Questions Arise About College Layoffs

In the wake of Saint Anselm College’s decision to lay off 13 employees, questions have arisen about the true nature of the college’s financial status. The college’s Form 990 and 2017 financial report do not seem to reveal any glaring issues concerning the immediate finances of the school. When combined with recent increases in enrollment and tuition, the decision to layoff 14 staff members may come as suspect.

In a statement to The Hilltopper issued on May 25, 2018, the college seemed to suggest that the 14 eliminated positions were a preemptive measure, not necessarily a response to declining revenue. The statement read in part, “We have been blessed with success in recent years, and our enrollment and endowment are very strong. We need to maintain the position of strength from which we currently operate into the future.”

The statement continued, “The college’s future is bright. However, based on long range financial projections, there was valid concern about the college’s current ability to meet upcoming financial challenges, and consensus that lowering our overall expense growth was critical.”

When asked to further elaborate on the college’s financial footing, Eric Norman, the CFO, referred The Hilltopper to the previous statement issued by the college.

Students have been outraged by the decision to cut 14 people from the school, many of whom held student-facing positions. A petition launched online by “SACstudents4change,” received more than 200 signatures in its first six hours. The petition reads in part, “Firing members of the community with very little notice is unjust and does not follow the Benedictine values of hospitality, justice, and respect.” As of now, the petition has nearly 900 signatures.

The petition also addresses the fact that the student body was not informed directly of the terminations. The New Hampshire Union Leader first reported the story followed shortly by The Hilltopper. No email was sent to the student body about the firings.

Among the demands of the petition is a call for “financial transparency.” It reads, “It is only fair that alumni and generous donors know exactly where their money is going. In order to continue these days, we need an honest report of the College’s financial status.”

Evan Brown of South Burlington, Vermont, signed the petition. He commented, “For too long this administration has only cared about asking for money rather than looking out for the best for the community. As an alum I am refusing to donate until significant changes have been made.”

The demand for financial transparency has been an underlying theme in the criticism of the administration’s recent decision. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, President DiSalvo was compensated $359,874 for his work at the college in 2015, including $20,000 in a bonus. According to Business Insider, that puts Dr. DiSalvo in the top 1% of income earners in New Hampshire and just shy of the threshold to be classified in the top 1% of income earners in the United States.

CFO Eric Norman took office in September 2017. (Photo by Saint Anselm)

Some have asked questions about the new makeup of the school’s finance office, now under the leadership of CFO Eric Norman. In May of 2018, the office hired a new woman as the Senior Financial Analyst. Yet, two staff members of the finance office with more than 20 years of combined experience were among the 14 let go by Saint Anselm College. A former staff member of the school who left before the announcement of layoffs told The Hilltopper Mr. Norman had an extensive personal and professional history with the new analyst. Mr. Norman declined to comment.

There has also been tension with the monastic community. According to a current college staff member, the monastery was on their annual retreat when the layoffs were executed. That same staff member confirmed that the monastic community was not notified of the layoffs ahead of time. Even Abbot Mark Cooper, OSB, the Chancellor of the College, was not informed.

Thanks to a current college staff member, The Hilltopper is able to report an updated list of 14 positions that have been eliminated. Twelve of these positions were already mentioned in the previous article on the matter. The additional two positions are the Director of Advancement and Campaign Communications and an administrative assistant in the Dana Center. Of the 14 people fired from the college, nine were financial contributors to the school.

It is not clear how the Dana Center will operate without a director or administrative assistant. The college has not released a statement explaining its plans for the Center.

It has been two weeks since the layoffs, but the school administration has not informed the student body of the terminations in any formal capacity. Perhaps answers will come after the Board of Trustees meets Friday.

Cover image by FJ Gaylor.