La Verne Magazine
"The University of La Verne: A Day in the Life"
President Stephen Morgan:
Dreaming Nirvana at La Verne
by Martha I. Fernandez
photography by Amy M. Boyle
Revealing the University president who can kick up his feet and even
crack a smile, Dr. Stephen Morgan lounges in his backyard among his rosebushes
and orchids. He confesses that working in his garden and puttering around
are activities that allow him to think about the week's agenda.
Ask University of La Verne President Stephen Morgan to describe his
day, and he reaches into the breast pocket of his crisp, white dress shirt.
In his palm, he holds a 3 x 5 index card smudged with letters and numbers
that decipher his day's schedule.
"It is an absolute necessity, or I would forget what I had to do
next," he says about his daily companion. "Everyday is so different
that I wouldn't remember what my appointments were if I didn't write them
Although it may seem frustrating to live your day from the demands of
a card, Dr. Morgan knew it was a sacrifice he was going to have to make.
After working as assistant to the president in the past, he knew that
one of the requirements of the executive position would be to "not
lose control of your schedule." "Each day when I leave here, I
take a schedule for the day on a 3 x 5 card so I know what I am going to
do," he says.
Among the listings on today's card are a meeting with representatives
from the LeRoy Haynes Center, which will honor Dr. Morgan as the "Humanitarian
of the Year" at a weekend event, and his University 100 class. He has
been a co-facilitator in the freshmen seminar program for the past two years,
a practice he began in order to interact more with students. "It is
helpful for me to have a student perspective," Dr. Morgan says.
Also on his list are meetings with the President's Dinner Committee,
Jan Snow, assistant dean of the School of Continuing Education (SCE); Dr.
Loretta Rahmani, dean of student affairs; and the Space Committee. The latter
was the last scheduled appointment for the day. "There are always space
needs, and this committee was formed to help make decisions about priorities
in terms of space requests," says Dr. Morgan, who chairs the Committee
and has taken a special interest in the expansion of the University. "I
think in my lifetime, if La Verne could just double the size of its campus
that would at least allow us more parking," he says with a chuckle,
Dr. Morgan leaves his office daily around "5:45 to 6:30. It depends
on how much I have on my desk. "I will go home. The first thing I'll
do is get the mail and thumb through it to see if there is something that
is really important. It is probably not my turn tonight to fix dinner. Then,
we [Dr. Morgan and his wife Ann] will clean up dinner. "I think I have
some bills to pay tonight," he remembers.
Although most of Dr. Morgan's time is occupied by the duties of being
a University President, it is the time not listed on the index card that
he lives for. "What really gives meaning to my life, I think, are the
contacts with family and friends," he confesses. "Family time
is important to me, and when Kesley was young, and she had dance recitals
or some kind of a show...that was a top priority to me."
However, the times of attending his daughter's school functions have
been over since last fall, when Kesley left for the University of Denver
to major in vocal performance. In addition to his daughter leaving out of
state for college, his wife Ann is in her second year at a doctoral program
at the California School of Professional Psychology. "She is really
working hard, and I'm really pleased to see that she is doing something
she really wants to do," he says.
Dr. Morgan and his wife were married while she was still an undergraduate
in college. She worked as a public school teacher for 15 years. When Dr.
Morgan became University president, she left teaching to spearhead beautification
projects for the University. "She certainly sacrificed and made some
moves so I could pursue my career, so now I have the opportunity to support
her in what she wants to do," he says. "In terms of changing my
life, it just means I have to do more grocery shopping, and I fix dinner
Although it is being with family and friends that Dr. Morgan values,
his duties as University president are what receive most of his time. "I
guess in an ideal world I'd work four days a week and have three days off
each week. As it is, I pretty much work six days a week because there are
usually events that I am a part of," he says.
In addition to University involvements, Dr. Morgan serves on other organizations'
boards. Ask Dr. Morgan on how many boards he serves, and he opens his left
hand and counts out loud as he touches the tip of each finger. Soon, all
five fingers of one hand are extended. He stops, smiles and then counts
one more on his other hand. "Six. I think six. Yes," he says,
Dr. Morgan is on the board for the Mt. Baldy United Way, McKinley Children
Center, Inter-Valley Health Plan Board, Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center
Board, Executive Committee of the Association of Independent California
Colleges and Universities, and is the chair of the Western College Association.
"I think that it is very important to the local boards for La Verne
to have a presence in the community," he explains. "We are a regional
institution, and we recruit our students from the region, and we solicit
funds from this region, so I think it is important for me to have a high
"People say La Verne is a well kept secret, and I would really
like for that not to be the case," says Dr. Morgan about his participation
on academic boards. He believes that part of the reason the University is
unknown is because "it is a regional institution in a fairly invisible
Being visible is one of the reasons Dr. Morgan's schedule is so hectic.
He runs the University and makes an effort to be active in the community.
