Tight Fist Takes Reins at La Verne University

Times Staff Writer

Stephen C. Morgan is a third-generation graduate of the University of La Verne. So much for sentiment.

He has been university president for a week and he is taking a tightfisted approach on spending and an optimistic approach on fund raising. On Wednesday, Day 2 of his administration, Morgan sat in his office in the ivy-covered Founder’s Hall and spoke quietly about the financial condition of the institution:

“Like most small, independent liberal arts colleges, we work with a small, tight operating budget,” Morgan said. “I think we may have some areas where we need to hold the line from now until the end of the fiscal year.”


Morgan, 38, has a list of things he would like to avoid early in his presidency, and spending money appears to be at the top of it. For example, he would like to improve the physical surroundings of the school, but he would rather not spend too much money on new equipment and supplies. And one expenditure he refused to talk about was his salary. It is not public information, he said.

However, one thing he wants to jump right into is the competitive recruiting market for students. He says a shortage of 18- to 20-year-olds in the next few years--the downward slope of the baby boom curve--promises to put the squeeze on small private colleges.

And finally, Morgan wants to raise money. This is his specialty, the focus of his career. It is what he did as a member of the university’s administrative staff from 1968 to 1976. It is what he has been doing for the past six years for a group of eight colleges in Northern California. In addition, during the late 1970s, he helped USC raise $309 million.

And he already knows how he is going to sell La Verne’s case to donors, who already account for 5% to 10% of its budget. “We’re approaching our 100th anniversary,” Morgan said. The fact that it won’t arrive until 1991 doesn’t bother him. He plans to begin the centennial fund-raising campaign in 1987--giving him just enough time to plan his advertising strategy--and continue it for several years into the university’s second century. “Talk to me in two years,” he said. “I’ll have a lot more details then.”

Morgan is big on strategy. He and other administrators are working on what they call a five-year strategic plan. Morgan speaks excitedly about putting together a management team which, combined with a solid five-year plan, will keep the fiscal bogies at bay.

And while this year’s $17-million to $18-million operating budget is tight, Morgan said the university’s problems are nowhere near the crisis level they attained in 1980. That is when the Commission for Accreditation of Senior Colleges placed the school on probation, largely because of a financial crunch the commission said threatened the quality of academic programs.


Such problems drove Morgan’s predecessor, Armen Sarafian, to declare that he was “tired of presidenting” when he resigned last July.

But Morgan is quick to point out that despite Sarafian’s frustration, during his 10-year tenure he pulled the university through several such crises, established an Armenian studies program, doubled full-time enrollment and gained university status for La Verne.

During the past three years, enrollment has stabilized between 1,500 and 1,600 full-time students, with a peak in 1979 of 1,725. Tuition accounts for about 75% of the budget.

Morgan said the school plant is in adequate shape for the time being, but controversy looms. The planned construction of a new dormitory has pitted the townsfolk against the university for the past several weeks in La Verne, where public debate is rare. University officials have sought to build the three-story dormitory near a neighborhood west of the campus, but residents’ oral objections and written petitions against the project have prompted the City Council to postpone action on the proposed structure.

“I would like to see them (the university) build it at another location on campus,” Morgan said. “We want to be good neighbors, and we’re interested in input from the neighborhood. Their suggestions have been taken to heart.”

Until April, when he plans to move with his wife and daughter to the La Verne area, Morgan will be a part-time president. During the interim, he will fly between jobs to allow his present employers, the Independent Colleges of Northern California Inc., which operates such well known schools as the University of the Pacific in Stockton and St. Mary’s College in Moraga, time to find his replacement.

Morgan holds a master’s degree in educational administration from USC and a doctorate in education from the University of Northern Colorado.

The move south will be a return home for Morgan, who was born in Upland. His grandmother graduated from La Verne in 1914, his mother graduated from there in 1936, and he was awarded a bachelor of arts in social science from the school in 1968.