PLU President Loren J. Anderson leaves his inauguration in 1992 with daughter Maren, then 5.
A decade of service marks Loren Anderson's presidency
By Philip A. Nordquist '56
Loren J. Anderson was raised in Rugby, N.D. He received his B.A. from Concordia College as a philosophy major. He completed his graduate education at Michigan State University and the University of Michigan, focusing on communication theory and research.
Most of Anderson's career has been dedicated to Lutheran higher education. At Concordia College, he served as assistant professor of speech communication and director of institutional research starting in 1972. After serving as assistant to the president from 1975 to 1976, he became vice president for planning and development. At 31, he was the youngest vice president in Concordia history. In 1984, he became executive director of the division for college and university services of the American Lutheran Church. He returned to Concordia in 1988 as executive vice president with responsibilities for fund development, communication, academic planning and general administration.
In 1992 Anderson became PLU's 12th president.
Anderson, whose career in academia began as a professor, enjoys engaging students as a guest lecturer.
Philip A. Nordquist '56 interviewed Anderson for Scene earlier this year. Nordquist graduated from Pacific Lutheran College and from the University of Washington where he received M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in history. He has taught history at PLU since 1963 and in 1990 published the centennial history of PLU, "Educating For Service."
Philip Nordquist: Can you say something about the nature and range of the professional responsibilities that you had prior to coming to PLU and how your understanding of Lutheran higher education and your educational background prepared you to be a university president?
Loren Anderson: The evolution of my career began when I was an undergraduate student at Concordia College. I learned there about Lutheran higher education. But I didn't really realize how special it is until I took my first teaching position at Wayne State University in Detroit in the early '70s. The dramatic contrast between a small, undergraduate, liberal arts, Lutheran institution and a large, urban, commuter, Ph.D. granting, research-oriented university began to put my Concordia experience in perspective. It convinced me of the value of being a Lutheran university, of being a primarily undergraduate institution, and how important it is to focus on teaching rather than research. That experience brought me back to Lutheran higher education. Then, after I returned to Concordia as a faculty member and administrator, I took a fairly traditional path through the ranks-a path that eventually led me to PLU.
Loren and MaryAnn Anderson accompany King Herald V and Queen Sonja of Norway during the royal couple's 1995 visit to PLU.
Nordquist: What was your perception of PLU as you contemplated the position in 1992 and after you arrived on the scene?
Anderson: I had been in Lutheran higher education for 20 years before I came to PLU and had always admired Pacific Lutheran. Looking at PLU from a distance, I long believed that it was among the top institutions both in the ALC and the ELCA. I regularly read alumni magazines from many schools and remember being impressed by Scene and the sense of energy and activity that seemed to surround PLU. I also encountered people from PLU and found them to be universally optimistic and active, the kind of people who had a great deal of energy and a deep commitment to their university.
Nordquist: At your inauguration you called on all those assembledand I suppose you meant to include all PLU graduates as wellto be the revolutionaries, the visionaries, the "saga creators" of tomorrow. What did you mean by that?
Anderson: Places like PLU are wholly voluntary enterprises. In our case it all began 110 years ago with five congregations and only 250 people who simply went to work to create a university. That spirit has continued throughout our history. So universities such as PLU have been built, and are still carried forward, by this throng of believersboth visible and invisiblewho contribute to the vision, to the energy, and to the funding of the place.
Anderson talks with students after a campus event in 2001 one of the favorite parts of his presidency.
It's interesting to consider what motivates people to serve in this way. I remember being intrigued by a publication called, "The Quest for a Viable Saga," in which the author contended that it is really the story of the institution that motivates people. PLU's story hasn't been easy and is as fascinating as any in Lutheran higher educationfrom the moose antlers of the 1890s, to the endowment drive of the '20s, to the financial crises of the '30s and the enrollment meltdown during World War II. Even in the mid-1940s the question of PLU's future was still on the tableit's all of that history and drama that gives energy and spice to the PLU saga.
Nordquist: When you arrived in 1992, PLU had just completed a quite triumphant centennial celebration that had appropriately focused on a wide range of institutional and individual achievements, but by 1992 it was clear that there were some serious enrollment and financial problems that had to be addressed. How did the university take on those tasks? And how difficult were they?
