Paul Lister is interim
president of Eureka
College. Prior to this
appointment, he served in the Army from 1963 to 1971 and the Army Reserve until
1995, when he retired with the rank of Major General. Following active military
duty, Lister was part owner and manager of a furniture retail and design
business on Maui, working in medical
administration, and became president of a chamber of commerce. He came to Eureka College
in 1996 as director of the Ronald W. Reagan Leadership Program and as a teacher
in the college’s business department, assuming his current position in 2003.
Lister earned a
bachelor’s degree in mathematics, a master’s degree in community organization
and urban planning and an MBA.
Lister and his wife
live in Eureka
and have two grown children.
Tell about your
background, schools attended, family, etc.
I was born in El Paso, Texas, and grew up in the Rio Grande
valley between El Paso and Las
Cruces, N.M., in a 500-person town
called La Mesa, N.M. My dad ran a cotton gin, and my mother
was a part-time teacher.
I attended New
Mexico State University, graduated with a degree in
mathematics in 1963, and accepted a regular Army commission upon graduation,
becoming Lt. Lister. My active duty with the Army spanned 1963 and 1971, with
ranks from 2nd Lieutenant to major and including three tours of duty
Upon leaving active service, I remained in the U.S. Army Reserve until I
retired in 1995 at the rank of major General. My last assignment was as Deputy
Commanding General-U.S. Army Pacific. Military schools attended include the
U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and the U.S. Army War College. I
have three Bronze Stars for Valor, a Silver Star and two Distinguished Service
Medals from my military service.
Following active military duty, I was part owner and manager
of a furniture retail and design business on Maui.
In 1974, I completed graduate school in Honolulu,
receiving master’s degrees in community organization and urban planning. I then
embarked on a career in medical administration, serving as program director for
the Cancer Center of the University of Hawaii, administrator for the Honolulu
Medical Group, and ultimately as vice president of The Queen’s Medical
Center-Hawaii’s largest hospital. While at Queen’s, I attended the University of Hawaii’s Executive MBA program,
receiving a graduate degree in Business administration. Following 10 years at
Queen’s, I became the president of the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, a
position I held for four years. My family and I left Hawaii
and came to Eureka in 1996, when I assumed the
directorship of the Ronal W. Reagan Leadership Program at Eureka College
and taught in the college’s business department. I currently hold the rank of
associate professor. In addition to my teaching and Reagan Program
responsibilities, I’ve worked in guiding the college’s strategic planning
I assumed the duties of interim president of Eureka College
in September of 2003. This appointment
is expected to last one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half years. I’m married to
Martha L. Lister and we have two sons: Eric and Andrew.
What made you decide
to go into the military after graduating from college? Why did you opt to
remain in the Reserve until 1995?
I had developed a real affinity for the military while going
through ROTC. I found I liked, and was pretty good at, the whole military
leadership thing. I also found tanks to be romantic and fascinating. I later
found out they’re cold and very dirty, but they’re excellent places to be when
someone’s shooting at you.
I remained in the Army Reserve almost by accident. When I
was out-processing at Oakland Army Terminal in 1971, one of the last stations I
went through was a records check by a young Adjutant General Lieutenant. She
said, "Sir, I notice you have a reserve commission. Would you like to keep it?"
I thought briefly and said yes. I thought little more about it until 1973, when
I was in graduate school and got a postcard in the mail advertising the
position of operations officer for the famous 100th Battalion, 442d Infantry in
applied, got the job, and the rest, as they say, is history.
How did your military
experience help you in the business world?
One learns huge lessons about oneself, one’s leadership
abilities, and one’s people skills while leading men in combat. I learned to
trust others, my own ability to make decisions, and how to make decisions. I
learned there’s a difference between being scared and being a coward. I learned
all of us are smarter than any of us. I learned that, once bullets begin to
fly, Murphy was an optimist. I learned the value of preparation and planning.
The military also taught me to be a teacher. I actually went
to a six-week "How to Teach" course at Ft.
Sill, Okla., before
they would let me stand before an ROTC class. It was one of the best, most
practical courses I’ve ever taken. Many who occupy teaching positions haven’t a
clue how to do it and would be greatly improved by taking a military
You’ve had careers in
retail, medical administration, and hold an MBA. What prompted your interest in
The careers in business were prompted by a need to feed my
family. Once I was in them, I saw a need for specific education to be good at
what I was doing. I was very successful as a small business retailer on Maui, but that was due to being in the right place at the
right time-we were the only upscale furniture business on the island at the
time of the huge condominium boom of the early 1970s. It certainly wasn’t due
to my skill and knowledge about business. I still love business; the great
American Heroes are there. Business people match their skills and abilities
against complex problems everyday, and live or die professionally by their
decisions. Business is no place for wimps.
Who or what
influenced your decision to go into teaching?
I taught ROTC from 1967-1970, mainly teaching leadership and
military history. I loved it from the start, and once I began to get positive
reinforcement from my students, it was hardly like going to work. I later
taught as an adjunct professor at both the University of Hawaii
and Brigham Young-Hawaii. Again, I loved it and knew I wanted to go into
teaching fulltime toward the end of my career.
