AVP Address to Faculty Forum:  February 19, 2004

David La Guardia

 

            Good afternoon, everyone.  I thank you for coming today. 

            Once again this year, I am grateful to Ernie and to the Executive Committee of the Faculty Forum for inviting me to deliver this address.  I mentioned at the recent meeting of the Executive Committee where the subject arose that, given the fact that the AVP talk does take up nearly the entire space of a Forum meeting, while I am happy to carry on the tradition, most especially in the interest of sharing with you and of improving communication throughout the campus, I am also completely open to whatever suggestions for a different venue for the talk that the Forum might bring forward.  (I would be particularly interested in discussing those possible venues at approximately 2:30 a.m. on the night before I am to deliver one of these addresses.  My ideas for different venues are especially ripe about that time!)

            I am conscious as I begin these remarks of the many and important activities that are occurring around us.  Yesterday, for instance, there were three guests on the campus simultaneously in competition for three different administrative positions, one for the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, one for the Dean of Students, and one for the Athletic Director.  As those of you who have been involved in searches within your own department can fully appreciate, conducting national searches requires enormous time and commitment from the chairs and members of each Search Committee, and additional time and commitment from all of us who wish to contribute as fully as possible to the process of bringing fresh life and leadership to the university community.  Once the candidates are finally on the campus, the procedures are fairly simple, though still tiring.  But all that leads up to first selecting them and then bringing them here, within that maze of cv’s and transcripts, the airport rides and motel drop-offs and restaurant evenings, all of this requires patience, diligence, poise and energy.  We are grateful to all of those involved in these important processes, for preparing the way in order that we may become hosts to these guests, some of whom will soon enough bring their talents here to become our colleagues and our friends.

            Turning to another activity vital to the university community, in only eleven days the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association will be our guests.  A team of six administrators and faculty members from various colleges and universities will, once they arrive on the campus, bring to fruition nearly two years of preparation for this accreditation review by members of the staff, faculty and administration of John Carroll.  Dr. Elizabeth Swenson, Coordinator and Chair of the Self-Study Steering Committee, has been working days, nights, and countless weekends in order to assemble from the various reports of the various subcommittees throughout the university a finished product -- the Self-Study Report that is now in the hands of the site-visit team and is also available on the WEB for your review and analysis.  For their unselfish and committed work, we must thank Elizabeth and the members of the Steering Committee and all of those who have contributed to this important project, from the many who volunteered to read and edit the manuscript to all those who contributed directly and indirectly to its contents, and to those as well who are now busy assembling and collecting thousands of relevant materials for the Evidence Room that will be housed in Rodman Hall.

            From Monday, March 1st thru Wednesday, March 3rd, we will all of course go about our normal business, yet with this aura of awareness, as your many recent e-mails have indicated, that members of the Site Team will be interviewing various groups or individuals from the administration, faculty and staff, as they work to identify and assess the strengths of the university and the places where we need to do better that which we do.  As you know this process repeats itself every ten years, and it is revealing to read the self-study of ten years ago and even ten years before that, to notice the parallel issues, the differences, but most especially the parallels even though so much time has past and so many people are gone.  This process is important to us not only for the obvious reason of maintaining our affiliation and accreditation with the regional accrediting body, but also and even more crucially to my mind, for the opportunity it provides to us to reflect on who we are, on how we educate our students, on how we assess our programs, on how we value and improve our procedures and communication, on how we plan for the future as we learn from our past.  The fruitful and candid conversations that have been occurring these many months, awkward or revealing as some of them become, are the most positive parts of this essential process.  If we need to brag about our excellence, we also need to share with one another, in a context of creative and constructive analysis, our concerns about how we do things, our regrets for what we do not do, and our suggestions about how to improve in any case.  The Self-Study reflects this dynamic sharing. 

            The Team, or individual members of it, has already requested specific open meetings with the faculty and staff, as well as meetings with the University Assessment Committee, the University Planning Group, the Forum Executive Committee and probably many others by now.  They will also arrange visits spontaneously during their stay.  Please try to be available to them even as you go about your busy schedules.  They come to us wanting to receive a balanced perspective of who we are, and we should try to provide them that information.