Anderson: My direct encounter with PLU was a discovery of the richness of the institutional programs and mission and of the tremendous human capacity. PLU, I judged immediately, was clearly an institution driven by those intangible qualities that made it a more vital, interesting, and multi-dimensional enterprise than you could ever know from a distance. I still feel the same way. There is a great reservoir of strength that has been built over generations. And it may be that that strength comes in part because the institution has experienced ups and downs over the years.
As your question suggests, we did face some visible challenges in '92: enrollment was down, budgets were not always balanced. But I think the truly remarkable story is the way everyone from the Board of Regents to the faculty and staff stepped up and collectively addressed the problems. If there is one realization I had at the time, whether conscious or just instinctive, it was that PLU faced a set of challenges that no one person could resolve and that it really needed to be a collective effort, beginning with a broad understanding of the challenges we were facing.
Anderson visits with a farmer in China during a trip with PLU's Greg Guldin (second from left) during a 1998 trip to further PLU's Chinese Studies program.
We had many meetings during my first year where we invited every member of the campus community to participate. The results were amazing. We quickly got beyond pointing fingers and went to work on solutions. There was a candor present that has long been part of how PLU works best.
Nordquist: During your first year as president the institution was also deeply involved in attempting to draft a new mission statement (the current one was then 30 years old). What did the community learn from that experience, and was it beneficial to the university?
Anderson: It is sometimes hard to believe that cod-liver oil is beneficial because it doesn't taste very good when it is going down. Some of the conversation about our mission statement in the spring of 1993 had a cod-liver oil quality to it. It was heated and somewhat divisive. It wasn't much fun. On the other hand it was very important to have the central institutional issue being discussed openly and constructively. I think the commission that worked on the mission statement came up with an excellent proposal. It looks even better to me now than it did 10 years ago because I think I understand PLU better, and I understand the context and the genesis of the statement.
The continuing challenge for us is to express what it means to be a Lutheran university in one or two sentences that are understood by the broader community and adequate for Lutherans who come from a wide range of theological perspectives. Given the breadth and richness of our Lutheran tradition of education, that is not easy. Yet it is such an important conversation that we repeatedly come back to it in many other contexts, and it is important that we do.
Anderson talks to Crown Prince Haakon of Norway in 1999 in front of the sculpture made for his parents.
Nordquist: Indeed, among the strengths the regents, faculty and search committee looked for in a new president in 1992 were experience and success in development and long-range planning. The process leading to a long-range plan that ultimately was called PLU 2000: Embracing the 21st Century was launched in December of 1992-almost as soon as you arrived-and received final approval in January 1995. What were its most important axioms and initiatives and how successful was it?
Anderson: PLU 2000 is a remarkable story in part because in those years the university juggled an important set of near-term issues while at the same time thinking in bold terms about its long-range future. That was a delicate balance to maintain and I think it is a tribute to the community that both were done well.
The plan's five foundational axioms were the right ones: 1) invigorating the learning community, 2) sustaining and finding sustenance in our Lutheran heritage and tradition, 3) focusing on educating for lives of service, 4) committing ourselves to becoming a more diverse community, and 5) building fiscal integrity.
We can all take great pride in looking back over 10 years and seeing the degree to which the university's accomplishments flow from PLU 2000. My basis for this judgment is the countless people who come to visit usacccreditors, foundations, candidates for positionsthey all say that PLU 2000 is a very impressive report and that PLU is one of the few places they have seen that has developed a comprehensive long-range plan and actually implemented it.
Loren and MaryAnn Anderson joined the cast of 'The Wizard of Oz' for Songfest in 1999. The couple always take part in the Homecoming tradition.
Nordquist: A second plan called PLU 2010: The Next Level of Distinction is nearing completion. Can you predict what its most important emphases will be and if any new directions will be charted?
Anderson: The key element of the 2010 report will be the way it helps us focus on the future of our academic programs: How do we strengthen our traditional academic culture? How do we advance the cause of international education? How do we work on student engagement in shaping their learning experience? How do we continue to focus on ethics, values and service? I expect these will be the markers for what we want to accomplish academically over the next 10 years. I believe they will also form the foundation for a dramatic breakthrough of our institutional reputation that will lead to a new, broad public recognition of what a truly remarkable and excellent place PLU has become.