Tell about your
decision to relocate from Hawaii to Eureka in 1996. Why were
you attracted to Eureka
I had left the Chamber of Commerce presidency in 1995, just
after retiring from the Army Reserve. I was looking at some medical
administrative positions in Hawaii when a
friend approached me with an ad from the Wall
Street Journal-the ad for the position at Eureka. He said, "I know you’ll probably
never leave Hawaii,
but this sounds perfect for you." I didn’t know where Eureka was, but I surely knew who Ronald Reagan
was. I corresponded with then-dean Gary Gammon, and the school flew me to Illinois to interview. I
fell in love with the college immediately. It was exactly the kind of place I
wanted to teach-a small school with small classes, historical traditions, in a
small town with wonderful people and a great lifestyle.
Describe the Ronald
Regan Leadership Program at Eureka
and your responsibilities as director.
This endowed program at Eureka College-President
Reagan’s alma mater-is a combination leadership and scholarship program
dedicated to the identification and preparation of young leaders who are also
receiving a superb liberal arts and sciences education. Each year, five
freshmen are awarded a full tuition, four-year scholarship in a national
competition. The program not only emphasizes academic excellence, it also
prepares and trains these young leaders in the vision and values associated
with leadership through service.
The 20 Reagan Fellows on campus at any given time are
expected to exert their leadership at the college and in the community through
a variety of service projects. The Reagan Fellows also get two fully funded
mentorships with prominent leaders throughout the world. This last aspect is
the "magic carpet" that makes the program unique. We’ve had Reagan Fellows
mentor with doctors caring for AIDS patients in Zimbabwe,
with museum directors in Amsterdam, with
governors, with Judge Robert Bork, with U.S. Ambassador to Argentina, and
with the U.S. Secretary of State.
My job with these kids is to guide and advise them, assist
them with their mentorships, coach them in their service requirements, and help
them make decisions that will maximize their potential as leaders and fulfill
How did you become
involved in EC’s strategic planning? Describe the planning process and the
My involvement was somewhat natural, as I was the principal
faculty member in the area of management, and strategic planning is an integral
part of management. The president of the college asked me to head up the
initial planning effort in 1997, but I convinced him that, unless the CEO was
leading the effort, the result was likely to be neither a plan nor strategic.
We’ve had a documented strategic plan since 1998, and it gets reviewed and
modified every year. We’re now moving into a planning effort that will involve
the board of trustees much more heavily.
The result of these planning efforts has been, among other
things, a new mission statement for the college, a set of common values, and an
operating plan that’s guided our efforts. In 2003-2004, the strategic planning
process was converted into the self-study required by our accrediting agency.
The success of their visit in March is one of the major accomplishments of our
You were appointed
interim president for a maximum of two-and-a-half years. How was the decision
We arrived at two-and-a-half years because I’m determined to
retire in mid-2006. I have other things I want to do, and I want to still have
the health and energy to do them. Two and a half years seems a reasonable time
frame to make substantial changes in the operation, finances, and culture of
the college. It’s also short enough that I probably can’t do any severe,
long-term damage to the place.
College needs the strong
hand and vision of a president who’ll make a long-term investment in the
school. For that reason, I’m hopeful the mid-2006 target date isn’t exactly
that-a target date. I hope a new, permanent president can be found by then.
Such an arrangement is fairly common on college campuses when a presidential
transition is taking place.
Are you still
teaching during your presidency? If not, do you anticipate going back to it?
No, I’m not currently teaching, although I’m still running
the Reagan Program. The greatest difficulty and reluctance in taking on the
presidency was in leaving the classroom. However, to attempt to continue
teaching would almost certainly mean I wouldn’t do justice to either the
presidency or the teaching.
I love teaching because it’s so immediately rewarding. When
you can give students a new concept and watch them get it, that’s something
akin to magic. When you’re approached by students or alumni, and they tell you
something you did-in or out of the classroom-changed their life, you get the
real feeling of making a difference.
I also find, as many before have, that the best way to learn
is to teach. I’m continually learning, and that’s also profoundly satisfying.
Good teaching is much more than imparting knowledge. It’s molding, shaping,
coaching, and growing students into something better and more complete. There’s
much the same satisfaction, I think, in teaching and in creating a work of art.
In teaching, the work created is a stronger, wiser, deeper, more competent, and
happier human being. What could be better?
Talk about Eureka’s recent decision
to lower tuition rates.
Our decision to lower our tuition from $18,700 per year to
$13,000 per year was a relatively simple one, once we got into it. We realized
that we, as most other schools, were playing a shell game with prospective
students. The pricing of college tuition is out of control, and the way it’s
presented to prospective students and their parents is out of control. We care
about our students and their families and are simply trying to make it easier
for them to understand exactly what they’re being asked to pay and the value
they’ll receive for that tuition. That’s good business.
If you ask a number of students on most college campuses,
you’ll find no two people paid the same tuition. This is because the final
amount paid isn’t the full tuition, but a price that’s been discounted through
an incredibly complex set of forms, meetings, and bargaining sessions. After
running this gauntlet, most students and their families end up paying different
amounts of money, usually much less than the advertised price, to get the same
basic educational value.
