This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Fresno Pacific calls former leader back

Fresno (Calif.) Pacific University President Pete C. Menjares resigned Sept. 11. Less than a week later, the FPU board of trustees appointed a former president to take his place.


Menjares had served as president since July 28, 2012.

“After prayerful consideration, Virginia and I have made the decision to relocate back to Southern California to be closer to our families and to explore new opportunities,” Menjares said in a news release.

The board unanimously appointed Richard Kriegbaum — who previously served as president from 1985 to 1997 — as FPU’s 12th president Sept. 16.

Kriegbaum said his goal is to establish a new, dual-leadership governance model and secure FPU’s financial stability.

Despite record enrollment, up 7 percent from last year, operating deficits accumulated over the last couple of years.

“Normally, strong enrollment is all you need,” he said. “But spending was not controlled to keep it under revenue.”
Prior to Kriegbaum’s appointment, the board approved a budget restructuring plan that includes salary cuts and an adjustment to retirement benefits.

Cabinet-level compensation cuts are twice as large as others, and a bottom salary threshold is in place. A few more staff reductions will be made, though faculty contracts will be honored.

“We’re working at some system changes that we’re hoping will help people perform more effectively,” he said. “So it’s kind of a good way to sit back and look at what you are doing to use every dollar as best you can for God’s work.”

New leadership model

The board endorsed a new leadership model that increases the role of the provost. Kriegbaum will focus on community relations, fundraising and external duties.

Provost Stephen Varvis — who adds the title of senior vice president — assumes a larger role in day-to-day operations of the main campus and regional centers.

Kriegbaum has worked in such a model in other organizations and is comfortable delegating many decisions and roles to Varvis.

He will focus over the next year on getting the new structure in place and will often be absent with external affairs and fundraising.

His commitment is open-ended, and he expects it to be two or three years.

“At my age, I’m not a potential 15-year president,” he said, noting the board will review how things are going at its June meeting and decide whether to begin a presidential search. “Obviously, one of the possibilities is the senior vice president could become president.”

Many students were uncomfortable with news of the resignation and have sought more information. Hispanic students are 40 percent of the student body, and Menjares was FPU’s first Hispanic president.

“He was deeply loved,” Kriegbaum said. “He was a symbol for them. He was a pastor at heart, and they could really sense that. There is a sense of grief and loss.”

Board chair John Thiesen and Pacific District Conference minister Gary Wall prayed with a group of students during a Sept. 16 vigil they held during board meetings. Kriegbaum and Varvis have continued to meet with one group of concerned students.

Menjares came to FPU from Biola University, where over an 18-year career his posts included vice provost for faculty development and academic effectiveness, associate provost for diversity leadership, education department chair and associate professor of education.

Return to office

Kriegbaum said the board approached him only a few days before Menjares’ resignation was submitted. When he told his wife, Peggi, a staff member in FPU’s Office of Continuing Education, about the board’s inquiry, she wasn’t surprised. The notion of a different role, possibly president, came to her two weeks earlier during her morning devotions.

“It came out of nowhere, a totally illogical thing,” he said. “She said, ‘I’m at peace.’ She knew two weeks before I did! Before the board even knew.”

During Kriegbaum’s 12-year tenure as president, FPU increased its profile and role in Fresno and the Central Valley. He joined the university in 1984 as administrative vice president, coming from Wheaton College in Illinois.

Since his presidency, Kriegbaum has remained connected to the university, teaching distance-learning courses through the Office of Continuing Education and serving as interim dean of the School of Business.

He spent eight years as CEO of United Way of Fresno County and has consulted with nonprofit organizations and institutions
of higher education on leadership and organizational development.

The Kriegbaums attend Butler Church, a Mennonite Brethren congregation adjacent to campus.

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