DiSalvo Says He’s “Going Out on Top” as He Leaves for Endicott

President Steven R. DiSalvo speaking at the 2015 Commencement. (Photo by Saint Anselm College)

Dr. Steven R. DiSalvo had a long list of goals for Saint Anselm College when he arrived on campus five years ago. He wanted to increase the school’s visibility and produce a strong brand, create greater financial stability, and upgrade the campus’ infrastructure. According to DiSalvo, he has achieved all of these things.

DiSalvo set out to utilize the New Hampshire Institute of Politics to improve name recognition of the college and strengthen Saint Anselm’s brand. “It clearly worked,” DiSalvo said.Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, Saint Anselm College played a prominent role.  Campus visits increased 46% after the primary season.

He also discussed  the extensive upgrades to campus infrastructure that have occurred  under his administration. Since the construction of the Living Learning Commons, the campus has grown to include the grotto, a new campus entrance, and the Roger and Francine Jean Student Center Complex. Additionally, the college has updated the plaza in front of Alumni Hall and is currently working on updating classroom spaces across campus.

Yet one of the accomplishments of which DiSalvo is most proud is also the most controversial. He is excited that the college has experienced greater financial stability under his administration. DiSalvo says he and his team achieved this goal by increasing enrollment, improving the retention and graduation rates, and unveiling the Faith in the Future campaign, which is near conclusion.

In particular, DiSalvo notes the growth of the college’s endowment. The year before he arrived at the Hilltop, Saint Anselm’s endowment stood at $83 million. Today it stands at $157 million. The interest on that endowment is used to offer financial aid packages to students. As DiSalvo prepares to leave, Saint Anselm is better positioned to attract a more competitive field of applicants because of this increase.

Some of that financial stability came about as a result of the college’s decision to eliminate 13 positions, a story The Hilltopper first reported on in May 2018. In his first on-the-record interview with the paper about the issue, DiSalvo explained the reasoning behind the  decision. “When we looked at budget forecasting,” DiSalvo said, the administration could see there was going to be stress on the budget. “The board’s direction,” he explained, “was to address that last year.”

DiSalvo insisted that the process was handled well. “That exercise was handled professionally, gracefully, and we worked with those individuals to make sure they had everything they needed to find a landing spot,” he said.

He also pushed back against the idea that the decision was done through a top-down approach. “Each department head,” he explained, “was charged with finding at least one full-time position they could live without. So it was really up to the department heads to determine which positions they wanted to focus on.”

This statement contradicted previous understanding of the firing process. According to an August article from the New Hampshire Union Leader, “DiSalvo informed the Union Leader that the 13 eliminated positions were decided by the administration with input from the institution’s vice presidents.”

Further, DiSalvo maintained that the impact on students always remained at the forefront while the decisions were being made. “We wanted to make sure the student experience was central,” he said.

In retrospect, DiSalvo said, he would have held off on announcing the voluntary resignations of the Vice President of Administration and the Vice President of Student Affairs. “Those were separate from the 13 and because they were announced at the same time, people assumed those positions were eliminated but they weren’t,” he explained. Overall, he maintained that the process was handled “pretty well.”

DiSalvo believes that, because of a number of factors, Saint Anselm is on firmer financial footing than when he arrived five years ago. That success combined with greater brand recognition and the upgrades to infrastructure that he initiated have contributed to Saint Anselm entering the Top 100 Liberal Arts Colleges, according to U.S. News and World Report. DiSalvo says that entering the top 100 is his proudest accomplishment here from his time on the Hilltop.

DiSalvo admits to falling short in one category. He had hoped to establish a program for advanced degrees. “I think it’s critically important that the next president move that forward,” he said. As DiSalvo explained it, “By offering graduate programs, there’s greater financial stability.” He continued, “Knowing what I know now about the stress on the current infrastructure for undergraduates, the only other way to grow is at the graduate level. And that’s what I would have done had I stayed.”

Now, as his time at Saint Anselm comes to a close, DiSalvo prepares to take what he called the “great logical next step” in his career, being inaugurated as the seventh president of Endicott College. The college made the announcement via a video posted to their Twitter account at 6:15 AM on March 27th.

After being “recruited by several institutions,” DiSalvo decided on Endicott for a number of reasons. Mostly, the college represents a new challenge for Saint Anselm’s outgoing president. He noted that he is moving to a larger school of more than 5,000 students. In addition to a greater student body, Endicott consists of nine separate schools and has double the operating budget with about 30% more employees. He was further drawn to Endicott’s experiential learning component. Students there are required to take internships, beginning freshman year, and the program culminates with a full-semester internship during a student’s senior year. He said he very much likes the “entrepreneurial approach” that Endicott takes to ensure its students’ success. Additionally, Endicott allows DiSalvo to remain in New England, where his family has called home since arriving in New Hampshire in 2014.

