Grounded in the Past, Managing the Present and Committed to the Future

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Guest column by Donald Griffith, chair, Fresno Pacific University Board of Trustees

Throughout my career, I sat around perhaps hundreds of kitchen tables counseling families on how to get out of debt. The challenge of getting out of debt is that one must focus on three things ALL AT ONCE: (1) the past—accumulated debt, (2) the present—paying current bills and (3) the future—saving for future emergencies and opportunities. Addressing all three issues simultaneously creates a strain but contributes to a much brighter future. It seems Fresno Pacific is in a similar situation in which the university must deal with issues grounded in the past, manage the present and commit to the future. Some practices from the past must be addressed in new ways, and we must balance the budget and maintain innovative and excellent programming now while we plan for and invest in the future. This can be a daunting task, but the university is making definite progress.

On Friday, the Fresno Pacific University Board of Trustees conducted its business meeting, devoting Saturday to board training with Paul Corts, Ph.D. The board approved promotion in rank for the following faculty: Angel Krause, M.A., School of Education, promoted to assistant professor; David Weber, Psy.D., School of Education, promoted to associate professor; Gina Ponce de Leon, Ph.D., School of HRSS, promoted to full professor; Tim Neufeld, D.Min., School of HRSS, promoted to full professor; and Larry Dunn, Ph.D., School of HRSS, promoted to full professor. Please join the board in congratulating these distinguished faculty and the entire FPU faculty for their outstanding work and dedication! The board also approved the tuition rates for the 2017-2018 school year, approved a new AIMS/FPU Memorandum of Understanding and Ground Lease and Joint Building Ownership agreement and approved a building maintenance endowment policy that requires raising 10 percent of building costs for endowment before construction can start.

Friday the board also discussed a couple of issues presently affecting the university. The impact of the posture of the current U.S. administration relative to immigration issues was discussed. We learned about the high level of widespread fear and angst some students, including DACA students, have regarding applying for admission or student aid. These are challenging times during which the university is seeking appropriate ways to uphold the law while at the same time supporting and encouraging all students. Another issue the board discussed was the report given during the Town Hall meeting on January 31. Administration identified what appears to be a systemic flaw with the FPU business model: low tuition, high discount rates and a high percentage of smaller classes relative to our peers. The result is a very low net revenue per student compared to our peers. Tuition is really market-driven, so the solution must be found in addressing the high percent of smaller-size classes. This issue has been affecting operating revenue at FPU for some time. The good news is once the underlying issues are addressed, we should permanently experience a much healthier cash flow per student.

Saturday’s board training was conducted by Paul Corts, who was our presidential search consultant. He drew on knowledge gained in the president and provost searches as he addressed a number of issues with the board from an informed perspective. Paul pointed out the dedication and hard work of our faculty, and then focused our training on three areas: (1) care and nurture of the president, (2) modeling accountability and integrity and (3) leading in quality improvement. These issues are of great importance as we anticipate the arrival of our next university president beginning July 1. The board was made keenly aware of the need to establish expectations for the new president, to develop clear measurable goals and to provide support by developing a new Presidential Care Committee, among other things. The board also learned of the need to further develop tools and processes to conduct annual board member reviews and periodic independent board evaluations. Another area of interest was improving university quality through purpose-driven audits. Specifically, we discussed the need for periodic independent audits in such areas as programming, enrollment and student aid, facilities, deferred maintenance and building endowments, risk management and academic programs.

The board is keenly aware of the hard work faculty, staff and administration are putting forth and the sacrifices necessary to balance the budget, and is deeply grateful for the entire FPU team. As we look forward, we believe there is much to be encouraged about: we can expect higher per-student net revenue on an ongoing basis once the class size issue is addressed; the new Academic Innovation online initiative is beginning to take hold; advances in financial reporting are contributing to informed decisions based on data; Joseph Jones, Ph.D., our new president, will begin work on July 1 and brings with him new vision and energy; and a new provost will round out the new executive team this summer. God has been faithful in the past, and we continue to work toward a future where FPU will be more efficient, innovative and bold, thriving for the benefit of all.