            Yet another long-term activity that is finally coming to fruition involves the Strategic Plan of the university.  Let me bring you forward on that complicated process, which I also reviewed in last year’s address.  Under the controlling guidelines of a fresh vision statement, an abbreviated mission statement, and six distinct goals, from the starting point of the grass roots SWOT analyses performed over two years ago by every division, department and office of the institution, each of us has been developing action steps and implementation scenarios for our specific units.  If you have not been keeping up with the tremendous progress toward the implementation of plans that individual departments and sections have been making, be sure to review the WEB site on the Strategic Plan.  Dr. Sally Wertheim regularly updates the materials she collects from throughout the university regarding this progress.  While all of this has been taking place, the University Planning Group has been shaping a draft of the Strategic Plan as it relates to Endowment and Capital Projects.  That draft has experienced several important reviews.  Last May the Board of Directors convened a special retreat meeting and what turned out to be a meaningful and quite energized discussion of the Strategic Plan.  The day ended with the stipulation that we present a revised version of the Plan to the Board in December 2003, which we did.  Last semester, I was also invited to discuss the Plan with the recently formed Board of Regents.  Also last semester, as you know, the UPG held two days of open hearings on the Plan for the entire John Carroll community.  These sessions were surprisingly well attended, despite bad weather, and were characterized by excellent, dynamic dialogue and meaningful, constructive criticism.

            Benefiting from these rich discussions, the UPG added several meetings to its already busy schedule, went to work on incorporating fresh ideas into the draft, and has completed what approaches a final version of the Plan.  This version, as mentioned, was presented to the Board at its December meeting, with the stipulation that it would be discussed in fuller detail by the Executive Committee of the Board during a meeting that occurred just on February 11th.  The Plan will come again before the the full Board at its meeting on March 9th, 2004, with a motion for final approval pending any suggestions for alteration that might come forward from that meeting.

            What I especially wish to emphasize in this extended, grueling, sometimes frustrating process, is that the Plan that has emerged from the University Planning Group is one that reflects what I consider to be a breakthrough, one that I witnessed happening during the final meetings, and of which I was pleased to be a part.  This breakthrough was defined by a departure from special interests or “turf” considerations, which by necessity often characterize discussions about planning, and by a return instead to the compelling consideration of whether and how all parts of the Plan relate to the essential mission of the university.  While you all of course have access to the current version of the Plan, I would like to read from it these key paragraphs, taken from the section entitled Priorities of the Strategic Plan:

This Strategic Plan proceeds from the principle that essential capital projects that increase operational budgets and foster greater dependence on tuition income do not contribute to the fiscal health of the institution.  There is a need to lessen dramatically the university’s dependency on tuition for covering our costs.  There is a parallel need to strengthen the hand of the administration in its recruitment and retention of faculty, staff, and students who will exemplify what identifies John Carroll: being men and women for others.

           

The Plan establishes, therefore, a corollary between the essential capital projects it proposes and the simultaneous need to raise endowment income.  In order sufficiently to relieve the pressures of tuition dependency, the university will pursue endowment goals in an approximate fifty-fifty proportion to raising finances for capital projects.  If a campaign commits to raising 150 million dollars, for instance, half will be dedicated to defined endowment projects; the other half, including additional endowment designated for the operating costs of each project, will be dedicated to capital projects.  The Plan proposes that no capital facility will be built until eighty percent of the fundraising for that project is secure.  For the future, the gradual shift of direct costs from operation to endowment will benefit planning and the programs of the university in an extraordinary way.

           

Enhancing the JCU endowment goes directly to the core of the mission—to promote an excellence that is competent and compassionate—by enabling the school to build upon its base of extraordinary faculty, staff and students.

 

Issuing from these assumptions, the “triple-one” priority of the Strategic Plan projects three essential projects:  specified endowment initiatives centered in faculty development and academic renewal; a Fine Arts/Student Center combined facility; and a new facility for the Boler School of Business.  And so, regarding the Strategic Plan, which I invite you to read in its full format, that’s where we stand at the present moment. 

            I would also like to share with you the latest news regarding the library.  As you know, Dr. Gorman Duffett will retire as Director of the Grasselli Library and Breen Learning Center as of July 1, 2004.  In December, 2003, Mr. John Piety also retired as a library faculty member.  Given the fact that the university is conducting searches for several key administrative positions, I have decided to take the opportunity to delay searches this year for replacements for Dr. Duffett and Mr. Piety, and have created instead a committee that will have as its charge to review the present organization of the library and of informational services, and to present to me the results of that review with any suggestions for reorganization that might come from it.  As I emphasized to the library faculty, I have no predisposition or preference to change from our present organizational structure.  Yet the recent and vast changes in how universities approach and deliver informational services requires at least a second look at how we are operating on this campus.  The committee, chaired by Dr. Jim Krukones, also includes two librarians, Ruth Connell and Ruth Fenske, two representatives from Informational Services, Jim Burke and Pat Dawson, and two recently elected faculty representatives, Karen Gygli and Jack Soper.  I am grateful to Jim and the committee for taking on this task.  In the meantime, the faculty members of the library have agreed to a process for naming an Interim Director for next year that parallels the process by which we appoint chairs in academic departments.  Consequently, I have recently completed individual interviews with all members of the library faculty, and they have among themselves completed meetings and discussions with internal candidates for the position.  In the near future, I will announce the results of these deliberations.

