Pernsteiner headed to Santa Barbara

Pernsteiner will depart his post as vice president for finance and administration at the end of this month and will become vice chancellor for administrative services at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

His announcement triggered what may be the fastest reversal of fortune in university history. On May 31, the Vanguard reported that Jay Kenton, Portland State’s chief financial officer under Pernsteiner, would depart June 30. He was slated to become vice president for finance and administration at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Wash. Within the following week, Pernsteiner revealed his imminent departure and President Dan Bernstine asked Kenton to move up into Pernsteiner’s position. Kenton accepted, was granted release by Central Washington there and was appointed by Bernstine.

Kenton said Central Washington was “gracious” in releasing him. He said he and his family felt content in Portland but he had believed it was time to move his career up to the next level.

Pernsteiner has held his present title at Portland State since August 1995, but has served various posts in the Oregon University System since January 1989. Before that, he directed the department of administrative services for the City of Seattle for over six years.

Pernsteiner became noted at PSU for his sound and creative approach to financing. He guarded against unwise hazards to the university’s solvency yet he exhibited a willingness to take risks.

From November 1996, to October 1999, Pernsteiner wore two financial hats, one at Portland State and the other at the University of Oregon. He helped the two universities make the transition between a common fund distribution system and one in which the money followed the students.

Under this model, which went into effect in the fall of 1999, both U of O and PSU benefited substantially. The change triggered in part PSU’s climb to its present leading position.

Pernsteiner has shepherded Portland State finances through a period of incredible growth in facilities, faculty and enrollment, boosting the university from second largest in the state to the number one position. On his watch, the campus has built and opened the Urban Plaza and moved ahead with plans to redevelop the adjoining block of the former Portland Center for Advanced Technology.

Fifteen major projects are in completion or in process including the addition of the Fourth Avenue building as a new headquarters for engineering and research, the purchase of the University Center building and the future addition of a Native American Center.

Even as his tenure draws nears its close, Pernsteiner still follow a nonstop schedule of activities promoting the future of Portland State. Both he and Kenton have spent days at the special sessions of the state legislature, lending support to the work of Debbie Murdock, Bernstine’s assistant for government relations.

Of his time at Portland State, Pernsteiner said, “This has been a great experience for me. It has been the most rewarding professional experience of my life. We have been able to so some remarkable things here.”

This he attributed in large part to the ability to partner with the city, with Tri-Met and with private business interests.

“This has enabled us to build buildings and to buy buildings that have really transformed the campus. It has provided us with the infrastructure that has allowed us to teach a record number of students and conduct a record amount of funded research and do it at a time when there was no state money for construction.”

Another accomplishment he relishes in is the development of a strategy to serve the Portland metropolitan community much more directly than the university ever had before. He saw this as a service to both the governmental and business segments.

The new budget model enabled the university to attract new students at an affordable price to study in what he called “the greatest metropolitan area in the country.”

He continued, “That was a message that resonated. It allowed us to grow rapidly and integrate into the community.” It is a goal, he said, which PSU had been talking about for a decade but had not been quite able to achieve until now.

“When we grew, we got on people’s radar screens,” he said. “This was a great time to be part of a university which was a great happening place.”

He observed that the university exists in tough times caused by the state’s economic slump, but “we’re still in better condition than we ever were prior to this time.”

Pernsteiner is proud of the direction PSU is headed.

“Portland State is on a very rapid trajectory to become recognized as one of the great universities on the West Coast,” he said. “We already have the fourth largest graduate school enrollment on the West Coast,” he said. We are exceeded only by Washington, California-Berkeley and UCLA.

“We and Portland are tied together,” he summarized, “And I think it’s going to be a marvelous ride.”

Pernsteiner’s willingness to take calculated risks became evident in the campaign to move the dilapidated Simon Benson house to the campus in January 2000.

In late 1999, the project faced a $350,000 funding shortfall. Despite the budget woes Persteiner gave the go-ahead and the house moved in January of 2000. The necessary loans were paid off, having been eventually assumed by the alumni association.

Pat Squire, director of alumni relations, said, “George really made the whole project work. He is such a creative guy in making finances work. He finds ways to make things happen.”

Pernsteiner’s comment: “Sometimes you take a risk. Part of what being a university administrator involves is looking to the future. Trying to figure out who we will be, what we will be, what purposes we will serve. And then how do you get there? Part of it has to be a vision of the future that says sometimes you have to take risks to take you where you want to go.”

In announcing Pernsteiner’s departure, PSU President Dan Bernstine said, “His leadership has transformed the campus and the greater community.”