As President Mark Weiss nears retirement, he offers advice for the new president and for the Western community as he reflects on the “the best job I’ve ever had.”
Yet, this isn’t the first time Weiss has retired. In 2001, Weiss left the international electronics firm of Siemens AG because he wanted to focus on his family. “I traveled quite a bit, and I felt like I was away too much,” Weiss said. “We decided that I would indeed retire, and I was fortunate to be in a situation to do so.”
During that first retirement, Weiss did some consulting work, but his wife, Meg, wasn’t satisfied. “For about two years, my wife kept on telling me I was failing in retirement, and I need to find another job,” Weiss said. He said Meg discovered the Western position for executive vice president, administration and finance while they were visiting their children who were attending Willamette University.
“It was the right time for me and the right time for the university, I think, to bring perhaps a new perspective on financial management, and I was just delighted with the job,” Weiss said. “I worked for John Minahan when he returned as president, and he and I just hit it off fabulously. “I really appreciated his mentorship. If it were not for him, I absolutely would have failed in this job because of the difference in cultures in a corporate world versus a world of academia. And, he helped me understand that in large part,” Weiss said.
After Minahan retired in 2011, Weiss moved into the role of interim president. The appointment was made permanent the following year. He attempted to retire a second time after tirelessly working to ensure the university was fiscally stable. However, when it was announced that the Oregon University System was dissolving, he offered to stay and lead WOU through this major transition.
When he steps down June 30, Weiss plans to model Minahan and his interactions with the university community. “My goal is to really be very much in the background and make sure I stay out of the way of the new president, just as John Minahan was,” Weiss said. “No matter how much I may have called him for advice, he actually tried not to provide it because he wanted to keep a certain distance and felt that new administration should not be influenced by perspectives from the past necessarily. But, of course, I’m available, if and as needed.”
Yet, he does have some advice for the new president, Rex Fuller.
“My tips and advice would be to absolutely empower our staff and help them in being as successful as they possibly can be,” Weiss said. “Empower them. Don’t micromanage their activities—you really have great staff in place. Make sure that they’re successful at doing their jobs because that’s what I’ve tried to do. I think we’ve done okay.”
Weiss encourages the campus community to support and interact with the new president, but most importantly, be flexible. “We must also be willing to change,” he said. “Now, I’m not sure what exactly I mean by change, but the world around us is changing significantly and has changed significantly. [In academia,] my observation is that we’re slow to change—many times for good reason and, sometimes, because we’ve always done things the way we have.
“We just simply need to be more flexible. We need to help students get to graduation in an efficient manner, so they’re not racking up debt that they’ll never be able to pay. I always say that affordability equals access, and you can’t have access to a university if you can’t afford it,” Weiss said.
Change also provides opportunities. “I’m feeling the time is right to make the move here, and let this new board start off with a brand new president, and move forward in a great direction. I’m confident we have a great team here,” Weiss said.
However, he said, retirement “is happening with very mixed emotions because of the love that I’ve come to have for Western—all its faculty and staff, particularly the students that I’ve come to know over the years, and the difference that this institution makes in their lives. I mean, that’s what we’re here for, and that’s the satisfaction that is much more direct and impactful.
“This is the best job I’ve ever had. And, I’ve had a few, but this has been really, really good.”
In his retirement, Weiss will continue his community activities, particularly as a member of Salem Health board of trustees. And, it offers him the chance to fish. “But, it’s not catching the fish; it’s about being outside and enjoying the experience of going fishing or being on the ocean or being on the bay,” Weiss said. “It’s about the experience, not necessarily about the result. I think every fisherman would say that, but nevertheless, it’s nice to catch a fish once in a while.”
by Meg Artman, WOU student media adviser