ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) — A national university watchdog group has penned a letter to Hardin-Simmons University (HSU) asking them to address some current concerns on campus.
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), a nonprofit organization that “assists academic leaders, policymakers, and the public in efforts to improve higher education,” issued the letter on March 27 to the HSU Board of Trustees.
In the letter, ACTA’s president raises three issues he sees HSU currently facing, noting that “regional accreditation is a requirement for institutions that wish to access Title IV federal aid and subsidized student loan programs,” and that “trustees must be vigilant to prevent even the appearance of operating outside of accreditor standards.”
The letter accuses HSU of not including faculty in the decision processes resulting in the removal of certain programs, spending a large amount on construction and salary increases for management vs faculty, and keeping money intended for the Logsdon Seminary program, which was recently closed.
ACTA says it appears to many at HSU that the processes to close some academic programs “did not appropriately encourage faculty participation.” This is a problem, the letter states, because “best practices require engaging faculty at every step so that they understand the need for the program prioritization.”
The letter encourages HSU board members to ensure that recent decisions regarding the assessment, prioritization and revisions to programs “not only adhere to accreditor standards but also reflect best practices.”
Poor explanations of decisions that have been made not only deteriorate faculty morale, but also lessen academic freedom, according to the letter.
Next, ACTA says they found “a trend of rising administrative spending at HSU.”
Citing data from a Human Resources survey, ACTA writes that annual salary outlays in Management and Business & Financial Operations increased by more than $1 million, or 40.6% over the last seven years, while faculty salary expenditures have only increased by approximately $300,000; or 3.5%.
“Note that these figures do not take into account the elimination of several dozen faculty lines in the 2020 and 2021 fiscal years, which will almost certainly push salary outlay for faculty well below its 2012–13 level,” the letter states.
In reply, HSU says faculty and staff are “qualified and valued members of the HSU family and are responsible for maintaining the supportive, family-oriented atmosphere at HSU,” and that their salaries are “in line with other universities.”
Addressing ongoing construction costs is also a concern for ACTA, according to the letter:
“Expenditures on building projects in recent years merit the board’s scrutiny as well. According to a 2018 finance survey, construction in progress at HSU was valued at $11,847,370. Figures like these underscore the critical importance that every board member feel reassured that he or she understands fully the financial condition of the university, after a thorough review of all relevant records,” the letter states.
HSU says new construction is necessary “to maintain our campus infrastructure and represents a show of our faith for the future of the university.”
Finally, ACTA says some donors believe keeping certain monies after the closing of the Logsdon Seminary goes against the agreements achieved between themselves and the university.
“This perception on the part of donors and friends of the University is a matter that calls for close board attention. Proper stewardship of these gifts—and even returning them if the terms of the gift agreements can no longer be met—will reflect on the values of your institution,” the letter states.
In reply, HSU says, “Funds donated to the Logsdon Seminary have never been used to fund any other part of the university. In reality, the annual deficit of the seminary has been funded by the university. Unfortunately, the seminary has never been self-funding, even after taking donor gifts into account, which played a key role in our decision to close the seminary.”
The full letter, as well as HSU’s reply, can be found below:
April 1, 2020
Statement from Hardin-Simmons University
Addressing the American Council for Trustees and Alumni letter
The topics raised in the letter sent to the trustees are important, and that is why we have been engaging all of our stakeholders about the changes the university has announced. In the coming days and weeks, we’ll be sharing more about how our strategic plan will benefit not only our HSU family, but also the communities in which we live and serve, as we stand united in our mission of providing an education enlightened by Christian faith and values.
It is important to note that the letter included some clear inaccuracies:
HSU Administrative Salaries: Our faculty and staff are qualified and valued members of the HSU family and are responsible for maintaining the supportive, family-oriented atmosphere at HSU. We closely and carefully evaluate compensation for their essential roles on an annual basis and, according the latest data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, their salaries are in line with other universities.
Expenditures on Building Projects: New construction is necessary to maintain our campus infrastructure and representants a show of our faith for the future of the university. We are grateful for a variety of funding opportunities, project teams, foundations and donors that made possible renovations to several of our most used and beloved buildings, as well as critical infrastructure improvements.
Logsdon Seminary Funding: Funds donated to the Logsdon Seminary have never been used to fund any other part of the university. In reality, the annual deficit of the seminary has been funded by the university. Unfortunately, the seminary has never been self-funding, even after taking donor gifts into account, which played a key role in our decision to close the seminary.
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