              I would like to turn now to some issues of concern for all of us.  Most of you have probably heard in one way or another that the university faces some sobering budgetary realities.  And we are not alone.  In my address to you last year, I presented a laundry list of some of the challenges we and other universities must confront as academic institutions.  Included among my quoted list of disconcerting facts were the following:  state governments face the worst fiscal conditions since World War II; 48 states face budget deficits with no hope of federal bail-out; most college endowments have lost money for the first time in 31 years; fiscal challenges are structural rather than superficial, and seem to be long-term rather than short-term.

            The 2004 version of all of this has improved in some areas but not much overall.  The Chronicle of Higher Education characterized its December 19th special report on the financial outlook for 2004 as “The Big Squeeze.” The nature of the “squeeze” is characterized by the fact that “Colleges are caught between falling revenue from many sources and rising costs of services.”  In a sense, it’s always just that simple.  The article opens this way:  “In 2004, colleges and universities will experience financial pressures that could reduce a hardened corporate CEO to tears.  Revenue from endowments, fund raising, state appropriations, federal grants, and tuition paid by foreign students is expected to decline, be flat, or rise only slightly.  Costs of new construction, employee health care, computer security, legal services, and debt service on borrowed money will go up, in some cases sharply.”  The article stipulates that “across the country, institutions are struggling to balance their books,” then provides dramatic examples.  “In Missouri, higher-education leaders are bracing themselves for a potential $1-billion shortfall in the state budget.  The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has announced cost-cutting measures that include shutting down parts of its campus over the holidays—a first—and laying off employees early next year.  And Iowa State University, eager to achieve financial stability, has considered eliminating one of its eight colleges.”  The article reports that Moody’s Investment Service, which “rates the credit worthiness of more than 500 public and private colleges,” had downgraded the bonds of 22 private colleges, including New England College and, closer to home in all ways, Canisius College, mostly to junk-level status or just above.  It was reported locally just two days ago that Case Western Reserve has been downgraded.  

            The pressures that the article summarizes are familiar ones that we know well.  We share with most private institutions a heavy reliance upon tuition that averages between 70 and 80 percent of revenues.  We share with most institutions the need to raise tuition in order to insure our salaries and our programs even as political pressures, and, yes, Board pressures too, are trying to “force institutions to contain their costs” and limit tuition increases.  We share the pressures to continue to invest in new academic programs and buildings, new student centers and physical fitness centers, renovated or new dormitories, parking garages or spaces, upgraded technology—all the necessities that are borne out of the increasingly competitive environment that defines higher education not only in the United States but throughout the world.  At the same time, federal support for student aid is barely increasing at all and, in some cases, is decreasing.  The amount of unmet need for students across the country is ballooning, as is their loan debt upon graduation. The article proclaims the bad news to John Gladstone and his staff that they should not expect a cash infusion this year from the Pell Grant Program, which sponsors federal aid for low-income students.

            There are a few bright spots in this gloomy picture:  barring future terrorist activity, the economy has solidified; endowments are blipping upward with the improving economy and rising stock market; fund-raising is emerging gradually from the tunnel it has been traveling through since September 11, 2001.

Still, as Martin Finkelstein from Seton Hall University recently remarked in his article “The Morphing of the American Academic Profession,” “so many new developments are buffeting American higher education.”  (Liberal Education, AAC&U, Fall 2003, p. 6).  Finkelstein’s list of buffeting developments includes these:  “the emergence of a new ‘for-profit’ institutional sector, the new ‘technology transfer’ incubation parks now encircling most research universities, the decline in the traditional liberal arts and in the allure of academic careers, the advent of distance education degrees in every imaginable field, the intrusion of politicians and businessmen (and their methods) into the first ranks of campus executive leadership.”  There are so many issues, says Finkelstein, that it is difficult to focus long on a single one, yet his larger point is not so much to bemoan these bare facts as to realize in his words that “something big—and troubling—is happening in . . . American higher education” (6), and to urge at the same time that while we should not necessarily work to preserve an old system for the old system’s sake, we still need “to assume our individual stewardship responsibilities for the future of the university and of liberal learning.”(14)   Finkelstein’s article takes this discussion slightly off track, but it is a compelling snapshot of what’s happening in and to the academy, and I urge you to read it.

