Reflections on a challenging and interesting year

Beth Krise’s gold name tag, President Krise posted on his Facebook wall in July.
Beth Krise’s gold name tag, President Krise posted on his Facebook wall in July.

What you didn’t know you didn’t know…

PLU President Thomas Krise was welcomed to campus four years ago with this group of graduating seniors, they’ll be the first class Krise has seen throughout their entire four-year journey at PLU. Mast Media recognizes President Krise does a lot for the university, but did you know he frequently walks around campus and loves taking pictures of inspiring and exciting things? Check it out…


PKAs our 2015-16 academic year comes to a close, and we look forward to sending off our newest alumni in a blaze of ceremonial glory, I’ve been reflecting on the ups and downs of this interesting year.  Many of the best “ups” have been sparked by “downs”; let me explain:

The year began with our Fall Conference and our Convocation; at both events I talked about race relations in America and on our campus.  The Black Student Union staged a “Die In,” and other demonstrations to bring attention to the #BlackLivesMatter movement following the events in Ferguson.  As the country was still reeling from these events, the mass murders at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston shocked the nation again, and again we brought the issues home by helping launch the #HateWon’tWin campaign at the Bethlehem AME Church in East Tacoma.  Since that time, a collective of concerned students have made a list of recommendations for how PLU can do a better job of becoming a truly inclusive and supportive community.  Patty and I were pleased to host this group for a dinner that we all joined together to make—certainly a highlight of the year!

Our concerns about race issues also prompted other, related concerns about how we at PLU care for people of all identities.  A group of students, faculty and staff participated in a panel workshop on the subject of supporting our transgender community, and the university is working through a list of recommendations, including expanding gender-neutral housing and bathroom facilities, considering changes to registration to include ways to indicate identity- aligned pronouns as well as nicknames, and improving opportunities for members of the PLU community to learn more about the plight of transgender people in our society.

PLU featured in Alaska Airlines’s Beyond Magazine. Krise and Patty were given personalized candy as a gift.
PLU featured in Alaska Airlines’s Beyond Magazine. Krise and Patty were given personalized candy as a gift.

Concern for our culture of care also led to a remarkable series of events related to the subject of sexual assault and gender-based violence.  PLU hosted TEDx Tacoma for the first time, which featured a presentation by PLU student Miya Higashiyama on her experiences with sexual assault and the frustrations arising from her pursuit of justice.  That led to two open forums on the subject that attracted more than 150 students, faculty, and staff members to frank and emotional discussions about ways we can improve our culture of care by balancing due process for all involved with a trauma-informed and victim-centered system of care.  A white paper is being produced this month that will include a list of priority recommendations and related action steps for implementation in the coming year.  SAPET (Sexuality Awareness & Personal Empowerment Team) also created a display in the Anderson University Center for the Clothesline Project. Started in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the Clothesline Project is a national campaign that began as a way to address the issue of violence against women. The project has since adapted to raise awareness of gender-based and sexual violence against people of all identities.  Finally, PLU hosted an especially well-attended and emotional “Take Back the Night” demonstration and discussion session that drove home to many of us how pervasive sexual assault is in our society and gave us all resolve to make PLU a paragon of how to handle this issue right.  The President’s Council is currently reading Jon Krakauer’s book, Missoula, to help us focus further on the issue.

PLU featured in Alaska Airlines’s Beyond Magazine. Krise and Patty were given personalized candy as a gift.
PLU featured in Alaska Airlines’s Beyond Magazine. Krise and Patty were given personalized candy as a gift.

Perhaps the highest visibility issue of the year has been PLU’s effort to divest itself of our public radio station, KPLU.  The impetus to sell it came from our analysis of auxiliary enterprises (non-mission related activities) that are losing money and value over time.  The two biggest examples are KPLU and the Garfield Book Company.  As excellent as KPLU is, it has cost the university more than $15 million to operate over the past decade, and the appraised value of the total assets of the station have dropped from $12.6 million in 2004 to $9.6 million in 2015.  From all of the independent research we have examined – including NPR’s own data – traditional radio is likely to decline further in value as the audience continues to narrow, which would mean that, in addition to the operating expenses of $1.5 million per year (which could provide as many as 85 full scholarships to deserving students), the university would stand to lose virtually all of its asset value in the not too distant future.

Despite all the strategically sound elements of this transaction, the social and traditional media storm over it consumed much of our time and energy for several months.  I am fascinated by the way social media works in controversies: oppositional voices are effectively silenced, and fact-checking and other traditional journalistic standards do not apply; so much so, that it’s harder than ever to correct deliberate misinformation.  I now have a much clearer understanding of why our national political debate is in the state it’s in.

Luther wearing Relay for Life shirt.
Luther wearing Relay for Life shirt.

In the end, PLU is on track to sell KPLU for a fair price this summer—either to UW or to the Friends of 88.5 community group which both UW and PLU have authorized to compete for the purchase of the license.  If the community group raises enough money to match UW’s offer and qualifies under FCC rules to purchase the station, then PLU will sell it to them. The $7 million cash proceeds will be invested in PLU’s endowment and be earmarked to support student scholarships and programs related to the legacy of KPLU, including jazz performance, MediaLab, and the Center for Media Studies.

The other money-losing auxiliary enterprise that we seek to rein in is the Garfield Book Company, which loses between $700,000 and $1.2 million per year.  Through independent comparative store sales data, we learned that, among colleges with similar enrollment to PLU, the typical bookstore is 3,000 to 4,000 square feet, with the largest being about 7,000 square feet.  GBC, by comparison, is more than 15,000 square feet.  And with more and more shoppers of all ages turning to online shopping and big-box discounters, it simply does not make sense to continue pouring money into a large retail operation.  Plans are underway with community partners on a mission-related use for the space, while also providing expanded space for our PLU restaurant at 208 Garfield.  We plan to establish a temporary location for the PLU Bookstore in the lower level of the Anderson University Center, followed by a permanent solution in the Mortvedt Library that would also allow us to do a complete first floor remodel with new furniture, better workstations, more casual meeting space, better utilization of space, and additional student amenities.

PLU Baseball’s senior night.
PLU Baseball’s senior night.

This academic year has also featured a raft of important searches for new administrators, faculty and staff that is bringing greater diversity to the leadership ranks.  I am immensely pleased to have announced recently the appointment of Dr. Rae Linda Brown as our next Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs.  Dr. Brown comes to us from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, where she most recently served as Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education. I’m really looking forward to having Dr. Brown join our Lute family as our chief academic officer and the second ranking executive of the university.

I am also delighted to have the Rev. Jen Rude joining us as University Pastor this coming fall.  Pastor Rude comes to us from Chicago where she directs Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, which expands opportunities for LGBTQ pastors nationwide.  She has also served The Night Ministry, which offers pastoral care, crisis response and advocacy in an interfaith and multicultural setting for young adults experiencing homelessness.   

Many other searches are just concluding or are still underway, so stay tuned for more announcements of great new members of the Lute family!

Our ups and downs of the past year will help us set our course for the coming year.  As we prepare to welcome the largest first-year class since I arrived in 2012, I want to thank the entire PLU community – and most especially our students – for consistently showing up for the successes and the struggles.  Your critical thinking and engagement make our entire PLU community a better place.  Have a great summer! 🅼

TEDX Tacoma event.
TEDX Tacoma event.

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