Provost search: Mike Stevenson

SAMANTHA LUND; Editor-in-Chief: lundsr@plu.edu

Editor’s note: Expect full coverage of every Provost candidate in the next issue of Mast Magazine, as well as a farewell to current Provost, Steve Starkovich.

Being the Provost at a major university is a big deal. Not only does the person have to set the school’s schedule, but the provost has several responsibilities and, if it comes down to it, could be in charge of laying off faculty members.

Steven Starkovich is Pacific Lutheran University’s current Provost and senior Vice President of academic affairs. However, earlier this year he announced his plans to leave PLU. Ever since, the search has been on to fill his position for the 2016-2017 academic year.

Earlier last week, faculty, staff and students met with and interviewed potential candidates. One of which was Mike Stevenson this past Monday. Stevenson had a large turnout for his interview after emails circulated around campus with concerns about his previous position at the University of Southern Maine.

“It’s more fun to build than to destroy” –Mike Stevenson; Provost Candidate

According to the Bangor Daily News, a news network in Portland, Maine, during Stevenson’s time as the provost of USM he laid off 12 faculty members from nine departments. Stevenson’s decision to dismiss the faculty members came from a diminishing budget and a need to find extra money for the university. At the time, the school had a $14 million budget shortfall, according to the local paper.

Sheri Tonn, a professor of chemistry at PLU and former Vice President of Finance, said faculty shouldn’t worry about Stevenson coming in. She said if PLU’s budget demands for layoffs like Maine’s did, it wouldn’t be the Provost’s fault, and rather, it might be better to hire someone who has experience dealing with budget-demanding layoffs.

At Stevenson’s public interview on Monday afternoon, PLU faculty spoke up about their concerns. Many questioned his time with USM, and if his work with dismissing faculty under budget constraints was indicative of what his time here could be.

“It’s more fun to build than to destroy,” Stevenson said. “People never retire from the places you need them to retire from […] It was not the circumstances we wanted to make these decisions under, but we had to […] make payroll.”

Even though there are concerns about the next provost and who might hold that power, if PLU’s budget holds strong there would be no reason for layoffs in the first place.

According to Tonn, PLU’s long-term debt is nothing to be alarmed about. Even though $60 million seems like a large number, it’s reasonable for the size of PLU. However, Tonn admitted, the enrollment numbers and net tuition coming into the university might be something to focus on.

Over the last few years, PLU’s enrollment decreased by 400 students – roughly 10 percent. Keeping that in mind, since 95 percent of PLU’s income streams from tuition and fewer students are coming, the university is making less money. Not only that, but for the 2015-2016 year, PLU brought in $112 million in tuition but $48 million of that was in scholarships by the university, meaning the net income was closer to $63 million. In 2014, the university brought in $65 million in tuition after scholarships, but that was also with 400 more students.

Don’t worry though, Tonn mentions students should not be concerned about the declining rates. Even though it’s daunting, she predicts the numbers will slow down and as President Thomas Krise and the new Provost grow into their new (ish) positions, they’ll be able to grow in recruiting efforts after. 🅼

Samantha Lund

Samantha Lund was the Editor in Chief at The Mast, a student-run newsroom within Pacific Lutheran University, in 2015-16. Lund created Mast Magazine in 2015 to give students a forum for long form news pieces. She could be found writing for Pacific Lutheran University's Marketing and Communication site plu.edu or interning at MOViN 92.9's morning talk show in Seattle. Other places to find her content include: Alaska Airlines blog and website, The News Tribune and The Bremerton Harald.

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