Nordquist: What have been the university's most important achievements in fund-raising during the last decade and what still needs to be done?
Anderson: The most important achievementone with long-term significance for the future of the universityhas been members of the broad PLU constituency stepping up to support our endowment. As a result, the endowment has increased over the past decade more than 500 percent and planned, future gifts to the endowment have increased about 1,000 percent.
The Andersons pose for a family portrait with their dog Trygve.
The biggest challenge we face in the fund-raising area is what I call the revitalization of our schoolhouse, the maintenance and renovation of our campus facilities. Most of our campus was built in the '50s and '60s, so many of our buildings are now ready for revitalization. Among projects in our current fund-raising campaign are construction of The Morken Center for Learning and Technology and then the Eastvold renovation and expansion. But there is more on the horizon. The Hauge Building and the University Center need work and many of our residence halls are out of date. So the capital appetite of our schoolhouse is going to be significant in the coming years, and with the costs of construction such as they are, funding these projects will be a challenge.
Nordquist: PLU has made some significant advances in international education in the last decade. The new Wang Center for International Programs will undoubtedly accelerate that institutional emphasis. How important and appropriate is it for PLU to be a major player among Lutheran and Northwest institutions in international education and scholarship?
Anderson: The evolution of PLU as an internationally focused university is a very interesting case study. So much of it has happened without an orchestrated plan. Instead, by virtue of the faculty that have been hired, the program interests that have been developed, and our location on the Pacific Rim, suddenly we're recognized as among the leaders in international education. Now, through the generosity of Peter and Grace Wang, we have taken another major step.
The excitement is that not only is our reputation for international education beginning to emerge, but we also find ourselves competitively placed as one of just a handful of undergraduate institutions in the country that have significant, substantive international programs throughout the curriculum. The events of the last year have reinforced the importance of this focus. It is an essential part of who we've become and where we need to go.
Nordquist: Diversity in all its complexity has been an important agenda item for all educational institutions in the recent past. What successes has PLU achieved in the last decade, and what still needs to be done?
Anderson: In my first state of the university address in the fall
of 1992, I suggested that becoming a more diverse institution is a matter
of both reality and relevance. With the world constantly becoming smaller
and more diverse it is clear that if we are going to be a part of it, relate
to it, and have an effect on it we must ourselves be a diverse community.
The challenge for us is how a community that comes out of a particular tradition
becomes welcoming and embracing to other traditions without losing a sense
of who we are. That's a tension we feel today and will and must continue to
And the fact is that the nation's university campuses are probably more diverse than any other communities in our country. The campus has become the real melting pot. Here is where people of different backgrounds and traditions and beliefs are coming together in mutual respect and understanding. It is one of the key roles higher education is serving in our society, and I am pleased that PLU is playing a part.
Nordquist: You have been connected to Lutheran higher education for most of your adult life and you are now finishing your first decade at PLU. You are also completing your responsibilities as chair of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities with its 950 institutional members. From those multiple perspectives how do you see the future of Lutheran higher education, and what are PLU's prospects for the next decade or two?
Anderson: The prospects for Lutheran higher education have never been
brighter, particularly at places such as PLU. Today, more than ever, our conviction
that life is a gift from God, that life has purpose, that the human experience
is transcendent, and that we are ultimately created to be a positive force
in the world resonates with people from all faith backgrounds, as well as
those who come out of no faith background at all.
The Lutheran perspective on higher education also gives us a unique insight into teaching and learning. Education, we believe, must include both rationalistic ways of understanding the world and faith-based frameworks for knowing. Our campus response to the events of Sept. 11 is an interesting example. First, we established a discussion center where we invited faculty who are experts to help us understand intellectually what had happened. Second, we set up a counseling center for people who needed to address the experience in more personal terms. Third, we provided opportunities that day and the days following for worship and reflection. Another university might have taken any one of these approaches. For a Lutheran university it was natural to do all three.
Nordquist: What has given you the greatest satisfaction during your tenure as president at PLU?
