In a recent commentary posted on the web site of the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, ACTA president Anne Neal described the complex duties of boards of trustees of colleges and universities.
Certainly, one of the most important duties of a board is the periodic selection of a new college president, and this process offers the opportunity to attract an individual who can work seamlessly with the board to guide the institution during times of rapid change and uncertainty.
Which brings us to the situation at La Salle University in Philadelphia. Last week, new La Salle president Colleen Hanycz announced that a 16 percent decline in freshmen enrollments had led to a $12 million budget shortfall, a full 9 percent of its operating budget.
President Hanycz informed the university community that 23 staff positions were being eliminated, and that further changes (although not necessarily layoffs) were in store.
So far, so understandable. But what really stopped me cold was her statement that, in office for just two months and having just accepted the position over the winter, she was not aware of the extent of La Salle’s financial difficulty.
As reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer: “I knew that La Salle needed to make some changes, but I don’t think anyone knew the extent … ,” Hancyz said. “It was not something I anticipated fully.”
Something went terribly wrong here. Did the board members not understand La Salle’s true financial situation? If they did not, they were guilty of a fundamental failure of fiduciary responsibility.
If the board knew it, perhaps they failed to share it with the new president as a presidential candidate. Or perhaps Hanycz failed to probe deeply enough from her side. If either of these is true, we have a fundamental failure in the vetting process.
Finally, was President Hanycz aware of the situation and is now trying to deflect responsibility? If so, we have another issue for the board to address.
No matter how you look at it, there was a fundamental failure somewhere along the line, and such a “surprise” should never happen if the board and administration are working together, eyes wide open, and planning carefully for all eventualities.