St. Joe's facing pushback over cuts

St. Joseph's purchased the cardinal's residence from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in 2012. (MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer)

Faced with an $8.7 million shortfall in its revenue projections, Saint Joseph’s University has cut budgets campus wide and is planning to increase enrollment for next year’s freshman class, causing consternation on the 8,860-student campus on City Avenue.

The dilemma at St. Joseph’s is part of a larger struggle that private universities are facing as high school enrollment has declined leaving fewer students available to recruit and pressure mounts to reel in rising tuition costs.

Students have planned to protest outside a meeting of the board of trustees at 10:30 a.m. Thursday in McShain Hall.

The university’s faculty senate, meanwhile, took a vote of no confidence on Tuesday against Louis J. Mayer, vice president of financial affairs, and John Smithson, senior vice president, a faculty member confirmed.

"There is a fundamental distrust of the leadership at this point,” said the faculty member who asked not to be named.

Robert Moore, faculty senate president, did not return calls for comment on Tuesday.

University spokeswoman Harriet Goodheart said the university had not received communication about the vote and declined comment. The university confirmed that Provost Brice Wachterhauser will be stepping down on June 1.

In explaining the shortfall, Goodheart said the university aims to operate with a 3-percent surplus in its $230 million budget and is $8.7 million short. To make up the difference, the university earlier this year instituted a 4.2 percent cut in operating budgets across campus, she said. The university also plans to enroll 1,500 freshman next fall, up from 1,275 in fall 2013.

The announcement has caused some students to fear increased class sizes and worry that the university will accept students below traditional standards just to bring in more tuition dollars.

President C. Kevin Gillespie said that’s not the case.

“I am extremely dismayed that a freshman enrollment target has become the flash point for so much anger on the campus,” he said in a statement. “...We will not compromise academic quality by admitting students who cannot succeed at Saint Joseph's, even if that means falling short of enrollment targets or capping the admit rate.”

In 2012, the most recent year for which public tax documents are available, St. Joseph’s ran a $4.4 million deficit.

But university officials said the tax document is not the best measure of financial stability.

“During a challenging period in higher education, Saint Joseph's University has maintained an extremely strong market position with 'A' financial ratings,” Gillespie asserted.