Anderson: It is watching students grow and succeed. I've now been here long enough that some students I first met as high school sophomores and juniors are now two or three years into their careers. Watching them discover their potential and claim their vocation is always the greatest satisfaction.
Another source of satisfaction is being part of a community, a team that is continually working to create opportunities for faculty, staff and students to work together. It is truly fun to have had a hand in providing a new building, providing a grant for a research project, hiring just the right person, contributing to the preparation of a Fulbright scholar, or being there and cheering when the softball team goes 34-0. PLU is an "opportunity" place and the president's job is to help create such opportunity. It is a very rich experience.
Nordquist: What are the most important tasks that still remain to be accomplished?
Anderson: I think finishing the 2010 process and moving forward with the academic initiatives that result. Also, continuing to work as a community to further clarify our statement of mission, our understanding of what it means to be Lutheran, and how we communicate that more effectively.
More specifically, I have a little sheet of five goals that I carry with me. Goal number one is to complete and implement the 2010 plan. A second goal is to finish the Morken Center for Learning and Technology and the Eastvold restoration projects. A third is to accomplish some of the academic changes currently under discussion. The fourth is to stabilize enrollment in the 3,500 to 3,600 range. And the fifth is to continue to make progress on infrastructure issues, reducing deferred maintenance, keeping up with technology and growing the endowment. In short, giving students and faculty the resources they need to do their work well.
Nordquist: The evolution of the Board of Regents is obviously central to our institutional health right now. The board is much stronger and as a consequence the institution is much stronger.
Anderson: It is. That is a huge subplot of PLU's growth and progress. Just one measure of the leadership that the regents have demonstrated has been their willingness to step up with contributions of over $30 million in support of our current $100 million fund-raising campaign. At the same time, the board has a strong commitment to PLU's mission, a very good spirit about academic and faculty matters, and a deep interest and concern for students. Members also have a keen understanding that the university is not a corporation of the kind that many of them run, but rather is a unique community that needs their special nurture and care.
Nordquist: Strong boards, strong presidents and strong faculty work together. If one is weakened the whole is weakened significantly. We have to increasingly be able to be candid and work together to the benefit of the entire institution. Still, it is a credit to you that you have been able to find the political capital to continue with your work for the past 10 years and continue on into the foreseeable future. The average tenure of college presidents is half the time of what you have already served.
Anderson: This is a forgiving community! Lutherans call it grace, every president lives by it.
You mentioned the importance of candor in addressing the challenges and problems we face. The past 10 years have been a real time of learning for me. I'm a much, much stronger proponent of democracy than I was 10 years ago.
Nordquist: It was a learning experience for the entire community. And as it turns out a beneficial one.
Anderson: I once wrongly tended to think that when a university faced difficult challenges it was up to leadership to fix them. But leaders can never work alone. When they do, the issues become leadership's problems and no one else's. So one needs to always trust in the strengths and the fabric of the institution and its people. I think PLU's history has verified that this is the right approach. Over the past 10 years I have learned that when in doubt, trust the process, trust people. Be a part of the community and work together for our shared long-term well-being. So, we now have a governance system that spins and sputters and sometimes doesn't always move very fast, but when the day is over, it acquits itself very, very well.
Nordquist: It has turned out better than any of us could have predicted.
Anderson: I believe that PLU is developing a stronger sense of self-confidence and self-acceptance. The university community has become more comfortable with the new complexity that describes both PLU and the challenges we face. At the same time, there remains a tremendous sense that we have not yet arrived; PLU is on a journey. A greater sense of excellence and service is always before us.
Nordquist: We are 110 years old. But in many respects we are quite young.
Anderson: Yes, but as I mentioned earlier, I believe that PLU is about to enter an era of even greater maturity. We are poised to move beyond a deep seated tendency to underestimate our achievements and, thereby, free ourselves to better articulate our distinctive mission and to embrace the excellence of our program.
As a final thought, I believe that one sign of this new maturity will be a reduced tendency to focus on the president. PLU has had such a tradition of strong presidents that much of the institution's experience has been defined in terms of them. I believe the real story line is not the president. The university our people, our mission and our programs are finding their own stature. They are the story. That is as it should and must be, and it is another very positive step for PLU.