Ph.D. student to lead Concordia-St. Paul

Rev. Thomas Ries takes office in July. He’s planning his dissertation now.
April 12, 2011

While most students in Wilson Library stress about upcoming exams, Burnsville, Minn. resident Rev. Thomas Ries can be found there thinking about the future of Concordia University, St. Paul.
Ries, a doctoral candidate in the University of Minnesota’s Higher Education Administration program, emerged as the ninth president of Concordia, St. Paul last week, following a lengthy selection process.
His predecessor, Rev. Robert Holst, was president from 1991-2011.
A number of groups are working on the transition, but Ries fits the school’s current vision well, according to Eric LaMott, Concordia’s vice president of administration.
“It’s more a steering of the ship than a ... 180 [degree change],” he said.
Since 2004, Ries has served as president of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod Foundation, the primary organization that gives charitable expertise concerning money management to Lutheran donors.
As soon as Concordia offered him the job, Ries said he knew he couldn’t do both.
“That would be impossible,” he said.
Associate professor Darwin Hendel, Ries’ Ph.D. adviser, said all his part-time students have to learn to balance.
Ries’ juggling act has included splitting time between a primary home in Burnsville, where his wife usually stays, and a house near St. Louis. He’s been spending four days a week in Missouri or “off on the road somewhere.”
Now, Ries will permanently move back to Burnsville and sell the Kirkwood, Mo. house.
With his many other responsibilities, Ries’ doctorate has crept forward at a slow pace –– about one course a semester since 2003.
Ries may technically be a student, but he doesn’t lack presidential qualifications.
As vice president for finance and operations at Concordia from 1999 to2004, Ries helped grow their net assets by 50 percent.
He also holds two masters degrees –– one in business administration from the University and a divinity degree from Concordia Seminary.
Due to his busy schedule, Ries took doctoral courses with atypical schedules: two weeks of all-day class during the summer or four full weekends of about 12-13 hours in class.
“It’s kind of a grinder,” he said.
The courses are all in-person and three credits, and even though they are administered in a compressed timeframe, they demand the same effort as a semester-long class, Ries said.
Now that he’s completed his coursework, Ries is beginning to conduct research for his dissertation. He plans to examine common characteristics of Lutheran colleges and universities that have excellent financial performance.
It’s ambitious –– there are 46 Lutheran institutions in the U.S. — but Ries is formulating a plan that he will go over with his adviser soon.
Based on his financial and administrative work so far, Ries hypothesizes that such qualities may include conservative financial forecasting and careful spending in areas like property upkeep.
Otherwise, Ries is preparing to pass on the duties of his St. Louis job to an interim successor. He’s been developing a 90-day transition agenda for the beginning of his Concordia presidency with the school’s cabinet.
He said the same skills he’s learned from studying higher education administration at the University will apply when he takes office at Concordia on July 1.

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