Boldly Lead Responds to Summit
First, and foremost: on behalf of Boldly Lead, thank you to the staff, faculty, and Mary Baldwin University leadership who hosted the Alumni Summit last weekend. As many attendees already noted, for alumnae, simply being on campus gives us a charge and surge of positivity that is hard to quantify. After some of the Board of Trustees’ open letters and communication to attendees before the event, we know a number of folks were worried it would be a less-than-warm welcome. Instead, Summit attendees were treated to a full day of presentations and productive, targeted, well-facilitated working groups that left many with renewed hope for alumnae engagement with our beloved alma mater and opportunities to constructively move forward together. Your event was a great success, and I’d like to single out the Alumni Board for their efforts to organize and facilitate, because they did a great job.
There is still more to be done. As Katharine McLeod referenced in the wrap up session on Saturday, many of us arrived in Staunton with deeper, more long-term questions than the Summit was designed to address. Some of us had been promised specific information during the Listening Tours that was not provided at the Summit. It would have been inappropriate and unproductive to hijack the targeted sessions presented on Saturday to discuss these issues, but they are of paramount importance. These are questions specifically for the Board of Trustees.
Again, to reiterate a point made during the wrap-up on Saturday: you, the members of the Board of Trustees, are the fiduciaries and stewards of our beloved alma mater. Boldly Lead brings questions to you not to be adversarial, but because we understand that the ultimate authority in determining the strategic future of MBU lies with each of you. We had several conversations over the weekend where the need for greater trust was raised. It is impossible for alumnae to trust members whom we do not know as people and who do not answer our questions. The estrangement between alumnae and the Board did not happen overnight and was not merely caused by the implementation of University College. If you want to build trust, I encourage you to answer our questions and promote interactions between members of the Board of Trustees and the wider alumnae community. We are all sister Squirrels and supporters of Mary Baldwin University. We should work together in that capacity and have open access to one another, even if and especially when we disagree.
We hope the spirit of inquiry and dialogue fostered at the Summit will continue as we invite the Board of Trustees to address these key questions and concerns:
1. How does the Board of Trustees view their fiduciary responsibility? There is an important difference between “Mary Baldwin University,” as an educational brand and large employer and “Mary Baldwin University,” as an institution with a rich heritage and commitment to undergraduate education and the liberal arts. What is the Mary Baldwin University that you are obliged to steward and uphold? As has been previously noted, all reference to “women’s education” has been removed from the Articles of Incorporation. This is not “just a legal document,” – it is the document that formally establishes the purpose of the organization. Having removed women from your officially stated purpose, we need to know who you are and how you see yourselves. Your mission statement is a poor substitute, because it is not a legal document and can be reworded at any time for marketing purposes.
2. According to the Articles of Incorporation, the MBU Board of Trustees is obliged to have five officially designated alumni trustees. It is a point of pride that significantly more of the trustees are alumnae, as this demonstrates the commitment of alumnae to our institution. In seeking to understand your structure, who are the official alumni trustees? Was their candidacy proposed by the Alumni Board as indicated in the AoI?
3. In 2015, Chairman Miller convened a six-person Enterprise Risk Task Force. To our knowledge, the composition of this task force has not been revealed. Who is on the Enterprise Risk Task Force? What was their criteria for selection? How do their activities affect the deliberation of the full Board?
4. According to the Articles of Incorporation, the Alumni Board president is a voting member of the Board of Trustees. Since the implementation of University College, we have heard from Theresa Cash Lewis that she is not permitted to vote in Board meetings. As she is the official voice of the alumnae on the Board, we want to ensure that her right to full participation has not been misinterpreted or neglected. In the implementation of University College, Did Theresa Cash Lewis vote, abstain, or was she denied a vote?
Again, we would like to reiterate Boldly Lead’s request that the meeting minutes from Board meetings when University College was discussed be released. That will additionally clarify for alumnae that a diversity of perspectives were considered before a consensus vote was taken.
5. Much has been made about how President Fox’s compensation compares to other Virginia university presidents. Given the size of some of our neighboring institutions, however, that is an unfair point of comparison. Besides, inclusive of retirement and other benefits, President Fox is not the lowest paid executive at a Virginia university.
Instead it makes sense to compare executive compensation at MBU to itself over time. Between 2003 and 2014, President Fox’s total compensation has increased by 41%, (from $186,772 to $453,070). A substantial amount of that has come from retirement contributions ($127,257 in 2014). Likewise, between 2006 and 2014, Executive VP for Business Finance, David Mowen’s compensation increased by 54% (from 115,320 to 214,988). Similar increases can be seen in compensation across the administrative team.