This shell game of tuition pricing is one of the key factors
in the increasing cost of education. We’re determined to eliminate the
confusion surrounding tuition and financial aid by doing way with all the
discounting and by advertising the real tuition figure. We’re just making it
easier to understand the real bottom line.
Under this initiative, everyone starts with the same low
tuition–$13,000 a year for a private, liberal arts education. Students get no
discount, but they can still receive academic achievement scholarships that can
reduce this tuition. These scholarships are based on a simple formula that
measures a student’s academic track record and their potential for college
success. State and federal educational grants also often reduce the
out-of-pocket cost even more, making Eureka’s
tuition competitive with the flagship state universities.
What we hope and are sure this will do is get more people to
as their educational choice. We want people to know we aren’t expensive when
compared to state schools. We want people to know students can get a strong
liberal arts education, with the benefit of small classes and individual
attention, on a campus that’s safe and has a strong sense of community, without
having to spend huge sums or go deeply in debt.
What’s the feedback
been so far?
We’ve received an enormous amount of media attention,
including front-page stories in the Chicago
Tribune, the Kansas City Star and
the Miami Herald. We were featured in
a six-minute segment on national Fox News and have had wonderful response from
local newspapers, TV and radio. It seems a college lowering its tuition is a
big story. Most importantly, we’ve begun to see just what we had hoped; more
students and their parents are looking at the value inherent in a Eureka College
education. Our applications and our deposits are up. Maybe most gratifying is
the number of high school juniors who’ve inquired is almost triple anything
we’ve ever had in the past.
EC is a liberal arts
college. With your background, would you like to see more emphasis placed on
business courses and degrees as opposed to the humanities?
Absolutely not. EC is really a college that prepares its
graduates to go on to careers, graduate schools or professional schools with a
very strong liberal arts core. Our largest majors aren’t in the liberal arts.
They’re in business, education, communication, accounting, criminal justice,
and many other fields. What a solid liberal arts core curriculum does is give
all of our students, regardless of major, the educational background to understand
the context of all they’ll face in their lives. It’s estimated that the average
18-year-old today will have seven different careers in their lifetime, some of
them in fields we can’t even imagine today.
What college graduates most need isn’t facts or information.
What they need is the ability to think critically, objectively, and rationally.
Learning to think and understand the different ways of knowing are skills best
learned in a liberal arts environment.
A liberal arts college doesn’t endow its students with
answers. Instead, it teaches them how to ask the right questions. This makes
them valuable citizens and employees. It’s what’s allowed 42 of our graduates
to go on to become college or university presidents. It’s what equipped Ronald
Reagan with the understanding to become a great president.
How does a small,
private college compete with public universities in attracting students in a
We compete by offering a better value for the money spent.
It’s difficult to compete with schools that can draw upon tax dollars for their
operational costs. We must depend on tuition dollars and the great generosity
of our friends and alumni.
Those friends-and especially alumni-are strongly supportive
of the college because they understand the value students receive from
attending small classes, being involved in conceptual discussions instead of
receiving lectures in packed halls, an being part of a learning community
instead of a number on a class roster.
One of my favorite quotes is the definition of a university
is that it’s a college that’s ceased to care about its students. We principally
compete by being a college and not a university.
What, if any,
misconceptions about Eureka
College would you like to
The biggest misconception about us is that we’re a very
expensive place to get an education. We aren’t. When students look at our
tuition and then realize the academic scholarships and governmental grants that
can be applied, we’re highly competitive with major state schools.
A second misconception is the "there is nothing to do there"
myth. One of the problems we often face with incoming freshmen is they
sometimes find themselves involved in so many activities that their studies
began to falter. At a Division III school, anyone can participate in
intercollegiate athletics-no athletic scholarships required (or given).
Theatre, art, music, fraternities, sororities, student government, intramural
sports, professional clubs-the list goes on and on. All that’s needed is interest
and commitment, and there’s a lot of things to do on our campus.
What are some of the
challenges institutions of higher education face today? What future challenges
do you anticipate?
I think the biggest challenge faced by higher education is
the pace of the change. Educational institutions, next to the church, are the
most glacial organizations when it comes to change. Traditions are wonderful
and should be preserved, but too many unworthy things are held onto in the name
Our society is changing rapidly, and it’s becoming more
important to educate more of our citizens. The idea that good education is for
the intellectually elite and/or the wealthy has to be abandoned.
Another challenge, and one connected to the idea above, is
that we continue to get high school graduates ill prepared for college. While
this is especially true in the sciences and mathematics, it’s also true in such
basics as the ability to read and write. I’m astonished when I encounter
college freshmen who readily admit they’ve never read a book cover to cover.
College isn’t the place to learn to read, to write a simple sentence, or to do
basic fractions-yet we’re finding ourselves dedicating increasing levels of
resources to the remediation of basic skills. Since we’re going to have to
educate more of our citizens at the college level, our public schools are going
to have to begin doing a better job of preparing them to be there. IBI