What is Lou gonna do?

Originally run on 7/20/06

Come August Eastern President Lou Hencken will sit in his office watching students return to campus. This, he says, is when he will know for sure if he is retiring when his contract is up in June or not.

“For the last 39 years, every August I get excited for the upcoming school year,” said Hencken. “The way I am is about the first of August I start looking out there and saying, ‘I really miss seeing students walking by here.’ If all of a sudden I look out there and say, ‘Oh my gosh they’re coming back,’ then it’s time for me to go.”

Hencken faced a similar decision last year when the Board of Trustees offered him a one-year contract extension.

“Last year when the board extended the contract, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do this,” said Hencken. “But I still do have the energy, I know I have another year.”

But whether he has any years beyond that is a question Hencken currently does not have an answer to.

“I have to be totally immersed and excited about this job,” said Hencken. “And the questions is whether or not I have the energy level to keep it up.”

History at Eastern:

Hencken’s energy level has allowed him to serve Eastern for 40 years.

He began his career at Eastern as a resident hall adviser, then a graduate assistant and then as resident hall director.

Hencken was residence hall director for three years. During this time beer and wine was not allowed in the residence halls.

“I would go to the store and buy a six pack of soda, it would be put it in a bag,” said Hencken. “Everyone would tease me saying, ‘Hey Lou, we know what you have in there,’ and about the third year those jokes stopped being funny and I realized I didn’t have the enthusiasm for the job anymore.”

When he realized his enthusiasm was waning, Hencken resigned from his job.

“I actually resigned in October of that year, then sure enough the job for assistant director of housing opened up here,” said Hencken.

Hencken has worked as associate housing director, assistant housing director and was named director of housing in 1975. In 1989, Hencken was named associate vice president for student affairs. In 1992, he was named vice president for student affairs. In 2001, Hencken was named Eastern’s president when Carol Surles resigned due to health reasons. A national search was conducted in the fall of 2001 but was deemed unsuccessful. In 2003 the search was scheduled to continue but was canceled due to concerns over the state revenue and preparing for the university’s 10-year reaccredidation review. Hencken’s contract was extended again in April and expires on June 30, 2007.

Presidential Search and transition:

If Hencken does decide to retire, he wants the Board of Trustees to be prepared for the presidential search and transition that will take place.

‘I’m a person that’s very pro-active, if you hear that we’re having meetings with the board about presidential transition then that’s true,” said Hencken. “I want these folks to be ready for when we do have to do a search. “

Hencken says that the first step of a presidential search and transition is communication.

“You have to start talking to the board and saying, ‘you need to start thinking about what’s going to happen when I’m not going to be here,'” said Hencken.

Hencken wants the Board of Trustees to be prepared for the presidential search due to personal experience when he was president of the Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center board of directors.

“I used to be chair of the hospital and one day the CEO came in and said, ‘By the way I’m taking a job in Atlanta,'” said Hencken. “That was quite a shock and because that happened to me and I don’t want that to happen to anyone else. “

Hencken said that even if they start the training now, the presidential search might not take place for six to 24 months, but when it does the board members will be prepared.

Board members have already begun to address the presidential transition process. Board member Roger Kratochvil attended a workshop on presidential transition during the Association of Governing Board Conference. During the April Board of Trustees meeting, Kratochvil said that at the conference it was said that a planned exit is best, something Hencken knows.

“Ideally and I know this isn’t possible,” said Hencken. “The way I would like to go would be all of a sudden on a Friday say, ‘I’m not coming back,’ so I’m not a lame duck, but I know that isn’t possible in this sort of a job. “

Kratochvil also learned at the conference that former university presidents should not be involved in the search but still be visible to the collegiate community.

Hencken has already admitted that during any presidential search his input will be non-existent.

“I will have to stay completely out of it, that is the only thing a president can do,” said Hencken. “If there is a search committee meeting in the Union, I need to be in city hall; I need to be that far away.”

“The same is true during the hiring process because I would be bias and say, ‘Well I think you should hire this person,'” said Hencken.

Whether Hencken decides to retire in June, he feels that it is important for the board to start planning for the eventual transition.

“You start having them think about that, and when you have a president that’s 62 years old they have to realize, ‘He’s not going to be here forever,'” said Hencken. “People have to realize next year is the 40th year I have been at the university.”

The reasons why

This is not the first time Hencken has contemplated retirement during his 40-year tenure at the University.

“I’ve been thinking about retiring for 10 years,” said Hencken.

The question Hencken asks himself when deciding whether to retire from the University is always the same. Does he have the enthusiasm for the job?

“Do I have the enthusiasm?” said Hencken. “I take this job seriously and think that I have to take students and do the best job I can so people don’t get cheated.”

Doing the best job he can means dedicating himself 24 hours a day to Eastern.

“It is a 24 hour and seven day a week job,” said Hencken. “Someone asked me in the spring what my plans were and I said don’t ask me now.”

Hencken did not want to answer the question in April because he said that springs are the most difficult time for a university president.

“That’s when you’re in Springfield and fighting for dollars, and the past couple of years there haven’t been a lot of dollars,” said Hencken. “In the summer you get regenerated, the fall is a great time because people are excited.”

While fall is an exciting time for Hencken, he admits that recently his excitement has lowered for participating in certain events.

“There is no question about it,” said Hencken. “There are some things, that all of a sudden, are just a chore.”

Hencken’s work schedule is another factor in his decision.

“Last year I worked 42 days in a row and that just wears you out,” said Hencken.