Wherever he goes, he is a representative of an organization. Due to his
affiliations, Dr. Morgan emphasizes his presentation and appearance.
"I do a lot of fundraising, and my theory has always been that
a fundraiser ought to really have a fairly neutral appearance because when
I walk in to talk to someone about giving money, I don't want them to think
his hair is a little long or his shoes aren't shined.
"I've always kind of dressed like a banker. I think that gives
people, sometimes if they don't know me, the idea that I am stuffy and formal
and very stiff. I don't view myself that way," he says. "I think
people think I sleep in a suit."
Ring the doorbell at his home, and one may find Dr. Morgan has shed
his pin striped suit and replaced it with a green and white striped polo
shirt and a pair of cream colored shorts. It is in shorts and not in dress
pants that Dr. Morgan works in his garden and mentally reviews the week's
problems. "I do a lot of thinking when I'm gardening," he says.
"It is very therapeutic, I think. No one bothers me when I'm gardening-no
telephone, no visitors."
His backyard is abundant with rose bushes and season flowers, but it
is in his hot house with a buzzing humidifier where Dr. Morgan's favorite
blossoms grow. "I've been growing orchids since I was 12 years old.
Right now, these orchids enjoy their environment, so they've been doing
"I've always liked growing things and this challenge of finding
and creating an environment for the orchids to grow," he says about
his obsession with the flower.
The challenge of creating a growing environment is not exclusive to
Dr. Morgan's backyard. "I'm interested in creating an environment where
we can make learning challenging, fun and stimulating and also provide an
environment for students to grow personally," he says, about his University
"To me, life is a big buffet table of experiences, and for me,
I like to take as many samples as I can," he explains. "I'd like
to provide as many samples as we possibly can and experiences for our students
In creating this environment and offering students with a sample of
experiences, Dr. Morgan believes the University needs to be running "perfectly.
And, we're a long way from it."
He describes his "dream for nirvana at La Verne" as whenever
someone in the University is "dealing with a client or staff member,
they would treat that person like that person was the most important person
in their life at that time. If we are going to be a personalized institution
like we want to be, and that it is what we are, then we need to be as user
friendly as we can be." Essentially, Dr. Morgan "would like to
see the University of La Verne achieve being the Nordstrom of higher education."
So, what is it about Nordstrom that attracts Dr. Morgan?
"I think the level of service at Nordstrom is higher," says
Dr. Morgan, who confesses that he would pay more to escape anonymity. "Nordstrom
has got a new standard for being user friendly, expensive but user friendly."
Although Dr. Morgan claims that he would like the University to inherit
the user friendly trait, and not the expensive characteristic, he says it
is difficult for the University to achieve this feat. "I think we in
higher education can do a lot better at- and faculty don't like to hear
this- treating our students as customers. You're paying a lot of money,
and if we don't have you as students, none of us would have jobs."
Even if the University would achieve the standards of service radiated
at Nordstrom, it still would not be good enough for Dr. Morgan. "I'm
never satisfied with anything. That's one of my traits. I'm always interested
in how we can make things better," he reveals. "I think an effective
leader always has to have a vision for an organization that is just a little
bit beyond their grasp."
Leadership is an area of study that Dr. Morgan has taken a special interest
in. It is this trait that lured him to pursue a master's degree in education
administration from the University of Southern California and a doctorate
degree in educational management from the University of Northern Colorado.
He lists leadership qualities: "I think a leader does have to have
the ability to create a vision, so he has to have some imagination of what
could this place be or his organization could be in the future.
"I think he has to be able to communicate well because he has to
help communicate his vision and relate to people.
"I think a manager has to have integrity; that's important. I think
the most effective managers are honest people who openly communicate and
"I think that effective leaders have a sense of humor. They cannot
take themselves too seriously or others too seriously," he says about
his qualifications for a leader.
Ask Dr. Morgan whether he is an effective leader, and he will say "nothing
is ever perfected. Life is a continuing process of maturation and experiences."
Dr. Morgan looks forward to experience and lives for it. "I guess
as you get older, you start to think I'd like to have the physical abilities
of a 20 year-old, but I wouldn't want to go back to that stage of not knowing
all the experiences that I've had in life. "This is a pretty good time.
I'm still young enough to be physically capable and able. I'm not anxious
of 'will I achieve my goals,' " he says. "When I give up having
goals and dreams, then I'm probably past my peak by far."
Dr. Morgan still has goals for himself and the University. He not only
would like to see the campus double its physical size, but add 200-500 undergraduates
to the student population. It seems that as one goal is met, another appears.
Dr. Morgan may not be satisfied, but he is not unhappy.
"I'm content in the sense that I still have an agenda to fulfill,
and I still think I have the ability here at La Verne, at least, to lead
us toward the next plateaus of excellence," he says.
As long as the next plateau is within reach, Dr. Morgan will continue
to fill 3 x 5 index cards and reach into his dress shirt breast pocket to
begin the next day.
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