by Hayley O’Brien
Gerry Gemmill, ‘85, will serve as Whitworth’s new vice president for finance and administration beginning Nov. 1.
Brian Benzel, current vice president of finance and administration, will retire in December. Benzel will advise Gemmill on the state of Whitworth’s financial situation during the two month transition period.
Benzel said he thinks it is a good time for President Beck Taylor to bring in a new person to work with, considering the number of new projects the university will soon begin.
“There is just a point where you need to hand the baton to the next generation,” Benzel said.
Gemmill, current director of local government and labor policy for the city of Spokane, has a bachelor’s degree in public policy from Whitworth and a master’s degree in public administration from Eastern Washington University. He worked for Spokane County for 33 years, filling roles in various leadership positions.
Benzel will stay on staff as special assistant to the president until his retirement on Dec. 31.
“It’s like the contrail of an airplane,” Benzel said. “When you leave a leadership job, like I’m in, there are things that we’ve been doing and then there are trailing issues. And because there’s so much complexity there’s never a time it’s all wrapped up in a neat, tidy package.”
In the last six and a half years of Benzel’s career, he has been involved in a number of projects, including the Hixson Union Building expansion, and the construction of both the Robinson Science Hall and the University Recreation Center.
Now, some of the projects Benzel was involved in are complete, and the administration is starting to gear up for a new phase of school construction, Benzel said.
Gemmill said he is grateful for the overlap, and that everyone he has met thus far has impressed him with their quality of character, professionalism and commitment.
“In order for the change to work, you need to be extremely honest and transparent as you go through the process, and that is the culture here,” Gemmill said.
Benzel said he is excited to bring Gemmill up to speed, and advise him on the unique challenges Whitworth currently faces. So far, the university has been using what Benzel said he calls the “rainy-day fund” to get through the year financially. But by April, Gemmill and Taylor will need to have a recommended balanced budget for the trustees, Benzel said.
“The first thing I’m going to do is do a lot of listening,” Gemmill said. “It’s challenging to try to figure out possible solutions to the challenges before you know what the lay of the land is.”
Gemmill said he is interested in prioritizing the issues first.
“In my past career, you set your priorities because in government there is a never-ending list of services that people desire but there is always a limited amount of resources. So in my experience, you have to prioritize,” Gemmill said. “What are the core services you need to provide? And you allocate resources based on your priorities. And it is not necessarily as easy as it sounds. But I think if you don’t do that then you’re really not addressing some of the issues that you need to address.”
In order for the 2021 plan to succeed, Whitworth will need a different business model for how the school allocates resources, Gemmill said.
“At one time I’m guessing that the university accommodated rapid growth,” Gemmill said. “Now we want to stabilize the business model.”
Gemmill is no stranger to Whitworth. He attended Whitworth Elementary, before it became Hawthorne Hall, he said.
“Whitworth is where I grew up,” Gemmill said. “This is where I played.”
Whitworth was the only college he wanted to attend. So, after marrying his high school sweetheart, he made the second-greatest decision of his life, and enrolled in night classes, he said.
Gemmill went on to study at Eastern Washington University, where he earned his master’s degree. Later, Gemmill came back to Whitworth to work as an adjunct faculty member in continuing studies in Hawthorne Hall.
“Ms. Seig’s third-grade class was the last time I’d been in that room”, Gemmill said. “In a lot of ways it feels I’m coming home.”
Contact Hayley O’Brien at email@example.com