Hencken’s effect on Eastern:

Even if Hencken does retire, his impact on Eastern will be felt long after his last day.

“He’s just a person that has such compassion. He cares for students and loves this university,” said Mark Hudson, director of housing. “How could one man have more of an impact on campus? He bleeds Eastern blue in the truest sense of the word.”

Hudson believes that Hencken is a good president because he is a good leader.

“Being a good president is about being a good leader,” said Hudson. “Lou Hencken is a leader extraordinaire. He talks about it and he role models it.”

Provost Blair Lord, one of Hencken’s closest colleagues, said that Hencken was successful at Eastern because he believed in what he does.

“He became president on the same day I became provost, and we have an wonderful working relationship,” said Lord. “He has brought real stability to the senior management team at Eastern.”

When Hencken and Lord took their positions Eastern had been experiencing a number of years of high management turnover, said Lord.

“A critical need then was for a steady hand and newfound stability in the senior management ranks,” said Lord. “President Hencken certainly brought this to his presidency.”

While Lord praised Hencken’s management skills, Allen Lanham, dean of Booth Library, praised his work with the library.

“He has accomplished so many projects, many of them highly visible to the campus and the community,” said Lanham. “He has been supportive of us providing the best possible information services to the students and professors.”

It is Hencken’s work with students that many believe will be his legacy at Eastern.

“He is a warm, friendly, people-oriented person which has served him and Eastern very well during his years in the position,” said Lord.

Hencken is such a people person that during a recent campus tour of housing office graduate students, Hencken saw them out side of his office touring the campus and came outside just to say hello, said Hudson.

“They couldn’t believe it,” said Hudson. “One told me they didn’t even know who the president was at their college, and here was the president of the university coming outside to say hello. I don’t think you will find a university president who is as accessible as he is.”

His accessibility is because Hencken loves working with Eastern students.

“I love being with students,” said Hencken. “I really do.”

This love of students does not go unnoticed by Hencken’s colleagues.

“What I really appreciate is that he cares so much about students and he makes sure as an institution we keep that in the forefront,” said Hudson. “Lou’s legacy is care for the students.”

Hencken said it was difficult for him to pick a moment he was most proud of during his 40-year tenure at Eastern.

“Fundraising has been great, the growth in enrollment has been great, working with the alumni, faculty, students, foundation has been great,” said Hencken. “It’s hard to pick just one.”

After retirement:

If Hencken does choose to retire, he said he would finish out his term and then transition into teaching.

“In my contract it states I can teach part time for three years, said Hencken. “So I won’t go from running to sitting down.”

Hencken said that after he retires from Eastern he is looking forward to traveling.

“I am looking forward to travel and doing some other things, said Hencken. “But who knows what will happen.”

One thing that will not happen is Hencken spending all his time improving his golf game. “I definitely don’t want to go home and play golf in the morning and then wonder what I am going to do,” said Hencken. “So when I do retire, I will have some other things to do other than just play golf.

Next year:

Whether or not he decides to retire, Hencken still has one year officially left on his contract. In that year he has several plans for Eastern.

“The biggest problem you face as president is funding,” said Hencken. “I really do believe in quality and we want the best quality for the students, so the funding issue takes a lot of our time.”

Next year Hencken plans on having the vice presidents doing more work on campus, so he can travel to Springfield to get more funding for the university and visit alumni for fundraising activities.

“We’ve been pretty fortunate in fundraising. We’ve raised 11 million dollars in three years,” said Hencken. “And I think that’s going to just be the beginning.”

Hencken and the other administrators have a list of certain projects they want to finish.

Number one, according to Hencken, and the biggest of all is the Fine Arts building which is scheduled for completion in fall 2007.

Hencken would also like to decide where to put textbook rental.

“I want to come to resolution on either we’re going to move textbook rental or not,” said Hencken. “And now that we have a pretty good estimate of what it’s going to cost, I would like to do it.”

“If we could move that it would create a space for honors and nursing and those are two projects that are do able in a year or a year-and-a-half,” said Hencken.

The nursing program is another aspect of the upcoming year that Hencken is very excited about.

“When I saw the applicants for the job and then who we hired I was very excited,” said Hencken. “The first class would enter in fall 2007. It might be nice to see the first class go in.”

Funding for the nursing program and the fine arts building are the two main issues that Hencken faces in the upcoming year.

“The fine arts building is going to be a big building and we’re going to need money to pay the utilities and we’re going to need money for the equipment in there,” said Hencken.

“I believe the only limiting factors in the size in the first classes of nurses is the funding,” said Hencken. “We’re working with the state and with the federal government.”

Advice to future presidents:

While Hencken would have to stay far away from any future presidential searches, he did have a clear idea of what traits a president should have.

“As a president, the most important job is working with people,” said Hencken. “I would hope that when they do look for a president, they look for someone with people skills and if you have people skills just about everything else works.”

Hencken returned to Eastern this week from a vacation, a vacation that was used to contemplate his future at the university.

“My vacation was wonderful and I’m excited to come back,” said Hencken.

Before he left for vacation, Hencken said, “I’m going to do a lot of thinking over my vacation period and let everyone know in September.”

When ever Hencken does decide to announce his retirement, whether it be this year or years from now, he has a clear vision of what that announcement will include.

“Whenever I announce that this will be my last year everyone will hear that this is what I want to do, I want to raise this amount of money, I want to finish this building, so people we see I have these goals and I’m working on them. “

“People are going to remember how I left as president, not the fact that I opened Stevenson tower or what a great job I did,” said Hencken, “but they will remember how I leave.”