New Finance, Administration VP Keeps His Technology Edge

John Meerts, vice president for Finance and Administration, has been working with budgeting, energy-saving initiatives and people management issues from his office in North College.
Posted 05/16/06
John Meerts is a technical guru. He loves computers. He loves numbers and budgeting. But most of all, he loves people.

These are all reasons Meerts was promoted to Vice President for Finance on May 1.

“I love managing people,” Meerts says from his office in North College “I love helping them overcome obstacles, make decisions, offer advice about projects and being there to answer questions.”

In this position, Meerts has responsibilities for the Office of Finance, Human Resources, Facilities and Construction Services, Legal Affairs and Auxiliary Services. The former director of Information Technology Services stepped out of this role in July 2005, but has continued to oversee the department during his role as interim vice president for Finance and Administration.

Meerts’ schedule is chocked full of meetings, meetings and more meetings. Some days he convenes with more than 20 people, several of whom are department heads.

“Sometimes they just want to inform me of what’s going on in their department, or other times I’m needed to help make decisions about a policy, discuss negations, or handle funding requests for various departments, among other things,” he says.

Overseeing the university’s budget is one of Meerts’ primary functions as VP of Finance. In that role he works with senior staff members and their designees to allocate appropriate funds to university needs such as faculty and staff salaries, classroom renovations and operating costs, payment of building and construction debt, and energy costs. Another big portion of the total budget is taken up by student financial aid which now exceeds $40 Million.

While interim vice president for Finance and Administration, Meerts developed a five-year plan to substantially reduce Wesleyan’s reliance on its endowment. This includes a way to save the university as much as $500,000 a year on energy costs. He also oversaw the reorganization of Human Resources, Benefits and Payroll offices.

“In his interim role, John quickly demonstrated the ability to manage a complex budget situation,” says Wesleyan President Doug Bennet. “John’s colleagues give him credit for great personal integrity and the transparency with which he conducts business. He will provide the financial and administrative leadership we need to implement the next phases of the university’s strategic plan.”

Meerts holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and psychology from Southern Connecticut State College, a master’s in political science form Columbia University and has completed the coursework for a Ph.D in political science at Columbia. But it was a love for computers that drove Meerts into academia.

After college, Meerts began programming IBM mainframes using the language FORTRAN. He took up computer-related jobs at the Department of Juvenile Justice in New York City, Wang Inc., and the New York Institute of Technology. In 1989 he went to Yale as director of the university’s Science and Engineering Computing Facility and Director of Administrative Systems. In 1996, he came to Wesleyan as the director of Information Technology Services.

“Back then, programming was all about having patience and perseverance and I guess I had enough of both,” he says. “Now, we use different programming languages, but the logic behind them still remains about the same. Ultimately you’re still working with a machine that at its most basic level understands binary logic. You may not think this, but programming can be very creative. You design a product for your customer and when you’re done, hopefully you have a happy customer using your application.”

Meerts continues to oversee the ITS Department in his VP role. He’s still interested in technology. He loves gadgets. His Personal Digital Assistant, with phone capabilities included, chimes the Wesleyan Theme song when he gets a call. And if that’s not around, he’ll pull out his iPod to head-bop a few tunes while playing Flight Simulator on his PC. Oh, but he’s a Mac user too.

Netherlands native Meerts, a father of three, enjoys motorcycle riding and playing blues ‘harp’ and guitar in his band, The Irrationals.

Being a VP of Wesleyan University is a role he’s still settling into. While passing the Memorial Chapel on a midday stroll last week, he noticed that the tower’s clock had stopped.

“I knew that clock had to be fixed, and then I realized, ‘hey, that is now my responsibility to have it fixed.’”

The clock is ticking on time today.

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor