A year in the interim: Interim vice president, 24-7

How do you find time for yourself when you work up to 14 hours a day in Portland State’s top financial post?

For Cathy Dyck, interim vice president of finance and administration, the answer was to downsize and move into Ione Plaza. Eliminating the commute from Jantzen Beach every day was one way to keep family time and work balanced, she said.

Her new apartment is just a block from the corner office she inherited from Jay Kenton, the financial whiz-kid who engineered the purchase of University Place and found money to build Stephen Epler Hall and The Broadway residence halls.

When Kenton left last June for the same position at University of Idaho – he has since become vice chancellor of finance and administration for the Oregon University System – he left a big hole to fill. Without his reputation for financial wizardry, the famously hard-working Dyck compensated by redoubling her efforts, making the university’s top financial administration post more than a full time job.

As associate vice president, Dyck worked 10 – 12 hour days. Now, she said, she puts in 12 hours on one of her short days, and working weekends has become more common.

When Dyck agreed to temporarily step up from associate to vice president, she thought she’d go back to her old job within a year. Since then she has decided to leave when the interim position is over. She wants to spend more time with family and will move to the property she and her husband bought on Vancouver Island, B.C.

“It’s tough to think about leaving, but for me it’s the right thing to do,” Dyck said. “It’s time for the next phase of my life. I actually told Dan [Bernstine, PSU president] ‘it’s easier to find a new job than a new husband,'” she said.

But incoming VP of finance Lindsay Desroschers is finishing up building a campus in California and won’t come to PSU before December, tacking on an extra six months to Dyck’s interim position. And Dyck has agreed to Desrochers’ request to stay for a few months working part time.

Dyck isn’t fooling even herself when she talks about putting in fewer hours to ease Desrocher’s transition.

“I’d get part time pay and work full time,” she said, explaining why she turned down a permanent part time position under Desrochers. “That’s just me. There are too many things to do.”

Dyck’s no stranger to long hours, but the visibility of her new position was an adjustment.

Part of her job is now social – besides office hours, she has to attend university functions. Initially she shied away from giving presentations – a task which she still dislikes but is now accustomed.

Given more time, Dyck said she’d like to have more campus discussion and education about the work her office does.

“People think of the budget as this black hole,” she said. “As much as I hate doing presentations, you have to share that information with people.”

Dyck said that there are always more projects than time to finish them.

“It’s always a question of ‘what do you leave undone?'” Dyck said. “You just keep chugging along. You do it because it has to be done.”

Besides being a workaholic, Dyck is known for her wide-ranging business expertise.

Because its location necessitates more numerous and more intricate business deals than other Oregon universities, “PSU is one of the more complex campuses,” said George Pernsteiner, acting chancellor of OUS. “You need a creative side and you need to be able to know finance very, very well.”

“Cathy has tremendous ability, not to mention a willingness to take on almost anything,” Pernsteiner said, adding that Dyck had returned from retirement to take the associate VP position in 2002. “I think that speaks volumes to her commitment to Portland State.”

Several of Kenton’s projects have been successfully wrapped up: The Broadway residence hall opened on time for students to move in fall term and the University Place is becoming self-supporting.

“We’ve been able to grow auxiliary services and we’ve reached out to community college programs,” she said. “A lot of it’s been internal, looking at more efficiency. It could have been business as usual, but that hasn’t been the case.”

Mike Irish, director of facilities under both Kenton and Dyck, said that after an initial pause following Kenton’s departure, life quickly returned to normal for his department.

“Cathy has done a good job of looking carefully at what Jay had planned and continuing on the course,” Irish said. “There wasn’t any backing up or loss of momentum, except for that hitch at first to catch our breath.”

According to Dyck, there are plenty of reasons that 2004-2005 has not had as many high-profile projects as 2003-2004.

Representing PSU in Oregon’s biannual budget process has added to her workload.

“I think the part of the job I underestimated was the legislative part, the time I needed to spend in Salem,” Dyck said. “OUS has done a very good job this year, asking all of us to get involved. That’s a good thing, it’s just time consuming.”

This prospective budget determines funding for the next two fiscal years, and the university is working with a new OUS board, which is asking for much stricter budget projections. The legislature and board want predictions for expenditures from 2005 – 2011, and the university is working on its five- and 10-year plans, all major assignments for an office and especially one that divided up the associate’s duties when Dyck took Kenton’s job.

“Everybody was very understanding that I had a lot on my plate. And the [finance and administration] staff took on extra work even though their plates were already full,” Dyck said.

“The other problem is it’s the second half of the biennium,” Dyck said, adding, “there was nothing left.”

For the new biennium, budget prospects are bleak.

“A lot of the projects [we proposed] didn’t even make the governor’s recommended budget,” Dyck said. “In the past we haven’t seen as many things not make the list.”

Now, the state is not willing to provide money even for things that will pay for themselves, such as parking and housing, Dyck said. “Whether we’re backing it or not, it still looks like debt on paper.”

The Finance and Administration office is also dealing with a new leadership climate locally. Mayor Tom Potter and Bernstine have not met since Potter took office in January, Dyck said. The Portland Development Commission, which awards economic incentives and has previously helped PSU develop the University District, has been distracted this year with other projects, including the highly publicized Burnside Bridgehead bid and subsequent proposals to restructure or dismantle the office.

But Dyck doesn’t feel slighted by what looks like the PDC’s declining interest.

“We’re continuing to have conversations with them. They want to see us revitalize the area and make it more dense,” she said. “They have been very complimentary of what PSU has done, of Dan [Bernstine], and what we’ve been able to accomplish.”

“Would we like the PDC to do more? Of course we would,” Dyck said. “But I don’t think they’ve forgotten us. And I really think they’re trying to work with us.”

“We have maintained a strong relationship with PSU and have met with

Cathy Dyck to sustain the momentum,” PDC Executive Director Don Mazziotti said in an e-mail. “Jay Kenton remains an important colleague to PDC and we look forward to continuing our work with the state system as well.”

“Cathy is a very steady hand at the tiller,” Pernsteiner said, who held the same position before Kenton. “PSU was very fortunate that she was able to step in.”

Head of Auxiliary Services Julie North said she and Dyck have such hectic schedules that they talk on the phone late at night to catch up on the next day’s business. When it’s too late or too early in the morning to call, they leave voicemails at each other’s office. “We’re used to getting messages at all hours,” North said, adding that Dyck’s example encourages the rest of the staff. “Cathy is the hardest-working boss I’ve ever had. I’ve learned more from her than anyone.”

“Cathy’s done a great job,” Irish said. “I think we’ve been very fortunate, after losing a man of Jay’s caliber, to have someone as good as Cathy step in.”

Dyck praises her coworkers’ dedication and support, saying they’ve been nothing but helpful during the year of transition.

“I’ve just seen over and over again how many people love PSU and are dedicated to PSU. It’s really inspiring.”

“The only negatives this year have been in funding,” Dyck said. “Budget cuts, salary freezes, hiring freezes, and the fact that with all the hours I’ve put in I still don’t feel I’ve been able to do it justice.”