Bathed in the dusky haze of the afternoon sun, the smell of freshly mowed grass hovering as an undeniable harbinger of spring, the University of La Verne baseball and softball teams on April 8 don...
As the embodiment of the University of La Verne for 26 years, Steve Morgan ’68 found the best way to provide stability and security was to keep moving forward.
Standing near the top of Founders Hall’s front steps on a recent sunny day, University President Steve Morgan, a third-generation La Verne alumnus, looked north across the campus and spoke of his undergraduate days here.
“When I was running for student body president, my campaign slogan was ‘Move with Morgan.’ So some of my friends thought it was a good idea to really get me moving. They put my bed on one of the landings on the Hoover Building,” Morgan said. “One of the girls I knew gave me a blanket to keep me warm and I spent the night out there.”
Morgan’s anecdote does more than just illustrate a time when La Verne was a small, residential college. It provides a glimpse of the man who has spent more than a quarter-century leading his alma mater. In just a few days, Morgan will retire, bringing to a close one of the finest chapters in La Verne history.
It is one thing to be at the helm of a company or organization that you come to as part of a professional career; it’s a completely different aspect when the person at the top is firmly rooted in the foundation itself.
When he was named La Verne’s 17th president in 1985, Morgan, at age 39, was the youngest to hold that title in the United States at that time. One of his mentors, Harold Fasnacht, spent 20 years as La Verne’s leader, a record of endurance Morgan never thought he’d challenge.
“I thought I’d be at La Verne for 10 years or so. That seemed about the right amount of time to make things happen, achieve good things and then look to move on to the next career stop,” he said. “But like so many others, I just found myself staying far longer than I ever imagined.”
Longevity is, however, a matter of perspective. November 2011 will mark La Verne’s 34th anniversary of becoming a university. A landmark occurrence, but one Morgan believes needs to be placed in the proper context.
“I think it’s important for us to realize, and for others to recognize, that we’re still pretty young as a university,” Morgan said. “We’re probably out of our infancy; maybe we’re in our late-teens. But we still have a ways to go, and so much to learn when it comes to being a university. I remember hearing about La Verne announcing its decision to go from a college to a university back in 1977. I recall shaking my head and wondering if anyone really knew what that meant.
“I honestly think we’re still learning today what all it means to be a university. We have seen so much growth, and I think we’re still learning how to deal with that growth. We’re still working on the financial aspect of being a university. We have a lot of challenges we’re still looking to answer, and I believe we will answer them. That’s why I believe, in the long term, our biggest challenge is to mature as a university.
“We’re still young as a university, but look at all we’ve accomplished this far. We have so much to look forward to, so much to accomplish. We’re trying so hard to become a better place while still finding ways to hold on to what’s made this such a special place for so long. I think the addition of the new faculty is what helps keep us fresh and active and moving forward, and it’s our experienced faculty members and alumni that help keep us in touch with our history.”
Therein lies the greatest challenge facing any successful enterprise: progress. Maintaining the status quo can be considered a decision to stagnate. Yet to ignore tradition is to abandon what led to success in the first place. How do you hang on to the past and still push toward the future?
“We can’t continue to grow and remain what we were. No organization can. If we try to do that, we’ll die,” Morgan said. “It’s important that we strive to move forward, continue to grow and realize how we can best continue our educational mission. As long as we’re moving forward and looking forward, we’ll do what we’ve always done – educate.”
During his presidency, Morgan discovered the toughest answer often proved the most common response: wait. In good times and bad, needs always outnumber resources. And because everything cannot be accomplished at once, there are always projects and programs that must bide time until the next opportunity.
“I salute those who have been patient and continue to be patient,” Morgan said. “It’s their creativity and their dedication that has allowed us to make the best use of the space available to us and not allow it to affect what our students learn.”
Devorah Lieberman officially begins her tenure as La Verne’s 18th president in July, bringing new ideas, a new vision and a new way of dealing with the challenges ahead. As with any departure from the familiar, there will be a period of adjustment as the university and its new leader begin to mesh.
Since the official announcement of her selection last December, Lieberman has spent the ensuing months researching and preparing for her new role. During that span, Morgan reached out to his successor to help make the transition as smooth as possible. He applauds the selection of Lieberman, calling it a brilliant conclusion to the intensive nationwide search.
“I have had several opportunities to meet and speak with Devorah since she was named as La Verne’s next president and I am extremely impressed by her skills, her ideas and her energy,” Morgan said. “I believe she’s the right person to continue La Verne’s progress. She has a vision of where La Verne can go and how it can enhance and expand its profile locally, nationally and globally.”
Just before Lieberman starts her presidency, Morgan officially concludes his. Yet when five o’clock comes on June 30, he won’t just fade into the shadows and become a name in the institution’s history books. But just how will the “Morgan” era be remembered?
A list of the accomplishments achieved during Morgan’s 26 years would certainly appear impressive in print, but could also be viewed as completed to-do list. That’s far too confining for someone who has been the physical embodiment of the university for so long. It is his dedication to service – a fundamental tenet of La Verne’s mission statement – that directly reflects a deep personal commitment. His style has always been that of leading by example.
“One of my great passions involves helping our students attain their educational aspirations. What we do here makes a difference in their lives, which in turn allows them to make a difference in their chosen professions and their communities,” Morgan said. “I firmly believe there is not another college or university that takes students farther in their educational mission than we do.”
Like all engaged leaders, Morgan’s legacy will far outlast his time in office. And by continuing to follow his example, La Verne will continue moving with Morgan for generations to come.