St. Augustine’s University continues to cut costs as academic year begins

08/12/2014 10:15 AM

08/12/2014 10:16 AM

St. Augustine’s University will not rehire nearly 70 adjunct faculty for this academic year and will furlough employees a week in December as it continues to cut costs.

Interim President Everett Ward gave a public update of the financial health of the university Monday after his first 100 days in office. He cited a number of moves to improve the financial stability of St. Augustine’s, a historically black college in Raleigh that has been in a struggle for survival.

“We still have miles to go before we sleep,” Ward said, but added: “St. Augustine’s is strong, and her banner flies high.”

Soon after he took office in the spring, Ward began to make cuts, eliminating 4 percent of the university’s workforce and moving some from 12 months to 10 months of work. Employees were furloughed for a week in July, and another week of nonpaid time off is scheduled in December, Ward said. The furloughs will ultimately save $1 million, Ward said.

Saying that no university can be all things to all people, Ward cited four areas of academic focus for St. Aug’s: mass communication and journalism; science, math and technology; criminal justice; and public health.

Though first-year students have arrived on campus, the fall enrollment numbers are not clear. Registration is still under way, and some students are cobbling together enough financial aid to enroll, Ward said. Several freshmen arrived during the weekend, even though last week was the official move-in day.

More budget cuts could be implemented depending on the enrollment picture, he said. With fewer adjunct faculty, the full-time faculty will take on a heavier teaching load, and Ward said he may teach a course himself in the spring semester.

A smaller array of courses will be offered. Not rehiring contract faculty will mean a savings of $1 million this year.

“We’ve got to save money wherever we can,” he said.

Ward pointed to a number of positive developments, including talks with a health care partner to renovate the historic St. Agnes Hospital building into a medical facility for the campus and community. The university will also add an annual fall fundraiser, and the first will be held Sept. 20.

Among other changes, Ward has:

• Sought to strengthen ties with the Episcopal Church, with which it has long been affiliated.
• Established an external financial advisory board, with business and legal professionals who give input on university finances.
• Reorganized and promoted some administrative functions to focus on marketing and communications, research and the chaplain’s role on campus.
• Reintroduced a Lyceum Series with a monthly lecture, including an Aug. 28 appearance by N.C. Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley.
• Reinstated the golf team.

Ward is a former Department of Transportation administrator and state Democratic Party director who was appointed in April to lead his alma mater. He stepped into the role after the tumultuous tenure of Dianne Boardley Suber, who was forced out by the board of trustees.

St. Aug’s had seen enrollment declines, administrative turnover, staff cuts and a construction lawsuit. Two federal agencies were investigating the university’s handling of grants. An audit last year showed accounting disarray, questionable check-writing practices and a $3 million drop in tuition revenue.

“I believe the university is in a much-improved position than it was 100 days ago. Without any doubt I believe that, because of the steps we have taken,” Ward said. “Are we out of the woods? I would not say that we are.”

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