Long-time U administrator bids farewell

by Jessica Steeno

His friends call him ruthless and cold-blooded, but are quick to add that the only time they would say that is during a game of cards.
And all of them say they are going to miss him when he leaves Minnesota’s cold winters behind for Bermuda’s sandy beaches and sunshine.
University Treasurer and Associate Vice President for Finance and Operations Roger Paschke has resigned his dual position at the University to work in international finances with an insurance company in Bermuda.
“He does not cheat,” said Mark Cox, principal food operations manager at Centennial Hall. “He’s just a contract killer. He efficiently goes about destroying the enemy in cards.” Cox has been friends with Paschke for 20 years and they stood up in each other’s weddings.
Paschke said the decision to leave the University, where he has spent most of his professional career, was not an easy one.
“It was a very difficult decision for me,” Paschke said. “The University has been very good to me. But (the job is) an unusual opportunity and I didn’t want to regret passing it up.”
Paschke’s list of accomplishments during his 18 years at the University is impressive.
He lists the instatement of the STARS accounting system and the creation of the U Card as two of his proudest moments.
STARS, which stands for the Students’ Accounts Receivable System, is a financial management tool that combines library fines, tuition payments, housing payments and financial aid credits on one statement.
He is also proud of the high credit rating the University has maintained while he has served as treasurer.
“There’s only a handful of institutions that have such a high credit rating,” Paschke said.
Paschke lead the University down the rocky road to getting the go-ahead for renovating the Southeast Steam Plant. The plans for the plant, which is on the Mississippi River, have come under fire from environmentalists.
“(The steam plant renovation) does raise a bunch of difficult questions,” said Marvin Marshak, senior vice president for Academic Affairs. “And Roger really has taken a lead role for the University, not just on the financial side of things, in securing the necessary financing, but also on the political and environmental side — dealing with all the various agencies that need to be satisfied that the University’s choice in doing things is the best choice.”
He also revamped the way the University invests its money and how it manages its debt.
“Our interest rates (on the University’s debt) are at or near the lowest of any institution of any kind in the country,” he said.
Many administrators credit him with making millions of dollars for the University.
“He has been very important in ensuring that the University’s investments have paid the highest possible dividend,” said University President Nils Hasselmo. He added that the University’s total invested assets now equal about a billion dollars. “It’s been growing by hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said.
When Paschke arrived in 1978, the University’s assets totaled just under 200 million dollars.
Associate Director of Asset Management Sheila Warness said favorable market conditions and generous donors have spurred the growth of the University’s assets.
“But beyond the unusual markets, the most important influence would be investment management,” Warness said, referring to Paschke’s leadership. Warness has worked with Paschke for his entire 18 years at the University.
As Paschke migrates to a warmer climate, JoAnn Jackson, senior vice president for Finance and Operations has been named to temporarily take his place as treasurer of the University.
“I’m going to try and make it as smooth as possible, but anytime anyone has to take over for an individual who has had such identifiable successes it’s difficult,” Jackson said.
In addition to her current responsibilities and her temporary stay as treasurer, Jackson is in charge of finding a replacement for Paschke. It will take more than one person to handle the responsibilities that were formerly his, however. University officials have decided to create a new position, in addition to the treasurer, to deal with their investments.
Jackson said finding a replacement for Paschke may be difficult.
“His knowledge of the University and the background that he has in the job is always difficult to replace,” she said.
Paschke was a student at the University in the mid-1970s. He ran errands for the president, his first University job. He graduated in 1975 with degrees in political science and criminal justice studies.
Paschke returned to the University in 1978 to work as an investment analyst. He gradually worked his way up, being appointed as treasurer in 1990. He became Associate Vice President of Finance and Operations in 1992 without giving up his position as treasurer.
Paschke testified against Dr. John Najarian in 1996. Najarian was then accused of, among other things, embezzling from the University. Paschke noted that the University lost interest on money Najarian eventually repaid.
Later, defense attorney Peter Thompson singled out Paschke as representing a greedy University that turned on a surgeon that had done so much for the school. “The University’s treasurer, Roger Paschke, had the audacity to say when Dr. Najarian paid back the University … ‘that’s not enough!'” Thompson said.
Paschke, however, seems to have gained the respect and devotion of nearly all who have come in contact with him, both in a professional setting and outside of work.
“He puts others before himself,” said Shirley Nordstrom, director of the U Card Office. “He keeps you thinking, keeps you motivated. He’s acquired my respect because he’s a deserving person. I’m truly going to miss him because he is just a bit of sunshine.”
Nordstrom has worked with Paschke indirectly for about 10 years, and has reported to him directly for the past two.
Honesty and integrity were attributes listed by Paschke’s friends and co-workers.
“Roger is honest and thoughtful in his approach to very difficult issues that he’s had to deal with,” Hasselmo said. “And he’s very considerate in his personal relationships. He clearly has his heart and mind in what he does.”
Many people also mentioned Paschke’s concern for students and faculty.
“He is a very sincere loss for us,” said regent’s professor in psychology Ellen Berscheid. “He is very appreciative of and knowledgeable about the roles that faculty play in the University.”
Student testimonials echoed those of Paschke’s co-workers.
“He really tried to help us search for some solutions to our financial issues, so I think that he really made an effort to realize where the students were coming from,” said Jim Hilt, a senior in political science who worked with Paschke while serving on the student fees committee.