Finding a post-Morgan vision for the University of La Verne’s future

Steve Morgan, 26-year retiring president of the University of La Verne, looks forward to the University’s future. A ULV undergraduate alumnus, Steve proceeded to work for the University for eight years in diverse positions, including director of development. For a few years, he left La Verne but returned in 1985 as its 17th president. / photo by Scott Mirimanian.

by Jose Hernandez
photography by Scott Mirimanian

It is an unusually foggy morning for La Verne, which has been experiencing a mid September heat spell. University of La Verne President Steve Morgan, dressed in a light grey suit and green tie but temporarily minus the jacket, greets visitors outside his office and invites them in with a firm handshake. He confidently assures that the thick and all-encompassing fog will soon fade away. His kind, yet strong demeanor immediately shows through, and his positive outlook shines with future optimism. As his quarter century presidency comes to a July 1 end, the future of the University will be in the mind of another, and change causes reflection. “Experience is the best teacher, and hindsight is the most accurate, but I must say I don’t leave with regrets,” Steve says.

The steep new student enrollment increase this year has shored up future optimism. But presidential change causes uncertainty. And good financial times brought by the increased enrollment also bring change; the need for new academic buildings, new residence halls, new athletic fields and new parking spaces. Steve Morgan is planning for the future. “I would like to position the University to be the strongest it can for my successor and make sure there are plans for the future.” His plans are underway. In October, the Board of Trustees approved the building of a new residence hall. A 20-acre parcel of land on nearby Wheeler Avenue south of Arrow Highway is reserved for the development of an athletic complex. Fueled by $250,000, planning started for an academic building. Steve is initiating these changes during his last months at the helm. He will be passing off the details to his successor.

Immediate needs

The University’s master plan addresses University needs that Steve feels hold a high sense of urgency. Included are academic facilities, with an emphasis placed on improving the science facilities and building a competitive science program. More classrooms are needed, too, because of the growth in graduate programs and adult student programs. Athletic facilities (certain sports teams are currently not competing on campus such as tennis and women’s softball), and on-campus parking also are considered of major importance on the University’s to-do list.

Construction will start spring 2011 on a new 380-room residence hall building on what is presently a parking lot at Second and D streets. Its projected opening is fall semester 2012. During that time, parking will be tight. “Construction is always inconvenient, no doubt about it,” says Steve. He suggests an alternative to this temporary problem. A lot with off-campus parking, perhaps at the Fairplex, should be utilized, and the school would provide shuttling for students to the main campus.

The parking lot that is ground zero for La Verne’s newest housing facility once was the home for the tennis courts. Because of a lack of parking to complement the new Campus Center, change took place there; now the area will support a residence hall. It seems like a vicious cycle to serve the students’ needs, but Steve believes in change. “Looking back historically, the University has done an admirable job of changing along with the changes of society.” He assures that athletics are of crucial importance and keeps the sports teams and facilities in his future vision. “It’s interesting when determining the best use of land,” says Steve, in regards to the Brown Property off Arrow Highway and Wheeler Avenue. “The space is not highly utilized. I see a real opportunity to provide better athletics facilities.”

Main campus expansion

He feels the acquisition of the Brown Property, not including currently neighboring land under negotiation for purchase, will allow the University to flourish on the main campus. Comparable universities, the University of Redlands, for example, were able to propel themselves into a heightened status during the last 30 years, and in some ways, La Verne is still catching up. “We will continue to grow slowly and continue to strengthen and improve facilities and academic programs,” says Steve of the next five to 10 years, peering through his own personal crystal ball.

He has expectations that subsequent administrations will continue to expand the school in its La Verne homeland. The purchasing of new, untouched land has triggered thoughts and intentions for the administration to expand the University, something that has been done before. In 2001, the ULV College of Law moved to a new location in Ontario, 10 miles from the main campus. Steve views this location as an asset to the University though it is not connected physically to the institutional core. He says the location further spreads name recognition in another region.

Forecasted future growth raises concern from some that what makes La Verne unique should stay intact. The University has a highly regarded small-classroom setting and is known for its intimate student environment. Says Steve, “As far ahead as I can see, the expectation with smaller classes and personally engaged professors is something to retain.”

He envisions a much more viable campus that caters to the needs of students from essential academics to engaged recreational campus student life. With dynamic residence halls catering to more than just housing needs and wants, and with additional academic buildings, he envisions more “green” space for student activities. Distant plans also call for a parking structure that may end parking turmoil.

Steve says he is working efficiently during his last few months to ensure that there are beneficial goals met for the University’s long-term future. After residence hall groundbreaking, modernization of the track, soccer field and football stadium will be tackled next. Demolition of the Stu Han residence hall is planned, with a new parking lot coming in its place. “The past 25 years have been fantastic. It has been an experience I have grown from, enjoyed, and it has been rewarding and challenging. I feel very fortunate to have been president of the University of La Verne,” says a fulfilled Steve Morgan.

Steve Morgan reflects on his 26 years as the president of the University of La Verne while standing at his office window on the north face of Founders Hall. The Board of Trustees unanimously approved his hiring recommendation Feb. 11, 1985. Steve was selected for the position from a pool of 80 applicants. / photo by Scott Mirimanian