Terry Falk

Analysis Questions Staff Cuts At Marquette

Report done for professor association questions claims of administration.

By - Sep 9th, 2021 04:34 am
Looking west down W. Wells St. at Marquette's Campus Town Apartments. Campus Town East is the most visible. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Looking west down W. Wells St. at Marquette’s Campus Town Apartments. File photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The university was in dire straits, the administration told the Marquette community. Sacrifices had to be made. Staff cuts were inevitable. Marquette faced a financial gap of $40 million which could get even worse. Much of the gap was based upon falling enrollment due to a shrinking pool of prospective students. The COVID pandemic exasperated the situation. 

Marquette’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) didn’t buy it; the cuts to non-tenure track faculty and other staff were unnecessary, they contended, and hired Dr. Howard Bunsis of Eastern Michigan University to do a financial analysis of Marquette. That analysis was published by the Marquette AAUP chapter on August 16 under the title, “Not Close to Any Financial Trouble.” 

The Marquette administration declined to cooperate with Bunsis and provided no documents for his study. They stated before the Marquette Senate on August 30 that Bunsis was a biased examiner paid to produce certain conclusions. Bunsis is also a member of AAUP at his university. 

At the meeting, Doug Smith, president of Marquette AAUP, asked Provost Dr. Kimo Ah Yun to comment on what we could take away from the Bunsis analysis. He refused to answer, says Smith, only stating, “I will have our vice president of finance and our executive vice president answer those questions.” Smith says he is waiting for those answers.

Lynn Griffith, Senior Director of University Communications at Marquette, responded to our request for a statement: “The AAUP chapter is a self-appointed group, not a representative body that is part of Marquette’s shared governance.”

It is correct that AAUP has no formal contract with the university. The AAUP has union contracts at several other universities. Its support at Marquette can be best judged by the degree to which its positions are reflected in the official Marquette Senate which has a much broader faculty representation.

Continues Griffith: “Bunsis’ conclusions always undermine the university and support the financial and political goals of the AAUP and similar groups… the many claims made are misleading or factually incorrect.”

Griffith does not outline what those errors are, but here is what Bunsis contends from the documents he was able to piece together: 

Marquette was never in such dire straits. Rather the administration may have hyped the financial situation in order to begin restructuring Marquette University in ways that would fundamentally change the nature and direction of this Jesuit institution.

Bunsis found that Marquette’s cash flow for last year and the next was better than reported. The university had more unrestricted reserves to plug any short-term shortages than the administration told the community. But the endowment was under-performing with its investments. Marquette needed to handle its investments better. The independent Moody’s bond rating placed Marquette on a solid footing.

Bunsis also found that a higher-than-average percentage of MU’s budget was going to administrative overhead. The top 86 management salaries averaged $187,117. The “conclusion is clear: Marquette spends more on upper-level administration than peer institutions,” the report stated.

Long-term projections are that the pool of prospective students from which Marquette has traditionally drawn will continue to shrink for the decade and beyond. But the decrease is manageable and nontraditional student pools can be tapped, the report suggested. Marquette saw a 2.3% drop in enrollment from Fall 2019 to Fall 2020.

To be fair to the administration and Marquette’s Board of Trustees, they had little way to judge the impact COVID-19 would have on their future short-term enrollment or their financial portfolio. Nor did they know that they would receive $15.3 million from the federal government in relief, enough to offset the pandemic-related losses for last school year.

But the AAUP contends that Marquette’s administration intentionally painted a worse-case scenario in order to accelerate the restructuring of the university away from a traditional liberal arts model to one of business, health and technology. The very act of this transformation would ultimately gut the Catholic Jesuit identity of Marquette, concluded AAUP. Such actions by the Marquette leadership match trends taking place across the nation at other universities as outlined in a previous article published by Urban Milwaukee.

There is a particular problem facing Jesuit institutions, says Smith. “There are many more lay presidents at Jesuit institutions than there were in the past… It is not entirely clear that those presidents are pursuing the same objectives that the Jesuit presidents have.” Smith does not directly mention Marquette’s president, Michael Lovell, who previous served as chancellor at UW-Milwaukee and at other public universities before that.

“Liberal arts has been the foundation of Jesuit education for almost 500 years and has been successful in that regard.” Continues Smith, “When I ask students why they came to Marquette, they say ‘the Catholic Jesuit character of the institution and our commitment to academic excellence.’” Smith is worried that Marquette could stray too far from its Jesuit roots. “We run the risk of losing those students.”

Smith himself is hardly a cloistered cleric. He was a captain in the U.S. Army Judge Advocates Corp and has been a practicing business lawyer for 35 years.

Marquette’s AAUP will continue to push forward, says Smith. On September 9, at 7 p.m., Dr. Bunsis will give an online presentation of his analysis of Marquette’s finances. Any member of the public can login: shorturl.at/tAJS2.

Smith says they will continue to push the administration to work with the entire Marquette community. At the August 30 senate meeting, a resolution was proposed to create a faculty budget and financial planning committee to work with the administration. That resolution should be voted on at the next Marquette Senate meeting.

Griffith states that there is already faculty representation on the present University Financial Planning and Review Committee, but several professors have suggested the faculty representation on that committee does not represent the full range of opinions in the MU community.

There are two scenarios for the present situation and the future of Marquette:

One is that too many members of the Marquette community are trying to hold on to the past. The university must be more realistic about the declining enrollments due to demographic changes and market forces. The administration understands this and wants to make bold innovations to establish a solid future for Marquette.

The other is that Marquette needs to be more than just a technical school dancing to the tune of market forces. In its effort to maintain financial and enrollment stability, it cannot lose its Catholic Jesuit liberal arts soul. Otherwise, there is no reason for it to exist. But it can change and even grow if it holds on to its established roots.

Smith says he isn’t looking for confrontation with the administration. While they have some differences in how they see the university, all must come together.  But he believes the administration is reluctant to commit to shared governance with the Marquette community. “Change is inevitable,” Smith says, “and we do have to think about where the future is going to go and how we best prepare for it.”

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Categories: Education

One thought on “Analysis Questions Staff Cuts At Marquette”

  1. kate retzlaff says:

    exacerbated/exasperated

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