PULLMAN – Ongoing budget cuts, mergers and staffing reductions. Taking over the leadership of the university’s Office of Business and Finance in 2010 is not for the faint of heart.
But, as the saying goes, great opportunities are often brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.
On June 1, President Elson S. Floyd announced that Roger D. Patterson had been selected as the new vice president for Business and Finance, filling the void left by Greg Royer, who retired after more than 40 years of service.
At the time, Patterson was securely ensconced as associate vice chancellor for finance at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he had been for more than a decade. But Patterson saw the situation as an opportunity not to be passed by, and he arrived at WSU on Aug. 2 ready to see how he could serve.
Within 14 days, the governor had announced a new round of statewide budget cuts and Floyd had announced a major universitywide administrative reorganization. Under that plan, the Student Recreation Center, Housing and Dining Services, and the Compton Union Building were moved from under the Office of Business and Finance umbrella to the newly reorganized Division of Student Affairs, Equity and Diversity, and Enrollment Management.
Still, the Office of Business and Finance remains one of the largest divisions at the university, including the Business Services, Administrative Services, Budget and Resource Planning, Facilities Operations, Capital Planning and Development, Real Estate Operations, Parking and Transportation Services, Police, and other service areas. It employs 625 permanent employees including civil service and administrative professional.
Following is a Q&A interview with Patterson to get his initial insights.
WSUT: Previous to WSU, you were at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill nearly 15 years. What differences do you see between UNC and WSU?
RP: North Carolina is a heavily rule-oriented state, and I’m finding the state of Washington in a similar position. Public universities desperately need more flexibility. However, there’s a lot less state funding here than is needed.
In other aspects, UNC is a medical campus, whereas WSU is a land grant university with an agricultural focus. But WSU also has an extensive College of Veterinary Medicine, and we’re building a medical emphasis at WSU Spokane.
I had the land grant experience at Clemson. So, hopefully, I’ll be well positioned to help with experience in both those areas.
WSUT: How does adding Facilities Operations and Capital Planning and Development to your duties change your focus as an administrator?
RP: While I didn’t oversee these areas directly at Chapel Hill, we had a major capital program that went on for about 10 years. Because the budget office and treasury reported to me, I was involved in a lot of those projects, including resolving funding source issues and disagreements between the colleges and Capital Planning.
With the merger of Capital Planning and Development and Facilities Operations, and with that combined area reporting directly to me, I will be dedicating a considerable amount of time to make sure it’s running efficiently and smoothly.
All universities have two major resources, their people and their facilities. The facilities allow students and faculty to carry out all their activities – research, teaching, public service and student experiences. A significant part of what WSU does is conducted through people and facilities. The people side is managed through Human Resources, but facilities are an important asset as well.
The number of people you oversee doesn’t necessarily increase or decrease the complexity of what you do. But the breadth of everything we do from construction, to utility systems, maintenance and repairs is crucial.
WSUT: How would you describe your style of management?
RP: I have a very service-oriented and team-oriented style of management. I expect everyone to work together as a team, including myself. I don’t want to dominate situations; I prefer to work together with programs in a service-oriented fashion to achieve our goals.
WSUT: What does that look like?
RP: I like to describe it this way. My best day is when students and faculty go about their day and don’t even know our area exists – from facilities, to heating, cooling, paying the bills, payroll, safety and security. Ideally, students are focused on learning, and faculty members are focused on teaching and research, and none of them even thinks about all these things running behind the scenes.
WSUT: What do you see as your “initial goals” for the next few months or year – for your division and personally?
RP: My initial goal is to meet as many people as possible – the vice presidents, deans and chancellors on all the campuses – and understand their issues. I also want to meet with all the senior staff members in my division to understand the areas they lead, their problems, issues and accomplishments. Then my division needs to start addressing those issues.
A second goal is to gain an understanding of the cultural differences of the university, and to get my arms around that … The things that make WSU unique, like geographic location, climate, budgetary environment, funding, academic programs, history.
WSUT: How has your experience in the private sector helped you in higher education? What different perspectives does it allow you to bring to the table?
RP: Prior to and throughout my college years I worked in the restaurant business doing everything up to and including managing a restaurant. Then, after college I worked in a small CPA firm in the Atlanta area, and after that I was a partner of a small CPA firm.
