George Pernsteiner, whose financial acumen helped Portland Stategrow to become the state’s largest university, has come back toOregon to become interim chancellor for the Oregon UniversitySystem.
At the time of his departure from PSU as vice president forfinance and administration, President Dan Bernstine said, “Hisleadership has transformed the campus and the greatercommunity.”
Pernsteiner’s official new job description, as bestowed by theState Board of Higher Education, is executive vice chancellor,chief operations officer and interim chancellor.
He has been serving as vice chancellor for administrativeservices at University of California, Santa Barbara, since 2002.This is a 20,000-student research university.
Pernsteiner’s appointment creates a new position in thechancellor’s office. He assumed the post July 6. Exactly when apermanent chancellor may be appointed has not been predicted. Theappointment is for two years, renewable after that on ayear-to-year basis, with a salary of $219,500 a year.
Pernsteiner radiates optimism that the time has potentially comefor greater state support of higher education and he hopes to playa contributing role in that change.
“We’ve got a chance right now,” he said. “Higher education has achance to be on the upside if we can make a convincing case to thelegislature that higher ed is crucial the future of the state.”
He added, “I think this is a propitious time. The time to dothat (strengthen higher ed support) is when people are just comingout of a time of economic stress. This is the time to make thatcase.” Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski believes the same, Pernsteinersaid, and so do many legislators.
“We’re going to make a real effort to try to convince people itis a worthwhile endeavor. It will be a challenge, no doubt,”Pernsteiner concluded.
He declared himself “anxious to get here and see oldfriends.”
Portland State remembers Pernsteiner as vice president forfinance and administration from 1995 to 2002. As an administratorin Oregon he wore many hats, some of them overlapping. He served asvice provost and chief financial officer at the University ofOregon from 1996 to 1999. Before coming to PSU, he had beenassociate vice chancellor for administration for the chancellor’soffice from 1989 to 1995. Before that, he directed the departmentof administrative services for the City of Seattle for more thansix year.
In his dual years with PSU and UO, he helped the twouniversities make the transition from the old common funddistribution system to one in which the tuition money followed thestudents. This model went into effect in the fall of 1999,benefiting both PSU and U of O. The change triggered to aconsiderable degree PSU’s climb in enrollment to its presentleading position in the state’s universities.
Probably Pernsteiner’s most visibly notable decision came in1999. A fund drive to move the dilapidated Simon Benson house fromits historic location to the Portland State campus was $350,000short. Pernsteiner took the calculated risk that the funds wouldeventually emerge and gave the project the go-ahead.
The event provided a spectacular all-day moving party as themovers trundled the creaking old house slowly through the streetsand under the overhanging trees along the route to its presentlocation on the Park Blocks at Southwest Montgomery Street.
Now completely renovated, the Benson house provides a home forthe alumni office and adds measurably to the campus curbsideappeal.
Yet Pernsteiner was no wild speculator when it came to finance.A Vanguard story in July 2002 noted him “for his sound and creativeapproach to financing. He guarded against unwise hazards to theuniversity’s solvency yet he exhibited a willingness to takerisks.” Pernsteiner voiced a philosophy at that time that shouldserve him well in his new post.
“Sometimes you take a risk. Part of what being a universityadministrator involves is looking to the future. Trying to figureout 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 thefuture that says sometimes you have to take risks to take you whereyou want to go.”
This is a time when the Board of Higher Education itself hasendured a period of flux verging on uproar. After Gov. Kulongoskitook office, he appointed Neil Goldschmidt to be new chairman ofthe board. Then the news broke about Goldschmidt’s sexualinvolvement with an underage girl some years ago. Goldschmidtshortly thereafter resigned and Kulongoski appointed himselfchairman.
Board member Don Blair led the search for the new position.Henry Lorenzen, another board member, saw the need in thechancellor’s office “for a leader that can begin to have animmediate positive impact and knowledge of the system and issues.”Lorenzen conceded that the position might have normally gonethrough an open search process but the availability of a candidateof Pernsteiner’s ability convinced the board to hire him without asearch.
The various movements of Pernsteiner have triggered a revolvingscenario in the office of finance and administration. Upon news ofPernsteiner’s departure from PSU, his assistant vice president, whohad already announced his intention to depart Portland State,reversed his field. Jay Kenton had been scheduled to depart June 30of 2002 to become vice president for finance and administration atCentral Washington University in Ellensburg, Wash. Bernstine askedKenton to stay in Portland and take over Pernsteiner’s portfolio.Central Washington released Kenton and he took over the vicepresidency.
This year it was Kenton who left at the end of June to take asimilar position at the University of Idaho. Cathy Dyck, associatevice president for finance and planning, moved into Kenton’s chairas interim vice president for finance and administration.