By Christopher Wink | Dec. 4, 2007 | The Temple News
Kirk Patterson wants to sail the world.
The current dean of Temple University Japan, who announced his retirement at a campus-wide meeting on Aug. 27, is looking beyond his departure at the end of this month.
It was a dream of his from a very early age, but it wasn’t until 15 years ago that he realized he might be blessed with the opportunity to make it a reality.
“I’ll spend two years in Victoria preparing,” said the native Canadian over the telephone from Tokyo. “Getting the boat ready, getting my body ready.”
Perhaps, it won’t be unlike his five-year career as the top man for Temple in Japan
TUJ was in fiscal ruin 2001, prior to Patterson’s appointment as dean in January 2002. The branch campus had lost money for 10 consecutive years.
“TUJ’s reputation was very bad when I came,” Patterson, 54, said. “A lot of foreign universities were closing, so no one would trust them.”
So Patterson was brought from the corporate world, having held leadership positions in large communications and public relations firms before being chosen to fill the campus’s top position. After reorganizing the school’s mission and welcoming encouraged commitment from Main Campus, Patterson has overseen TUJ’s transition to a successful, profitable part of a growing Temple community.
After years of swirling rumors about the impending closure of TUJ, attitudes have largely changed.
Temple President Ann Weaver Hart’s trip to East Asia last month, which prominently featured TUJ’s 25th anniversary celebration, was an important reminder of that.
“When you’ve been in office for a long, long time and – I would hope – are happy with what you see as the future of the institution you’ve devoted so much of your life to,” Hart said, “you can feel comfortable stepping down knowing that you feel like the institution is in good hands.”
“President Hart is wonderful in her commitment to global education,” said Patterson, who speaks and reads Japanese.
The field of candidates to replace him as head of a growing campus has been narrowed to two.
Bruce Stronach, 57, is a career academic from Massachusetts and current president of Yokohama City University. Matthew J. Wilson, 37, originally from Utah, is chief legal counsel and current Associate Dean at TUJ. The final decision is expected to be announced before the end of January.
Despite an impressive turnaround, Patterson has not been without criticism. Some TUJ administrators and academic personnel have suggested that he has remained too closely involved in the daily decisions of what is still a small, albeit flourishing, university setting.
During a public presentation on Main Campus, Wilson, who would be the youngest dean in TUJ history if chosen, promised to improve something Patterson has cited as one of his earliest successes: campus unity.
“TUJ is a growing institution,” said Wilson while in Philadelphia Nov. 20. “But an important first stand is to reconnect with staff, to improve faculty morale.”
While Temple is not required to release by-campus fiscal results, after a decade of budget shortfalls, the past four years have been profitable, according to Patterson. Enrollment at TUJ has doubled to nearly 3,000 students since Patterson came, including 20 percent increases in each of the past two academic years.
“My successor will inherit an institution that is very optimistic,” said Patterson, who is not involved in the process to select his replacement. “TUJ is becoming a first in the world model for international education.”
Patterson is not shy about what the position has meant to him.
“If I hadn’t taken the Temple job, my life wouldn’t have been complete,” he said. “My decision was to leave Japan, not TUJ.”
After the announcement of his retirement, Hart said she would recommend to the Board of Trustees that Patterson become a Dean Emeritus after his departure, so he would be available to help with any transition period, if necessary.
But Patterson is certainly moving on. He has an ailing father in Spain and a dream of his own calling from the horizon, seeing the world by sea all alone.
Still, he not is without plans to return to what has been his home for 25 years.
“The first leg of my trip will be to sail back here,” he said with confidence in his voice. “No foreigner has ever completed a solo circumnavigation of Japan.”
“I just don’t have a boat, yet,” he said.
Christopher Wink can be reached at email@example.com.