Frank conversations about compensation can be uncomfortable, however, our concern with the publicly available 990 data is not a prurient desire to investigate any one person’s bank balance. We are troubled to note, however, that these increases occurred during at a time when Mary Baldwin was reportedly struggling financially and when routine cost of living adjustments to faculty were frozen as were their retirement contributions. The increase in executive compensation has been explained away as contractually mandated. When and how were these contracts negotiated? What kind of benchmarks or metrics were required by the contracts? To the executive team in particular: As leaders, how could you accept raises when your staff was going without and your organization was struggling?
5. What is the strategic plan for the Mary Baldwin College for Women for the next five years? This was addressed in the morning session on Saturday, but answered to no satisfaction. “Preserving” or “maintaining” the program is not enough to protect it long-term – it must be made to thrive so that in the future there is no question of it’s importance and sustainability.
Creating new programs in the University to cover the losses of MBCW does not address the underlying problem, which is that the MBCW is under-enrolled and operates at a significant loss that strains University resources.
We have heard your statistic that only 3% of high-school women report that they would ever consider a women’s college, but we are concerned that the conversation about growing the College for Women seems to stop there. Three percent of high-school women would be roughly 350,000 women annually – more than enough if engaged to sustain and grow MBCW. Moreover, many of us were in the 97% camp until we were educated about the benefits and possibilities of a single-sex education. Three percent is a small percentage. What consumer education has been and will be attempted to grow that number to 3.5 or 4%?
6. What revenue is expected from University College? The operating loss for the College for Women is $9 million dollars. You intend to enroll 100 students in University College. Assuming average tuition after discounting of $18,000, in its first year University College would generate only $1.8 million. Fully operational after four years, only $7.2 million. That is assuming University College is pure profit and generates no additional administrative costs of its own.
Surely, there was a business case for University College with projections, facts and numbers. We would like to see it.
7. How many students transferred after the announcement of University College? We would like to compare the total number of students transferring after Fall 2016 and Spring 2017, with the total number for 2015-16 and see those numbers broken out by class year. If the implementation of University College is adversely affecting retention, that will detract from any overall profit generated by the program.
8. According to the National Center for Education Statistics from 2004 to 2014, Mary Baldwin increased its administrative spending 23%. As a result, for every dollar spent on instruction, MBU spends $0.54 on “institutional support,” defined as human resources, public relations, legal and other administrative functions that do not directly benefit students. While the average private college has 9 administrators for every 100 students, MBU has 16.
What is being done to curb or cut this spending in the future? During the D.C. listening tour, it was suggested that Mary Baldwin’s signature programs require adding additional administrative staff, however, this overhead significantly cuts into any supposed revenue generated by new programming and it is unclear how creating new graduate programs necessitates hiring more HR or legal professionals.
9. It is presumed that the dramatic increase in debt and net PPE is related to the Murphy Deming College of Heath Sciences. When is the expected payback on this investment? Was there a business case put forward that is being measured against? Is the tuition reported for the most recent year on plan?
10. What drove the $4.5M in “investment income” reported in 2014 990? This is significantly higher than prior years.
11. Tuition is broken down between the program segments in the Annual Report posted, is there any ability to break expenses down by these categories?
12. Does Mary Baldwin review their Composite Financial Index? Is there any commentary around the trend down in the CFI? Is Mary Baldwin comfortable with the current level of debt?
13. There was $977,479 spent with a vendor named Jenzabar for an ERP implementation in 2014. Was there an official bid process run? What drove the decision to choose Jenzabar over other vendors such as Ellucian?
One additional point, that is more statement than question.The Articles of Incorporation prohibit a trustee from the appearance of a conflict of interest. We wish to reiterate that Karen Bailey Chapman’s appointment to Vice President for External Affairs has the strong appearance of a conflict of interest. Although she may be donating her time pro bono, as a business owner, her success in this endeavor could redound to her professional benefit. A statement from the Chairman of the Board of Trustees that an appointment is not a conflict of interest, does not eliminate the appearance of a conflict of interest. Indeed, we trust that the appointment was made in good faith and Chairman Miller would have interceded had she personally the appearance of a conflict of interest. We assume no bad intent here, but the dual role does appear improper and the appearance of impropriety is sufficient. We again must call for Karen Bailey Chapman to cease operating in this dual role.
As you can see, the scope of our questions were not appropriate for Saturday’s event. We want to reiterate that our questions are motivated by our deep love for Mary Baldwin. We want to see the University and the College for Women thriving and well-positioned for success long into the 21st century. Contrary to how Boldly Lead has been characterized in the press, we seek to work with the Board of Trustees in ensuring another 175 years of success for Mary Baldwin University.