Senior News Writer
Because he has “the mind of a business person and the heart of a faculty member” Dr. Gregg Lassen thinks he would be a good fit as the next president of Eastern Kentucky University, he told an open forum Wednesday.
Lassen, the second of three finalists to succeed EKU President Dr. Doug Whitlock, spent the day on campus meeting with a variety of faculty members staff and student groups across campus.
Lassen is vice president for finance and operations for Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas.
He has also served in positions at the University of Texas and the University of Southern Mississippi after spending 18 years working in financial positions for energy companies Amoco and BP.
If selected, he will not run the university like a business, Lassen said, but many business principles can helpful in higher education and his financial experience and business sense would be invaluable tools to help guide Eastern through some of the changes it must go through.In response to a question from a student government member about the board of regent’s recent announcement of a 10 percent ($23 million) budget cut, Lassen said tough times require some tough decisions.
“The board has decided to be proactive,” Lassen said. “To be prepared for this changing future, they need to have the ability to reallocate some of the money that we spend at this university.”
Budget cutting is never easy, he said, “but it’s better to have a proactive response rather than a reactive response. The idea is to take money from things that are done less efficiently and invest them in things that make us better, that make you and the faculty better. It is all well-intended. It should not be perceived as a negative thing.”
Lassen said in his first couple of months on the job he would get out and meet and get to know as many people as possible so he could learn and understand the “Eastern Kentucky experience,” it’s weaknesses and strengths so he could use that to lead the university.
“I’m not a miracle worker. I am not going to fix what is wrong. What I can do is help you accentuate your positives and help you go forward,” Lassen said.
“That is how I manage people. Rather than focus on your weaknesses and beat you up over those and try to repair those, lets focus on our strengths. I see so many things to be proud of. I see vibrant student life, I see your passion and sense of caring about what this institution is and needs to remain. Let’s hold onto those things as we go through the rest of this process.”
When asked if he was good at raising money, Lassen said he would be “an excellent fundraiser” because of his background.
“Fundraising is not dissimilar to any other kind of sales or negotiation in the business world and I have had the opportunity to do multi-million dollar deals in my previous life,” Lassen said.
“Fundraising is about the marriage of the wishes, the hopes and expectations of philanthropists to our needs. It is not a panacea. It will not fix everything for us. But there are people out there who want to help us. They just need to trust me, to trust us, that we are going to use the money they are so nice to give us, wisely.”
When asked his view on diversity at the university, Lassen said believed it is vital to a university, and was something he had a proven track record on.
“Diversity is not just race and it’s not just gender, it’s your background, it’s how you were raised and how your mind works. Part of what we do as a university is to expose students to people from other walks of life, with other ways that their minds work that you are not accustomed to,” Lassen said.
One faculty senate member voiced the group’s concern that the next president would need to maintain lines of communication campus stakeholders.
Lassen said that would not be a problem.
“I can assure you that I am open, candid and very interactive... it’s my nature,” Lassen said.
“I can assure you that I will have constant and open communication with faculty, staff and students to make sure people are treated fairly... and to take some of the fear out of it. It’s not my intention of harming anyone. But it is my intention to insure that the university is operating in a way that insures it will be financially sound going forward.”
The next candidate, Dr. Alan T. Shao, the Dean of the School of Business at the College of Charleston will visit campus Wednesday, April 3.