As DiSalvo leaves the hilltop, he is confident in his legacy at Saint Anselm College. He sees now as the right time to move on, confident in what he’s accomplished and excited for what lies ahead at Endicott. “The comfortable thing would be to stick around where you know everybody and try to coast it out,” he said, “but I am also a big believer – if you look at my track record – I don’t like to overstay my welcome. I really did feel that I’m going out on top, given everything we were able to accomplish.”

DiSalvo intends to begin his time at Endicott as he began it here at Saint Anselm – with a listening tour. He hopes to meet varying constituencies across campus in an effort to understand their expectations for his presidency. He said that every Thursday night during his first year as president he sat in the pub to meet with whichever members of the faculty came to talk with him. He joked that the process would be easy to replicate because “[Endicott] also has a pub on campus!”

Meanwhile, the search for DiSalvo’s successor continues. The Search Committee has yet to bring finalists to campus for on-campus tours and interviews. It is likely that a new president will not be named until after that process is complete. DiSalvo said his on-campus interview was on April 15th.

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.

Fired on the Hilltop: College Lays Off 13

Ruins of the Saint Anselm College Building after the devastating fire of February 18, 1892. (Photo from the Saint Anselm Archives)

As first reported in the New Hampshire Union Leader on Thursday, Saint Anselm College eliminated 13 positions Thursday morning, laying off people across campus. The College issued a written statement to the paper, claiming that the positions were eliminated in an attempt to brace for “upcoming financial challenges.”

One staff member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of losing their own job, said that those fired were told early on Thursday morning and given little time before having to be off campus.

The Saint Anselm Crier reported on budget strains earlier this month. In that article, Chief of Staff Neil Levesque warned that budget cuts were imminent. There was no indication that some people would be laid off from their jobs. According to the Crier, “Levesque stated that the college had not made any decisions regarding staff, students, or faculty at the college for next year’s budget.”

Some of the people fired held positions that directly faced students. One was the administrative assistant in Campus Ministry. Service and Solidarity leader Emily Pierce ‘19 expressed dismay that she was let go. Responding to news that some of the employees fired were told to pack their belongings and leave campus immediately, Pierce said, “I went to this school for having values entirely opposite of that.”

Another was Vice President of Student Affairs Joe Horton ‘77. The student body has not yet been informed of the decision to relieve Dr. Horton. It is not yet clear how the college intends to restructure student affairs without a vice president to oversee it. Around two o’clock on Thursday afternoon, various deans and directors from the student affairs department were called into a meeting. A staff member, again speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of losing their job, said that those in the meeting were told the school was facing a $1.6 million budget shortfall and that the Board of Trustees requested the college remedy the shortfall with $4 million in cuts.

In a written statement to The Hilltopper, the same one sent to the Union Leader, the college stated, “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.” It continued, “To achieve this important goal, in conjunction with the Board of Trustees, we engaged in a strategic and stringent financial review, encompassing policies, programs, and positions.” The statement did not include the specific numbers obtained by The Hilltopper.

On Friday morning, administrators, staff, faculty, and members of the monastic community gathered in the Dana Center to hear a prepared statement by President Steven DiSalvo.

According to detailed notes of the meeting taken by an attendee obtained by The Hilltopper, DiSalvo said the layoffs were part of the College’s “goal of building a long-term healthy and stable financial future.” He also maintained, “Our first priority is always to serve our students.”

He reportedly said that nothing could be taken for granted in the higher education marketplace. With this in mind, Saint Anselm College embarked on a financial review that resulted in a “targeted reduction of expenses” with the goal of ensuring financial stability through “operational efficiency.”

Even though at least one of those laid off was told to leave campus immediately upon packing her belongings, DiSalvo maintained that all 13 people who lost their jobs were “treated with dignity and respect.” He maintained that the Saint Anselm community was one that valued the work of our staff members and administrators “so deeply.” He said that he, too, was upset about the firings, but that the decisions were “necessary in order for Saint Anselm College to move forward.” According to a statement issued to The Hilltopper, those laid off received severance packages.

Uniformed campus security officers were waiting off stage for the president after his remarks. As he made his exit, one woman reportedly yelled, “Bullshit!” from the audience.

The full list of staff members laid off has not been released by the College, but several employees in the audience on Friday put together a list based on the people they knew had left. That list, obtained by The Hilltopper is: the Vice President of Human Resources and Administration, the Vice President of Student Affairs, an Associate Vice President who served as the college’s Title IX Coordinator, the Dana Center Director, the Conference and Events Services Coordinator, an executive assistant, the administrative assistant in Campus Ministry, the administrative assistant in the Communications Office, a switchboard operator, the Director of Media Relations, the Director of Institutional Research, and a cashier in the financial office. The list has been confirmed by multiple staff members at the college but there are conflicting reports about the final position that was eliminated.