            In the short term, John Carroll’s budgetary challenges may seem slight compared to this global picture.  Yet our short-term issues can and in some cases do have long-term implications, which we, as an institution of students, staff, faculty and administrators, need to keep at the forefront of our deliberations as we move forward.  In the short term, the budgetary challenges are these.

              We have been experiencing a decrease in revenue garnered from tuition, a pattern that is masked by our success in admitting large first year classes, this year the largest in the university’s history. What’s going on?  There are many factors at work here and to list them is to oversimplify them.  But I will mention a few.  None of them by themselves is a major problem, but the combination of them is additive and is causing additional stress to a budget suffering under the issues facing all institutions, issues already summarized in this talk. 

First, we have witnessed a gradual but clear erosion in the number of transfer students we bring into the university.  We need to correct the pattern, and I think we can. While a drop from 150 to 100 such students may seem slight, the revenue loss is significant, more so because financial aid packages for transfer students are much smaller than for traditional students.  Recent discussions concerning this issue have taken place between John Gladstone, Marcia McBride, Nick Baumgartner, and Bob Kolesar (MT).  Bob is involved because one argument for the cause of this decline centers on the frustration of transferring students over the particular demands of our core curriculum and how those requirements may affect transferability.  If it becomes clear to a prospective student that he or she might need to spend an extra semester or two at John Carroll than if they went somewhere else, they often choose to go elsewhere.  We are investigating ways of resolving or relaxing ambiguities in discussions with prospective transfer students without compromising the integrity of our core requirements.

A second example is the impact on the budget of our recent success in sponsoring international programs.  This semester we have the largest number of students abroad in our history, over eighty.  We are fully committed to the academic and cultural importance of these experiences for our students, yet the fiscal implications of their absence, from empty dormitory beds to lost tuition revenue to traveling financial aid, are real. There are various solutions to this problem, including balancing the number of students who travel over two semesters so that we may bring into the dormitories parallel numbers to replace them.  This was the plan all along, but it takes time to bring it to reality. 

We have also had some fall off of enrollment in some graduate programs and in summer school, patterns we are addressing, yet they add to the overall revenue loss.

Finally, reflecting the pressures of a weakened economy, we have witnessed in the past couple of years, and especially this one, a dramatic change in the number of high-need students accepting financial aid packages in order to come to John Carroll University.  We distribute over $20 million in financial aid per year. For this year’s class, well over four hundred of our students come from the highest need “cells” out of which financial aid is distributed.  The larger the number of students who accept financial aid offers from those cells, the larger the dollar amount distributed and the greater the likelihood of going over budget.  The number of students accepting offers from these cells has been increasing over the past five years, and we have been able to absorb the relatively low shortfall in other ways. The dramatic increase this year in students from those cells has resulted in a significant budget overage.  In the future we will have no choice but to curtail the number of students we accept from the high need cells and/or to offer less money to students in those cells.  Accepting fewer students from high-need areas does, however slightly, impact the economic and ethnic diversity of our student body and has implications for our mission.

There is also a projected shortfall in next year’s annual fund.  Adding these shortfalls to the other pressures on the budget—exceptionally high utility costs in the Dolan center, unanticipated use and utility costs in the Bohannon building, increases in insurance and health benefit costs—and we quickly circle back to the significance of reading to you the passage from the Strategic Plan that emphasizes the need to do all that we can in the planning process to relieve the pressures on our operating budget. 

   The vice presidents have been meeting with the University Budget Committee to discuss these issues and to consider ways to correct them, both in the short and long range.  While it is far from unusual for such problems to exist for universities in times like these, it is important nevertheless to cut costs and bring the budget into balance. 

I mostly want to say to you today that we need to tighten our fiscal belts.  We need to look anew at everything we do and to ask the hard questions.  How can we spend less than we are currently spending?  Is the money or person or program we are requesting truly necessary.  Within each division, department and office, we need to examine spending patterns and to place question marks beside those items or initiatives or trips that perhaps represent waste or represent more than is necessary or represent an habitual expense rather than a necessary or a wise expense. 

Belt-tightening is all the more difficult of course at a time when we have had frozen operational budgets for several years running.  I hope that I have been able to clarify in this address that the reasons for those freezes were quite real.

We may need in the near future to suggest particular steps that we will need to take to bring the budget into balance.  I and I am sure other vice presidents and members of the budget committee will be happy to receive your suggestions of various ways to trim our spending.

It is time to end this happy talk.  I wish most to say here that John Carroll continues to be exceptionally healthy, yet we must be guarded nonetheless, and more planful than ever in order to preserve the value of working in this fine institution and to protect the integrity of what we do here.

Thank you for your attention.