts and Sciences faculty representative and has many qualification expectations for whoever will serve as the next president. Educational experience is at the top of his list. “The University is at a crossroads as to where we are going to be heading in the next decade, and it’s an exciting time,” explains Gamst. “We need a Ph.D. academician; somebody who has both taught at various levels at a university and also produced research and/or scholarship. Our next president needs to be a fundraiser extraordinaire; that to me is job one for a university president in this day and age. In order for the University to shine on down the road, we need to continually focus on quality improvement of our academic programs.” Gamst says that with crucial issues needing to be addressed around the campus such as building upgrades in the science departments and renovating dorm facilities, a key attribute for candidates will be to have the ability to generate enough money to solve some of these problems. ULV is a 98 percent tuition based institution, so reducing the amount of money received exclusively from tuition will also be on the minds of those making the decisions.
“The priority of the search committee is to find somebody who understands academic quality and who is a high level fundraiser,” explains Dean Reed. “I hope we can find someone who has dedication and passion for the University of La Verne. We are now in a point of stability, and so we are now able to take the next step in academic quality while continually growing the endowment. Our future is tied directly to our academic quality. We need to focus on having academic depth in all of our programs and being known beyond the region as being a high quality institution.” Mark Goor, dean of the LaFetra College of Education, hopes the next president will trust the provost and deans to lead the academic work of the University. He also hopes the new president will recognize the strong reputation of developing educators and leaders at the school of education. “It would be good for the faculty to respect the new president as a scholar; however, in my opinion strong leadership abilities are more important,” says Goor. “We need an individual who is a good fundraiser, public speaker and who can articulate a vision to raise the profile of the University,” expresses Abe Helou, dean of the college of business and public management. “I think a wide variety of field experiences would be beneficial to understand what a comprehensive university entails. We also need somebody who will be able to delegate while holding people accountable.”
Forward moving symbols
For some La Verne residents, memories of the old basketball gym linger as a community staple; however, now erected in that same spot is an environmentally friendly student and faculty hub of activity. The two exhibits that stand alongside the Campus Center are modern, forward thinking pieces of art.
The first Presidential Search Committee meeting was conducted at the Hanawalt House, recently resurrected into a beautiful model of tradition with fresh perspective. These symbols are harbingers for the University of La Verne: an institution with a long-held vision undergoing a new focus for its future.