This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.
In 1898, Pacific Lutheran University was in such dire financial straits that its first president – Bjug Harstad – headed off to Alaska for a year and a half hoping to find enough gold to bail out the school. He found none.
Current president Loren Anderson, who is leaving at the end of May and getting a big all-campus farewell Saturday at PLU, also faced a deep financial challenge when he took the reins 20 years ago. But instead of panning for gold in Alaska, he set out an ambitious strategic plan for righting the PLU ship.
Today, he’s leaving the Parkland liberal arts and professional school in a far better place than he found it two decades ago. In fact, campus historian and retired professor Philip Nordquist says Anderson has been the most successful president in PLU’s 122-year history.
It’s easy to see why Nordquist thinks so.
Under Anderson, fund-raising campaigns brought in more than $300 million. PLU’s endowment has risen from $8 million in the early 1990s to more than $75 million today – and it’s expected to increase to nearly $180 million. Important facilities have been built, most notably the Mary Baker Russell Music Center and the Morken Center for Learning and Technology, and most other campus buildings have been improved
Buildings and endowments are important, but the core of any institution of higher learning is its student body. And Anderson has left his mark there, too.
Under his leadership, the university has gone global. Nearly half of PLU students study abroad at least once, and in 2006 the school became the first in the nation to have students and faculty studying on all seven continents at once – a feat that has been twice repeated. Research opportunities for students and faculty expanded in several disciplines. And the Wild Hope Project has challenged students to examine their lives, their hopes and the roles they expect to play as citizens of the world.
PLU is an important South Sound institution, playing a key role in educating the leaders and professionals of the future. Its endowment has enabled students to enroll who otherwise couldn’t afford such a school. PLU is private, but it’s not elitist.
PLU is in excellent shape for the next president, Thomas W. Krise, who takes over in June. Anderson and wife MaryAnn, who has also played an important role as external relations coordinator at PLU, have richly earned all the good wishes coming their way as they embark on the next stage of their lives.