Alan Norton Named Interim Vice President of Finance
With the departure of current Vice President of Finance and Administration Mike Frandsen set for July 1, the College announced last week that Dr. Alan Norton will fill the position as interim vice president until administrators select a permanent replacement.
Norton has considerable experience working as a financial administrator and executive in higher education. From 1996 to 2014, Norton served as vice president and treasurer at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN. He has also held several interim positions, including interim president and CEO at Emeriti Retirement Health Solutions and, most recently, interim vice president for finance administration and treasurer at Ohio Wesleyan University.
“I’m very pleased Alan has agreed to serve as interim vice president for finance and administration,” President Marvin Krislov wrote in a statement announcing Norton’s selection. “His deep experience will greatly benefit Oberlin during this transitional period.”
Norton is scheduled to begin May 1 as a special assistant before assuming the interim position to ensure a smooth transition. He was not available for comment and was “traveling on personal matters,” according to Frandsen.
Frandsen’s decision to step down after three years of service was somewhat of a surprise. His brief time here was especially notable given the 37-year tenure of his predecessor, Ron Watts, who retired June 2014.
“I came to Oberlin hoping to move to a presidency and a great opportunity came along at Wittenberg,” Frandsen wrote in an email to the Review, referencing his recent appointment as the 15th president of Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio. “I notified President Krislov and Board Chair McGregor in early February. I will be here through the board meeting in June.”
According to Frandsen, Norton is not interested in the permanent position and his role will be up to the new president. Frandsen added that he had been familiar with Norton before he was hired to fill the position.
“I got to know Dr. Norton a little bit during his time serving Ohio Wesleyan University in a similar interim role,“ Frandsen wrote. “From what I know and from what I’ve heard from people at OWU, I know he will be very good replacement.”
Norton will take on his new role as Oberlin faces mounting financial difficulties. Increasing debt has challenged the administration to lower costs and work toward continuing fiscal viability while operating under the Strategic Plan’s mission to increase financial accessibility and compositional diversity — an especially difficult challenge in light of the high percentage of revenue generated from tuition.
“I think any incoming vice president of finance is tasked with creating a financially sustainable future for Oberlin, which we are not currently on track for,” said Jesse Docter, College junior and student senator, detailing the role he hopes Norton will take in addressing campus finances. “The way that this job is being described right now in the administration is since it’s an interim position … they are supposed to maintain administrative inertia and not bring their own vision to this job.”
Frandsen agreed that Norton would hold an important position in the administration.
“The role of vice president of finance and administration is involved, to some degree, in aspects of everything at Oberlin,” Frandsen wrote. “He will be an important provider of information and counsel to the President and board as Oberlin implements the Strategic Plan.”
However, Docter was critical of current financial management at the College, stressing the need for changes in the future.
“I think the Strategic Plan lays out pretty clearly that Oberlin needs to make major shifts in both our revenue generation and cost model,” Docter said. “It doesn’t seem that there is any clear administrative direction about what those shifts will be except for the cost-cutting measures which Frandsen has been taking in recent months.”
Frandsen agreed with Docter’s assessment.
“Oberlin’s situation is not financially sustainable going forward,” Frandsen wrote. “Oberlin, and many colleges and universities, cannot sustain the ways they have operated. All will need to make choices; there are many needs and wants and limited resources. Oberlin is in a strong financial position and has many choices — more than most — but there will have to be choices among competing priorities.”
Frandsen’s departure aligns with those of other senior administrators, creating a noticeable vacuum in the administration. Krislov will also leave this summer for Pace University, while the retirement of Vice President and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Debra Chermonte leaves another prominent administrative position vacant. Krislov has appointed a search committee to find a new dean of Admissions. However, the College’s future president will decide who will be the permanent replacement for the position. Frandsen said these vacancies “will present both challenges and opportunities.”
“I think they are trying to maintain some consistency within the administration,” Docter added.
He said that even though Norton is new, “they are trying to make it so that it doesn’t go in a radically different direction and make it so it reflects previous administrative governance processes.”