Establishing dual-leadership model, securing financial stability focus of new administration
By Connie Faber
Richard Kriegbaum, who was appointed Tuesday evening as Fresno Pacific University’s 12th president, has begun work on the priorities of his administration: establishing a dual-leadership governance model and securing financial stability for the institution.
Kriegbaum, who was the university’s president from 1985 until 1997, has made an open-ended commitment to serve the Mennonite Brethren university headquartered in Fresno, Calif., as president until both priorities have been adequately addressed.
“I expect that to be two or three years,” Kriegbaum told the Christian Leader in an interview Thursday afternoon, “but that is not fixed.”
Establishing new administrative model
The dual leadership model that Kriegbaum is responsible for initiating represents a “major change” and is a shift the board has discussed for several years. The president will assume primary responsibility for external programs while the provost, who will now also hold the title of senior vice president, will have a larger role in the day-to-day operations of the university.
According to Kriegbaum, the dual leadership model recognizes that successfully managing external and internal responsibilities are two full-time jobs and that securing a president who has the skill set and spiritual giftedness to do both is a difficult challenge.
“If we do it right, the board won’t need to find a Superman or Superwoman” when it searches for the next president, says Kriegbaum.
As president, Kriegbaum will be responsible for church relations, external relations and fundraising. The senior vice president and the university pastor will report to the president, as will the director of athletics and the dean of Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, as required by their respective professional associations.
“Everyone else reports to the senior vice president,” says Kriegbaum.
Addressing financial concerns
Tackling the university’s budget concerns is another immediate priority and was addressed during a standing-room only faculty and staff meeting Wednesday afternoon.
Kriegbaum reported that enrollment at FPU this fall stands at 3,718, a 7 percent increase over the previous year. “We are really glad that the things we have to do can be done with a record enrollment,” says Kreigbaum.
While strong enrollment provides a solid groundwork, Kriegbaum says it represents only a part of the financial health of the university.
“We have inherited a serious and accumulated financial challenge,” says Kriegbaum, who is optimistic that the situation can be rectified. “There is time to get it corrected and to get in the black with a solid margin.”
Hiring Robert Lippert in late August as vice president for finance and business affairs was an important move forward, says Kriebgaum. Another was the decision by the Board of Trustees earlier this week to approve a budget-restructuring plan initiated prior to Kriegbaum’s appointment.
“There is work to do,” says Kriegbaum, “but we will work the plan. If implementation goes as expected, we should be on a solid foundation by April 30, (the close of the fiscal year.)”
The restructuring plan will require “shared sacrifice and extra work,” including salary cuts, Kriegbaum told the faculty and staff. Kriegbaum says he was surprised and encouraged by the lack of negative feedback to news of the cuts. Employees seemed to appreciate that an adjustment to retirement benefits reduced the immediate financial impact of the cuts and that cuts were more significant for employees in the top half of the salary range.
Kriegbaum characterizes the response of the faculty and staff to the “aggressive action” taken by the Board of Trustees as “pleasant.”
Additional priorities that Kriegbaum will give attention to include preparing for and completing the regional re-accreditation process and developing a strategic plan that faculty will help to shape.
Hearing student concerns
Kriegbaum is also talking with students who have questions concerning the abrupt resignation Sept. 11 of President Pete Menjares, FPU’s first Hispanic president who was appointed in 2012.
Menjares “represented something very special” to the Hispanic students that make up 40 percent of the FPU student body. “He was clearly loved and liked,” Kriegbaum says of Menjares.
Kriegbaum told the students he met with Thursday afternoon that he has no answers to questions raised by Menjares’ departure three weeks into the new semester. While the statement from Menjares indicates what he plans to do—explore new opportunities near family—Kriegbaum says Menjares has chosen to not make public the reasons behind the decision.
“It is natural for the students to feel a great sense of loss and to be frustrated,” says Kriegbaum.
Seeking answers, students organized a rally held in the center of campus Tuesday evening while the FPU Board of Trustees met nearby in a lengthy session during which Kriegbaum was appointed.
The Fresno Bee and a local television station reported on the gathering, saying that university board chair John Thiesen and Pacific District Conference minister Gary Wall briefly joined the group of about 50 students and faculty for prayer and explained why they would not be answering questions.
“Dr. Menjares was a very pastoral president who embodied all the characteristics of the university,” Thiesen is quoted as telling the group. “We want you to know that we care very deeply for all of you, but we are limited in what we can say because of previous agreements.”
Kriegbaum says his approach when meeting with the students was to help them understand how a board of trustees functions, including the practice of meeting in closed session when dealing with personnel issues and what a nondisclosure agreement involves.
He encouraged the students who are looking for ways to effectively influence the board in the future to take advantage of opportunities given to students to shape recommendations that are brought to the board. He also asked that they “listen to God’s call” if someday they are invited to serve on the FPU Board of Trustees, saying that FPU alums on the board have “enormous” influence.
Christian college board members care deeply about the institutions they serve and devote long hours to their work, says Kriegbaum. He commends the FPU board for their swift action this week, securing a new president and approving an administrative restructuring plan.
The current challenge requires confidence and honesty, says Kriegbaum. It also calls for action. “We are all running fast and working hard,” he says.
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