Pacific Lutheran University President Thomas W. Krise announced Thursday he is leaving the job when his contract runs out in May.
Krise, the university’s president since 2012, will stay at PLU as a professor of English.
In a letter to PLU staff members, he expressed gratitude to the university community and wrote about the school’s ongoing preparations for a program review and public fundraising campaign.
“This important work of program review and campaign will lay out our next chapter and help PLU position itself for a robust future,” Krise wrote.
He did not explain his reasons for leaving the post and did not return a call seeking comment.
PLU board of regents chairman Gary Severson said dissatisfaction with Krise did not prompt the change. He said the board had been prepared to offer Krise the chance to renew his contract, but instead agreed to move him into the professorship and give him the title of president emeritus.
“It was really a mutual agreement to do some things that he wanted to do,” Severson said.
University spokeswoman Donna Gibbs said an interim president will be announced “within the next week” to lead the university for about a year until a nationwide search identifies the next permanent PLU president.
She did not expand on Krise’s reasons for departure but said the school’s fund-raising was at an all-time high.
During Krise’s time as president, PLU raised $46 million and had increased its endowment from $71 million to $91 million, Gibbs said.
Several students were surprised at the announcement, which came via a campus-wide e-mail Thursday morning.
“We didn’t know it was happening and you’d think as student leaders we would have seen something about it,” said Student Body Vice President Taylor Bozich, a senior biology and global studies major.
PLU’s reported financial difficulties were mentioned among early speculations for Krise’s decision to leave.
In 2015, Standard & Poor’s said PLU could be in default of a $54 million bond agreement for not having enough readily available funds. S&P cut the rating of the school to one step above junk bonds, citing decreasing enrollment and applications as well as a $5.5 million deficit in 2014 and 2015.
“I’m curious to know whether it was his decision or not,” senior Cara Gillespie said. “It’s risky to have big changes in leadership when you are going through a financial crisis and so I question that. And I hope for the sake of PLU’s future that the board has someone in mind.”
In Krise’s five years with the university, he has lead institutional changes regarding faculty pay, social justice movements and more. That left some faculty members wondering what will be next.
“Even though I understand the budget situation is serious, he for me, was a really important leader,” assistant English professor Adela Ramos said. “He supported us 100 percent on on social justice issues.”
She called Krise “a really important figure and leader who I was also never afraid to get close to.”
“I just hope that whoever comes after him can emulate some of his best aspects,” Ramos said.
Krise was 50 when hired as the first non-Lutheran leader in PLU’s history. The Parkland-based university was founded in 1890 and has about 3,00 students. He replaced Loren Anderson, PLU’s head for 20 years.
Before being hired at PLU, Krise was dean of the Arts and Sciences College at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. He had served in the Air Force for 22 years after graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy and retired as a lieutenant colonel.
An announcement on the PLU website listed highlights of Krise’s tenure as launching its first professional doctorate program, in nursing and new graduate programs in finance, marketing and accounting.
In June 2015, Krise presented King Harald V of Norway with an honorary doctor of laws degree when the monarch visited the region for the school’s 125th anniversary.
Later that year, Krise oversaw the university’s plan to sell its public radio station, KPLU-FM, to the University of Washington.
In August 2016, Krise hired the Rev. Jen Rude, the nation’s first openly gay university pastor at a Lutheran school. He also pledged to protect students regardless of religious beliefs or immigration status in the wake of President Donald Trump’s election.
Staff writer Genny Boots contributed to this report.