On Wednesday, April 19, SGA held a Student Body Forum in the Center for Global Citizenship at 5 p.m., which involved questions regarding the budget, rising tuition costs and staff and administrator cuts, presented by SLU President Dr. Fred Pestello, University Provost Nancy Brickhouse and Chief Financial Officer David Heimburger.
Joining the office in September of 2012, Heimburger spoke first about his responsibility in ensuring professional business and financial operations at the university, primarily pertaining to operating margins declining because of flattening revenues. “Our revenues were starting to become flat about five years ago because our enrollment was decreasing while there were increases within the financial aid packages,” Heimburger explained. “The decreases in enrollment and increases in financial aid were coupled with expenses growing — these lines of revenue and expenses lining across last year resulted in a $16 million deficit.”
However, amidst the overarching debt, there have been cuts made to the staff and administrator departments and various programs to counteract the deficiency; once the floor was open for questions to Heimburger, the inquiry was raised regarding which specific programs were cut to counteract the deficit and the logical reasoning behind the reductions.
“On the staffing side of it, they came in to look at benchmark universities and compared our organizational structure with that of other institutions to determine which areas of the university have access to passing and which need more evaluation,” Heimburger said.
Clarifying more on the housing project, he referenced a trend on the decision of potential students deterred from enrolling at SLU, with the finalizing factor coming down to housing—the decline in revenue caused the university to adopt a master housing plan to affirm the comfortability of new students and reel in high school seniors to choose SLU to further their education.
“One of the things we do each year is that we look at the incoming class, including the students who enrolled and those who decide not to enroll,” Heimburger said. “The number one reason of these students was the housing, and we’re hoping the new housing will allow us to maintain our record-high retention rates.” As of last week, 41 percent of the potential SLU candidates took the survey.
Continuing with the forum, Brickhouse came to the forefront with a discussion involving academia and scholarship services. In her letter communicated to her colleagues, Brickhouse elaborated on the importance of instilling an education rooted within the Jesuit heritage.
She said the educational hallmarks must be “pronounced curricular and co-curricular heretics, sustained and integrated throughout all four years for all students and in all majors; and the core of SLU’s education must be rooted in the integrated study of the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and the arts.”
As Brickhouse emphasized the educational goal of cultivating the person as a whole, she was challenged as to how the holistic approach can be retained when the cuts to the humanities are unproportional compared to that of the science curriculum, why the non-tenured professors are more readily let go, and what the ultimate driving factor is in determining which staff and administrative workers are let go.
“The university had certain targets that it had to hit,” Brickhouse explained.
“There were cutbacks within the College of Arts and Sciences, and I will say some natural science requirements were spared because the professors are currently teaching 400 students at a time; other than that, all departments were asked to make some sort of reduction.” According to Brickhouse, other reductions in faculty employment are still being determined, with a “shared sacrifice” among the higher-ups and middle people.
Finally, Pestello addressed the students and staff by debunking misconceptions circulating campus in relation to SLU’s financial stability. Affirming “with absolute certainty,” he explained that SLU is not at risk of bankruptcy or closing—overall, there are some short-term budget challenges which need to be noted and addressed.
Pestello elaborated that SLU’s financial standing is comparable to other Jesuit institutions and went on to discuss how the 535 Redevelopment Plan will connect the north and south campuses without necessitating the acquirement of new land.
Excited for what the next five to seven years will bring, Pestello asserted an investment of over a billion dollars due to the plan and from Spring and Grand halls attracting more students.
Concluding the evening, a viable concern was raised about the restriction of contraception on campus. While SLU is a Jesuit institution, it also promotes the inclusion of people from varying religious faiths, or lack thereof, and morals. The question was highlighted as to how an institution can promote inclusion yet ban condom and pill dispersal to people of different faiths and different beliefs about contraception.