Faculty might seek vote of no confidence in York College president

York College campus

York College administrators say declining enrollment has led to an expected $2.9 million budget shortfall next year, and they have asked faculty and staff for more than $1 million in compensation cuts.

Faculty members balked and instead formed a committee to draft a motion of no confidence in college President Pamela Gunter-Smith.

Committees representing them say they've been shut out of the budgeting process in violation of an earlier agreement and were given little time to react to the administrators' demands.

The faculty's budget and benefits committees claim that members were given the concessions request at an April 16 budget meeting and were "asked to respond within a few days," according to a May 1 Academic Senate meeting agenda.

The options presented to them were: limiting the increase to their salary pool, decreasing the school's retirement match, adding a $100 per month surcharge on health insurance for working spouses and eliminating the voluntary separation plan for retirees (which gives employees a half a year or whole year of severance based on age) — for a total of $1.4 million in savings.

The goal was to get the deficit down to a more reasonable $1.5 million to present to the Board of Trustees, and the committees were asked for faculty input on "which changes they found less injurious," according to a letter from Gunter-Smith.

York College President Pamela Gunter-Smith

In response to questions for this report, she issued a statement — delivered via email by college vice president of communications Mary Dolheimer on Tuesday, May 15 — emphasizing her commitment to the faculty.

“York College’s faculty are central to the delivery of our academic mission," Dolheimer stated on behalf of Gunter-Smith, adding that she is committed to "providing fair and competitive compensation for all our employees.”

In an email sent to faculty members April 20, Academic Senate President Jim Kearns called the options "alarming and upsetting."

The Academic Senate is made up of faculty and administration and serves as a body of shared governance on decisions such as student welfare, curriculum, long-range planning and the budgetary process, according to the college website.

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Low enrollment: Gunter-Smith sent an April 30 letter to faculty and staff citing continuing low enrollment as the source of the budget shortfall.  

The deficit reflects net tuition revenue declines beginning as early as fall 2011, she wrote.

With a loss of about 100 full-time undergraduates a year, the college is down about 800 students — amounting to a loss of about $10 million in net tuition revenue, she added.

"Declining enrollment is a reality," said York College history professor Paul Doutrich, who retired Saturday, May 12. "It’s a fact at many schools."

However, he said, it "is not a product of faculty," and the instructors shouldn't have to make up the difference.

Gunter-Smith added that in a declining market for undergraduates, the school is continuing to "invest in admissions processes" and new markets, including graduate and certificate programs.

York College used reserves in 2016 to invest $50 million in an endowment, of which it uses 6 percent, or $3 million, annually to fund strategic initiatives, according to her letter.

But administrators don't want to use that to cover operational costs.

"Using the Strategic Plan Fund or our endowments to fund operating losses jeopardizes the college's future," she wrote.

However, Doutrich said the school's endowment has gone up significantly in the past 10 years, in part because of previous concessions from the faculty.

"It's not a shared burden," he continued. "It's a burden that's being put on the shoulders of the faculty — almost exclusively, as I see it."

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Not faculty's burden: Kearns, the president of the Academic Senate, disputed the president's explanation for the shortfall.

"The enrollment numbers are not the source of this deficit," he wrote in his April 20 email. "If they were, I would recognize the need for all of us to tighten our belts."

Rather, he said, "this deficit is the direct result of money set aside for strategic initiatives that implicitly and ultimately will pay for themselves." 

For example, Doutrich said, the faculty is being asked to absorb a high percentage of costs associated with the college's transition to a university, for which it needed to hire five new deans, as well as other expenses. 

But the salaries from a total number of eliminated chair positions will more than cover what the deans are making, bringing excess money to the school, he said. 

The formal process of taking the college administration structure to a university administration structure has been implemented over this year and last year, Doutrich said.

Gunter-Smith says costs have been shared by administrators, too. The past three years, she wrote, the college addressed declining revenue by delaying or not filling staff positions — primarily on the staff/administrator side.

And this year, senior administrators were asked to reduce their budgets by about $1 million, she continued.

No confidence: In response to the president's proposal, the Academic Senate overwhelmingly approved four motions during a May 1 meeting.

Doutrich said the meeting had close to 100 percent attendance from faculty and staff  — the most he's seen in about 30 years.

The first motion rejected the budget proposal and accompanying cuts, and the second notified the Board of Trustees that the college was not fulfilling agreements for shared governance relating to budgetary and financial matters.

According to a 1977 statement reprinted in the agenda, faculty should be involved in preparation of the budget as well as decisions relevant to salaries, academic programs, tuition, physical plants and grounds.

The faculty notified the administration of a failure to meet those standards as early as 2008-09, according to the agenda. The budget committee did not endorse the school's budget for 2009-10.

And in 2014 and 2015, faculty reported continued frustration with lack of rationale for benefit cuts. 

"I’ve been here 30 years, and for 22 of those years, it was a very special school," Doutrich said, because of cooperation and mutual respect between faculty and administration. "For the last eight years, that special-ness has been fading."

Through Dolheimer's Tuesday statement, Gunter-Smith also addressed the concerns over shared governance.

"We are also committed to the tenet of shared governance and to providing opportunities for input and feedback on important decisions affecting the College," she stated.

Board of Trustees Secretary Jeff Hines, who is also president and CEO of the York Water Co., said he was aware of the administration's communications to faculty about next year's proposed cuts but not of the decisions of the Senate.

York County Rail Trail Authority member Jeff Hines (left) poses with award recipient Ken Martin, dean of campus operations at York College. (Photo submitted)

He said he personally believes the faculty has been involved in the budget process, and he has full confidence in the current administration.

Similar requests for compensation cuts have been made during past shortfalls, he said, and it's typical of an organization during a budgeting process. 

The Academic Senate's third motion limits faculty work to contractual obligations, and the fourth approves the formation of a committee to write a motion of no confidence in Gunter-Smith, who has been president since 2013.

A no confidence motion acts as a statement from the faculty that they do not believe the president can effectively manage the school. When schools do this, it's usually published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Doutrich said, and "it doesn't sit well."

Kearns met with the Board of Trustees on Friday, May 11, and presented faculty concerns, but it's likely faculty will not hear a response until mid- to late August, Doutrich said. 

"My understanding is that if something’s not done to address the issues, that that action (of voting on a motion of no confidence) is likely to be taken," he said.