The private sector experience really helped me to gain a deep understanding of service. Anyone who has only been in the public sector could miss that. Until you’re really in the private sector you don’t understand how your livelihood depends on making sure that the customer is happy and will come back and recommend you. In that regard, I think my private sector experience has served me well in higher education.
I try to wake up every day understanding that I’m here to serve the students and the faculty.
WSUT: What do you see as your greatest challenge personally/professionally over the next year?
RP: I think the single greatest challenge WSU and nearly all higher education face is continuing budget cuts. It is so easy for all of us to say “we’re maxed out,” “we just can’t do any more.” But reality is we have to find ways to increase our productivity levels to be able to push the university further ahead. We have to find ways to be innovative and efficient, to make our hard work go further in the midst of declining revenues.
At the same time we look for ways to become more innovative, services and response times will be impacted; it’s just a matter of how innovative we can be to limit those impacts.
If someone has ideas for saving money or streamlining services I encourage them to call the manager of the specific department in Business and Finance.
WSUT: Is WSU different from UNC in terms of these budget cuts?
RP: There are only a few institutions in the nation that haven’t undergone serious budget cuts.
From a global level, I think the actual processes of decision making and allocating money are very similar between UNC and WSU. What’s different, from what I’ve seen so far, is that the state of North Carolina has officially stated that higher education is extremely important to the state as an economic driver. Therefore, they provide a lot more state funding, but in return they expect the tuition and fee levels to stay low for in-state students. Yes, they receive some cuts, but the cuts to education are less than those for other areas of state government.
I’m getting the sense that is not the case at WSU, and that we truly have to fight hard to sustain a basic level of state funding.
For example, when I left UNC it was forecasting a 5 percent cut for 2010-11 and our cuts are much higher here.
WSUT: What book are you reading right now?
RP: “Election for the Ages,” by the WSU Press. It’s a look at the Dino Rossi and Chris Gregoire gubernatorial election. It’s an interesting read.
WSUT: What books have had the greatest influence on you personally or professionally?
RP: One of the things I enjoy reading is the university’s summer reading or Common Reading book. In North Carolina the book topics tended to be issues that were on the forefront – like race relations, the death penalty – and they usually had some connection to issues happening in the state. But it’s fascinating staying abreast with what the students are reading. I’ve always enjoyed that.
As a Christian, the Bible would be the one with the greatest influence from a personal perspective. Other than that, a lot of my reading tends to be from a professional perspective. I try to read as many of the books recommended by the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) as possible.
From a personal enjoyment standpoint, I read a lot of books about history, and especially military history and about Lewis and Clark. I find it fascinating, which is funny, because when I was in school I hated history. I thought it was just memorizing a bunch of dates and facts. Now, through reading history related books, it seems to have come to life.
WSUT: What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
RP: My and my wife’s greatest interest is travel, especially overseas. I find it interesting that we’re all made up of the same genome, yet we have all these cultural and religious differences. Our cities and architecture are different, our ways of life and the way we interact are different. It’s fascinating to travel and observe these differences.
I guess it began when I was a sophomore in college and went to Israel and Greece. My favorite part of that trip was visiting the Parthenon and Mars Hill, and standing on this massive rock where the apostle Paul once spoke … It was very quiet and peaceful there, but made a strong impression.
Since then I’ve been to western Europe a number of times – France, England, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands – as well as Mexico. France is one of my favorite countries – I love the food, the arts, French wines, the history and the people. I’ve always found the people there welcoming.
Now, being newcomers to the region, my wife and I are looking forward to exploring the outdoors and cities here in the Northwest. For me, the mountains here feel like my home in (Gainesville) Georgia and the north Georgia mountain area where I grew up. (http://www.gainesville.org/)
My wife and I undertook a fun project a couple years ago that we have nearly completed. We printed out a list of the top 100 films of all time, as rated by the American Film Institute. It’s taken us a couple years, but we’ve slowly gone through all of them, from silent films from the 1910s and 1920s up to contemporary films.
Some of them were more artistic, some were painful (laugh) and you wonder how they got on the list, but many are classics that I had never seen. One of the most memorable was a long, l-o-n-g serious silent film titled “Intolerance,” which at the time was one of the most expensive movies ever made. It focused on four different periods in history where man showed his intolerance for others. Others included shorter, more entertaining comedies like Charlie Chaplin. Overall, though, it was fun to do.