Fernandes addresses financial crisis at open forum

On Oct. 22, Jane Fernandes, president of Guilford College, held an open budget forum to address the College’s current financial crisis.

Fernandes announced that Guilford is currently suffering a deficit of around $2 million, due mostly to decreasing enrollment of both traditional and CCE students since 2008. She also announced that the Board of Trustees has decided against cutting programs and instead has decided to borrow against its line of credit.

“I thought the result of the Board of Trustees’ meeting was positive,” said Fernandes. “I think it was a very forward thinking action. I’m glad they took that action to help me and the community. I think it was the best thing we could have done.”

Jimmy Wilson, interim vice president for finance, shared a similar opinion.

“I do think it was forward thinking of the board to incur short-term debt to give the president an opportunity to step into her new situation, and give it a full assessment and be strategic about how she starts out her plan for the College,” said Wilson. “It’s better for the College. In the end you’ll have a much stronger program, the College will do much better and the educational experience would be much better. It says a lot that the board is willing to take that step to do what’s best for the College.”

Fernandes also announced in the forum that the College would be allocating more resources toward financial aid to boost enrollment as well as toward faculty and staff compensation.

“Yes, there is money in there for faculty and staff raises,” said Elwood Parker, professor of mathematics and faculty representative on the Board of Trustees. “As Jane said during the Board of Trustees meeting and the forum, it’s not enough, and it’s a small amount, but at least there’s something there.

“One thing they could have obviously done to reduce the deficit was not give any. That is a message to the faculty and staff that we know you deserve it.”

Rachel Riskind, associate professor of psychology and forum attendee, summed up the situation.

“There a lot of other colleges in much worse financial situations,” said Riskind. “Some are contending with a $10 million deficit or 100 million, so it’s not something that makes me want to go home and cry myself to sleep at night, but it is a problem.”

Fernandes emphasized that in order to compete as a college, Guilford needs to figure out what the specialties of the College are and admit that it cannot be all things to all people.

While Fernandes is not yet sure what those strengths are, for the next month she will be holding consultations with students, faculty and staff to get a better grasp on what it means to be Guilford.

During the forum, it was announced that Adrienne Israel, vice president for academic affairs and academic dean, would be leaving the College at the end of this year after 13 years in office. Fernandes noted that such a lengthy tenure in the post could only be achieved by a person with very special skills and thanked Israel for her service.

Fernandes also announced that forums following Board of Trustees meeting would become a regular staple of the Guilford community.

“I thought that it would be important for the community to understand more about the board meeting and what happens there,” said Fernandes. “It’s just a good practice to share so the community understands the importance of the decisions the Board’s involved in. It’s important to talk through the perspectives and the range of options.”