Not just the budget guy: Garrison works as administrator and student at CMU

Joe Garrison works on university budgets, but is also working on his Ph.D. and serves as co-chair of an academic committee.


Director of Financial Planning and Budgets Joe Garrison poses for a portrait on Dec. 6 in his office, Room 303 in Warriner Hall.

As the smell of coffee wafts through his home at 3:45 a.m., Joe Garrison begins his day by working on his dissertation before heading into work as Central Michigan University’s Director of Financial Planning and Budgets. 

At 40 years old, Garrison is not only one of the top administrators of the university, but he is also a student working on his doctorate in higher education leadership.

“As I progressed as an administrator, I needed… the respect and trust of other high-ranked [faculty members]. One of the ways to earn respect is to go through what they went through,” Garrison said. “I want to be able to break down some barriers between conflicts when faculty, staff and administrators are coming together.”

The Financial Planning and Budgets team has three full-time employees who work with the board of trustees and President Bob Davies' cabinet, especially when planning university capital projects. The board and financial team are currently working together on the new Chippewa Champion Alumni Center. Garrison is one of the people planning the budget for the center. 

Construction of the center has faced criticism. Some students and faculty have complained that university simply doesn’t have the $32.5 million for this project. In spring 2017, CMU very publicly addressed its $14 million deficit for that fiscal year. Garrison said critics don’t understand the funding concept behind the project.

“Some donors are staunch supporters of this and have put up seven-figure donations specifically for this project,” Garrison said.

Board of Trustees Chair William Weideman told Central Michigan Life at the Sept. 27 board meeting that two-thirds of the total cost will be paid with game guarantees and pledges from donors. At the time of construction, the remainder will be paid for with university reserves. Those reserves will be replenished with donations received after construction of the center.

Trustee Bill Kanine, who completed his term as trustee on Dec. 31, is a supporter of the Chippewa Championship Alumni Center. A Petoskey resident and a 1982 alumnus, Kanine said this project is an opportunity to put a new face to the university.

“The center needs to be a starting point to show what CMU is; kind of like our front porch,” Kanine said.

Garrison said his job allows him to come at an issue from multiple viewpoints, while most people only see an issue from a personal perspective. Cooperation and handling conflict are part of his daily work. His job requires him to work with many different areas of the university. Speaking with different officials in different sectors gives Garrison a broader perspective, he said. 

His previous experience in finance for public school districts and CMU charter schools led him to CMU. Before coming to the university, Garrison travelled around the state as an accountant auditing various companies. 

“There was one summer where I was in the office for one day during the summer," Garrison said. "I was on the road, living out of hotels and paying for a place to stay back in Midland and said, ‘Why do I even have a place if I’m in and out of hotels every week?”  

Being on the road so much eventually led Garrison to seek a career change.

He found an opening working for what is now the Governor John Engler Center for Charter Schools at CMU. He oversaw financial compliance and performance for 25 charter schools that the university authorized. 

“That energy was what made me want to stay in higher ed," Garrison said. "Seeing groups come through and progress was fulfilling."

Though he doesn’t have much contact with students, Garrison makes up for it by participating in university-wide committees and guest lecturing in the College of Business Administration and the College of Education and Human Services. He said he tries to guest lecture at least twice a year even with his busy schedule. 

He is a member of several committees, not just financial committees. Garrison is the only remaining member of the Shared Governance and Communications Committee from when the committee began. 

"Some people look at that and say, 'Why is the budget guy co-chairing an academic committee?'" Garrison said. "But I'm also a bit of an academic. I have other interests."

In his free time, Garrison likes to go to concerts. Garrison said he’s been to about 300 concerts across the country. He's likes music of all genres, although he's not a big country music fan. He is also a Boston Red Sox fan and likes to cook, which are two passions that he brought together in 2014 at a burger-making competition. 

“I won the burger contest for the Red Sox, so my burger was featured on the stadium menu for a month,” Garrison said.

Garrison aims to eventually become a university president. His current job, and all the work he’s putting in, is preparing him for that goal. He said he even sees himself in current CMU President Robert Davies. 

“It’s pretty funny because… there are many similarities in (President Davies’) past that are like mine,” Garrison said. 

Kanine has worked closely with Garrison on some projects. He said getting his Ph.D. will benefit Garrison and the university as a whole.

“He’s a very diligent and very studious person," Kanine said. "Getting his Ph.D. will make him better at his job and prepare him for his plans to be president in the future. CMU is personable and makes everyone feel at home; Joe Garrison is one of those people. He’s a maroon and gold kind of guy.”