Q&A with Rob Oliver





Are you retiring?

“It’s retirement. It’s time to, I think, spend time with family and have a little more flexibility in our schedule. Angie and I want to travel and we have places and people to see. Who knows how many more years of good health one has? We’re blessed, and we’re blessed that Augustana is in a good place at a good time. If we can get some more of the things accomplished that are on our list, it’ll be a good time for us to hand the reins to someone else and, yes, retire.”


What’s left to accomplish?

“I think probably the biggest thing is to make sure that we maintain the momentum in our enrollment. I think a key part is making sure that we do everything that we need to do to once again attract good numbers coming into our class which will arrive in the fall of 2017.

Even though I won’t be here, I wasn’t to make sure that they are all here, and that we maintain the momentum in enrollment that we have. And that we maintain the forward movement in some of the programmatic changes that are happening on campus and make sure that we execute well and that we support our faculty and staff in the execution of those new programs and make sure we do well.

I mean, we can’t afford not to do well. We have to do well. So those are a couple of the things. And then obviously we have some projects on the horizon that we want to get done, so we want to move the ball forward on those as much as we can in terms of getting the apartment project up and running, which will start here fairly soon. And, if we’re lucky enough to raise the funding for [the new student activity center] get a spade on the ground and get going.”


Reaction to Monday’s standing ovation:

“I will tell you that as I walked [off the stage], I was hoping I’d be able to hold it together. This is a place that grabs a hold of your heart, in part because you get to know students and you get to know faculty and staff, and you get to know the magic that happens in this place as you watch the teaching and learning and growth that happens.

So we’ve been privileged to be a part of that. It’s hard to say that our time is over. It’s hard to imagine an end to that. It’s been a blessing for Angie and I. We feel so lucky that we were able to be here and be part of this community for this long, and so to imagine that one day I will walk out of this office and not come back, that’s kind of hard. And so I was hoping I could keep it together, and the response from everyone was really affirming.

I think my wife and I both felt really good, and that’s one of those things where you say, ‘You know, it’s not perfect, we’re not perfect, but, boy, it really feels good to have people at least tell you in that way that you meant something, that you did something, and that your contribution was valued. So yeah, it feels good. It was very affirming and gratifying, and humbling to tell you the truth. It’s hard to know what to do.”


Accomplishment that means most?

“First of all, I think of all the students that have passed through this place during our time, and all the hands that I’ve shaken across the stage as people have graduated from Augie and moved on to the next chapters of their lives, and I think about all the good things that are happening out there in the world from Augie graduates, and that’s the most gratifying thing.

Hey, we were here when we sent all these young people out into the world and what a good thing that is. On campus, I’m proud of some of the programmatic progress that;’s been made here. I’m proud of some of the facilities’ enhancements that we’ve been able to create and enable to happen. We didn’t do it.

I think it’s most important to understand that you get work done through others, and so I become an enabler. I become somebody who helps other people make their dreams come true, and I think that’s what’s happened here. There’s a whole lot of things that wanted to happen, and we helped them happen. So, when I arrived, there was really a need to upgrade the library and invest in that space. I mean, it was really suffering, and we were able to get it done and create this beautiful space for studying and learning and for young people to meet and work together, and I’m just proud of that and excited for it.

And then we were able to keep going and do other venues for teaching and learning. Of course, most recently, the [Froiland Science Complex], I mean, wow. So I’m just excited about those things, and I”m excited that we were able to help make those things happen. We didn’t make it happen; a lot of people did. We just enabled it. We just helped.”


Any part of the job you won’t miss?

“In my former career at the bank, I was president for 16 years, and now 11 years here. So for 27 years, you feel the weight of the institution on your shoulders. You feel the sense of obligation. And you’re trying to take care of people, and you’re trying to take care of the mission, and, yeah, there are moments. I always say I go to work to have fun—some days are more fun than others. So I think that’s the key, that there are those days where it’s heavy, it’s difficult and it’s challenging.

So an example of that would be that last year we had a student that committed suicide. What a difficult thing for this community, and certainly for his family to try to deal with. And so whatever one can do as a leader to help lead the organization through that, that’s what you do. And then obviously other things—trying to raise money, trying to help make decisions that are not easy to make—after a while there’s a fatigue with that, and it’s cumulative, I think.

And so you do reach a point where you feel like it’s maybe time. It didn’t happen all at once. It’s one of those things where the realization begins to creep up on you as you age and as you watch your family age. It’s like ‘well, I want more flexibility so I can be a part of maybe some new things that are happening, and to maybe tackle some of the long list of things that Angie and I have on our list of places to go and people to see and time to spend that we haven’t been able to do.’ So it’s a variety of things that add up, and after a while you say ‘You know, I do think it’s time. It’s not an easy time, but it’s time.’”


Involvement in search for a new president?

“First of all, one of the things that one does when one announces his retirement is you begin a process of letting go. So one of the things you have to do is let the board now do its work and let them form the search committee which will include representatives from the faculty, staff and students. They’ll put together a search committee, and I need to let that process take place, and so now my role will be to do whatever they ask me to help facilitate that search.

I will be at the ready to help if ask. On the other hand, I’ll also be ready to stay out of it, because they need to do their job. Sometimes the best thing to do is just to stay out and let them do it and let the community move on, because that’s what needs to happen. Again, that will be hard, because I’m used to being involved in key decisions, but this is a time to begin letting go.

This is that first opportunity. I’ve been through it myself when I went through the search process, and when I was on the Board (of Trustees), we went through the search process not once but twice. So I know about this, and I know that I need to step aside and be ready to do what I’m asked to do. That might be to help answer questions, to help inform people if they have questions that they need answers to about the presidency, or about Augustana, I’m happy to do that.


Parting thoughts:

“I just, I want students to know what a blessing, what a privilege it’s been to be here, and to be among students, and you can’t get to know everybody. You can’t possibly do that, but to be able to watch student-athletes in action, to be able to watch our choirs and our bands and our orchestras and our artists and all of those things, to be able to celebrate what’s going on.

To go to the symposium and to hear our students present their research and their work. Those are really joyful times for us. We’re privileged, and that’s I think what we’ll miss the most. But, you know what, we can come back, and we can go to choirs and plays and ballgames. We can do all that. We’ll be on the sidelines cheering our students along, and of course supporting our coaches and our teachers and our music leaders and our artists. We’ll be doing that, because that’s what we love.”

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