an Escher picture.
On Wednesday evening a group of alumni and Board of Trustees members hosted an informational meeting at the high school about their attempt to keep SJC alive. They do not represent the administration or the majority of the Board but instead are part of the faction that opposed the decision that the Board took on February 3. Below are some of the items that I thought were interesting. (For those who want to know more, the Rensselaer Republican had an article on the meeting in the Thursday edition with the promise for a follow-up. Part of the meeting was also streamed on Facebook, try here.)
Only 606 of the 904 students enrolled this semester lived on campus. Reasons given for the difficulty in attracting students included the falling birthrate, on-line education, and the questioning of whether a college degree was worth the money. An alumnus who pledged $10 million some years ago only gave $2 million. (I wonder if perhaps he decided that the College was not being managed well and that is the reason he did not fulfill the pledge. I also wonder if the perception that the College was not well run might be the reason that the alumni contribution rate was only 18%.) The EPA required that SJC switch from coal to natural gas and that cost about $1.1 million. (The amount was probably higher than it should have been because the College did not install the right equipment initially and had to redo some of it.) Councilman Scott Barton later in the meeting noted that if the College were in City limits, its utility bills (over $1 million) would be 25% lower There was no convincing explanation as to why the College had not sought to be put inside the limits.
The payment on the debt to build the Core Building and the Apartments was only interest, no principle. The auditors have delayed their report to give the College a chance to fix problems, but that delay seems not to have helped. If the auditors find that the financial condition is such that there is question of the College's ability to survive, it will lose federal funding. The administration of the College seemed to be planning a major campaign for funds and was waiting for the completion of a strategic plan to launch the campaign. During the wait they were not actively fundraising but instead were friend raising, getting ready for the big campaign. The administration seemed to not recognize the seriousness of the financial situation and they had no plan B.
Thirty members of the Board were at the meeting in early February and the vote was 18 to suspend operations and 12 opposed. There were three options presented, and the suspension seemed to be the least awful. Some of those who voted to suspend seem to be having second thoughts. My guess is that they did not recognize that their vote to suspend may actually have been a vote to close the College. Some of the assumptions behind the suspension have since proven to be false. The Board apparently has some strange things in its bylaws--the only way to remove a Board member is for the Board member to miss three consecutive meetings and only the Chairman of the Board can dismiss the President of the College. The Board was meeting only three times a year.
If enthusiasm and drive could save the College, the College would be saved based on the passion that was displayed by the people hosting the meeting. Unfortunately there are huge problems that remain. The decision to suspend and the way it has been handled have done tremendous damage to trust and to the SJC brand. I wish them well and hope they are successful.
If SJC cannot be raised from the dead and if no other group is found to take over the campus, the campus will be empty next year and it will be vandalized. If the buildings are not heated, they will deteriorate. Whoever is in control will have to make a decision to keep the entire property intact or to separate it into parts and try to sell the parts. Some of those parts may have value and others, such as dorms, may have none at all, but the value of the parts will probably be less than the value of the whole. It will interesting to see what happens. I hope there is a happy ending but right now I cannot see one.