With the first decline in enrollment at Dillard since 1997 and the protracted search for a new president, Dillard University has been a hot topic of discussion on campus.
But administrators say there is no cause for alarm.
These situations, as well as others, have spawned various rumors about the university’s budget and how the school is out of money and in debt during this transition year.
"There is no reason why students, faculty and the administration should be concerned," said Maureen Larkins, director of university communications. Larkins said that the university has experienced steady growth in enrollment for the past seven years, and this year experienced a "slight bump" and turns into a big story when it really is not.
Larkins released a letter that was written by Dr. Bettye Parker Smith, interim president, in which she addressed issues that concerned members of the Dillard community.
Smith wrote "there is no financial emergency at Dillard." Smith also wrote that at $45 million, Dillard possesses one of the largest endowments among UNCF schools.
Endowment funds come from fundraising or other investments and are used at the discretion of the university. Endowment monies can only be used at the approval of the board of trustees at Dillard after voting on its usage.
"Most private institutions have some form of endowment," said Dr. Emmett W. Bashful, founding chancellor of Southern University at New Orleans. SUNO has a small endowment because it is a state school and receives state appropriated money each year.
Bashful said an endowment is very important for a private institution and is an "untouchable fund" that should only be used in an emergency situation.
Smith also stated that the board of trustees approved an operating budget for 2004-2005 at $55 million. Tuition and fees paid by students covers only half of the annual operating budget, Smith stated. The university is current with its vendors in terms of payment, Larkins added.
The board of trustees has not approved to take money out of the endowment to pay off any debts according to Larkins.
Two candidates for president of the university were brought to campus to meet the Dillard community in early October of last year. A finalist was selected by the board of trustees and the presidential search committee, but the finalist declined the position because of personal reasons. The name of the finalist was not released.
"The university has been around for 135 years and maintains a strong student body, recruitment is constant and the search for the president is continuing," Larkins said.
Dillard’s enrollment for fall 2004 was 2,155 students, which is about a seven percent drop from 2,312 in 2003.
Smith also addressed this issue in the letter by stating that projection for new student enrollment was met, but the decline enrollment was mostly from students not returning to Dillard from spring 2004, saying that academic, social or personal issues caused students to drop out. Larkins also said the university makes retention a top priority by offering tutoring services and by calling current students every year to see if they will return or not.
The buy-out or early retirement options offered to faculty and staff has also been a topic of discussion. Smith stated in the letter that business and individuals are tightening their budgets to save money and Dillard University is no exception. Smith stated that it is a common practice for companies and organizations to strengthen their financial positions to offer early retirement options to employees. She also stated that most people viewed the early retirement option as a chance to pursue other careers, travel and further their education or spend more time with family.
The first time this type of package was offered was in 1999 Larkins said. She also said that it was totally voluntary. Larkins would not release any details about the package or what member of the faculty or staff took the option. "These were private documents between the employee and the employer," Larkins said.
"Everyone did not fit the criteria and only a small percent of people actually took it," she added. The work that these persons were doing will not affect services to the university she said.
In addition, the first Holiday Closing took place at the university this past winter break. Essential employees were required to work during the Christmas and New Year holidays. Smith stated this decision made excellent fiscal sense and said that the university will continue to look for ways to save money and continue to make sure the students’ experience is superior to those of other institutions.