By Terrilyn Ho | Copy Editor

Prof. Lemke-Santangelo addresses President Donahue. (Courtesy of Gerry Serrano)

Following President Donahue’s third address on Wednesday, Nov. 1, a Question & Answer session was held this past Wednesday, Nov. 8. For the event, an overwhelming majority of the audience consisted of faculty and staff, with a modest amount of students in attendance. The event was moderated by Professor Zach Flanagin from the Theology and Religious Studies department. Flanagin is also the chair of the Academic Senate. Questions were also allowed to be sent via email to Professor Flanagin prior to the session. There were three central topics that President Donahue focused on during this event as a response to the concerns and controversy surrounding the various issues the school is facing; these three topics included: transparency, the Business and Academic Committee (BARC), and philanthropy.

The event began with Professor Gretchen Lemke-Santangelo from the History department articulating that the financial stability of the College was the number one concern of the faculty and in regards to communication, “there is not a perception that there is sufficient transparency.” She also noted that going forward, it should be guaranteed that “we are engaged with one another in ways that engage essential info and data and process the engagement and input on those issues.” In President Donahue’s response to this concern, he emphasized that “the board has focused on the financial stability of the College in a way that I haven’t seen since my time here.”

For the future, he expressed his wish to focus on specific issues while engaging the faculty and staff to come up with the development of solutions for these problems through creative involvement. In addition, he stated that the administration has been “trying to put together a committee of trustees, faculty, and staff to identify critical issues,” which will cover “everything from enrollment to costs to alternative revenue sources.” The committee is called the Business and Academic Committee (BARC), and Donahue has stated that there will more of a focus on being more accessible and available to faculty and staff.

Another concern that was brought up was by Professor Jim Sauerberg, head of the Mathematics department, who wanted to know more about BARC, the logistics of the program, and the timeline of the project. According to Donahue, the school is currently in a transition phase, where the college must figure out how to factor all the various pieces, giving particular focus to the fundraising aspect. Therefore, in order to focus more on this shift, he stated that we must think about what current structures have been proven to be deficient. He continued by saying, “We need to develop a more comprehensive and more aggressive approach and make sure we do this in a way that relates these different pieces to one another.” In regards to a timeline of the project, the President mentioned that there would be another board meeting in January. After this point, Professor Flanagin encouraged President Donahue “to be in contact with staff leadership.”

Deriving from the issue of Saint Mary’s financial stability, it was also noted that the cost of deferred maintenance has accumulated to roughly $92 million. Deferred maintenance can be described as the delayment of upkeep on property, which is often the result of attempting to save costs, meet budget funding levels, or to readjust available funds. In this case, a number of faculty members expressed that the status and growth of this cost had been underplayed. Questions arose concerning the history of this cost, whether it was growing, and what the strategy would be for mitigating this issue. “I talk to students about this,” said Donahue, “because every year, we put a certain amount of money because of capital expenses…we don’t have together $7 billion…is that right?” At this point, Donahue confirmed with an associate that this was correct. “…7 billion in surplus to do that,” and while the school currently has an endowment of $182 million, he stated that “unless we develop budget surpluses, we can’t do what we want to do.” He continued, “We need to do things that will differentiate us away from other higher education institutions, whether that be funding in terms of donors, involvement of students, or philanthropy.”

It was also communicated that a systemic part of the issue for Saint Mary’s is that budget plans are based on “tuition-dependent year-to-year planning.” According to President Donahue, “We’re not just going to chase markets to get students. That has been shown to not really strengthen the institution, as it may help in the short term, but doesn’t really help in the long term. The good news is that we have a board that is interested in investing, and this is a fairly new experience—saying that we want to look at financial sustainability.”

A conference campaign for the library will be going public in the spring, and he noted that the school has “been trying to always go out and ask for funding for the library.” “However,” Donahue continued, “our traction has been poor. We have been very deliberately taking strides to increase funding for the library.” Furthermore, he asserted that there has been a lack of “a culture of philanthropy, where asking is central to our school. We have a unique role in Catholic education. We need to have the confidence and willingness to ask in support of that.”

Ultimately, President Donahue emphasized that “there is a seriousness in addressing these issues and not just on a year-to-year basis. Our solutions must be consistent with who we are, what our mission is, and aligning our strategies with who we are.”

To conclude the event, Professor Flanagin once again reiterated the need for transparency within the community, requesting for President Donahue to “be honest with us” “We can take bad news,” said Flanagin, who also added that this event was the first step in achieving better communication within the community.

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