Welcome to Fall Semester 2023
Dear Oglethorpe Community,
The new academic year began this week with a flurry of activity. If I haven’t yet seen you in person, please accept this message as an official welcome (or welcome back!) to Oglethorpe University. It’s great to have our faculty back teaching, and there’s no greater privilege as interim president than connecting with students. It will be an exciting semester at Oglethorpe, and I’m eager to share some new developments.
First, for those who participated in today’s President’s Town Hall, thank you. In that event I shared much of the content of this message , but it’s worth repeating and sharing broadly. I remain committed to transparency and open communication.
As I have been meeting with faculty and staff across campus and calling and talking with alumni and friends, I have been repeating my mantra for this interim period – “Steady. Focused. Forward.” When I say “steady,” I mean establishing a stable, functioning organizational structure while increasing recruitment and retention efforts. I also mean responsible budget planning in light of available resources. By “focused,” I am saying we need to establish key priorities such as enrollment, continuing our student success work, investing in our community well-being, and expanding our DEI efforts. We have been tackling many questions and challenges in recent years, and I aim to narrow our focus during the interim. Finally, “forward” to me is a call to not stand still. This is not the time to lose momentum. Our mission remains the same as it has for nearly 200 years, and we have a well-thought-out strategic plan spearheaded by a strategic enrollment plan (SEP) to guide us. We know where we’re headed.
My initial steps as interim president included planning for this academic year in a retreat with the Senior Administrative Leadership Team (SALT), conducting listening meetings across campus, calling alumni and friends, investing time in better understanding Oglethorpe’s history and traditions, setting our agenda, and attending community-building events like our King of Pops treat, the departmental-served summer breakfasts, Back to School Bash, MAP Days, and this past weekend’s Orientation events. You can expect more of the same from me this semester. I will attend as many events as humanly possible, and I hope you will find me and tell me how things are going.
One of the biggest differences at Oglethorpe compared with this time last year is the makeup of the senior leadership. Dr. Nick Ladany’s departure as president for San Francisco Bay University in Fremont, California, and my appointment as interim president was announced by the Board of Trustees on May 5. To replace me as provost, I named Dr. Kendra Momon King interim provost. When Dr. Juan McGruder, our vice president for Advancement, accepted the same position at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, on June 8, I asked Lance Wallace, vice president of Marketing and Communications, to assume administrative responsibility for Advancement. Just recently, our inaugural vice president of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Dr. Laura Renée Chandler, took a position as the associate provost and dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. Dr. Rhana Gittens Wheeler, assistant professor of Communication Studies and program coordinator of African American Studies, has been asked to join the Senior Administrative Leadership Team (SALT) as special advisor to the President for DEI. Finally, I want to note the appointments of Dr. Katharine Zakos as interim associate provost of faculty development, Peter Dye as writing tutor coordinator, and Dr. Judith Levy as the new co-director of the Core Curriculum.
I am grateful to everyone who has stepped into new or interim roles and taken on additional duties. I believe we have a deep reserve of talented leaders at Oglethorpe, and I am confident we will continue to thrive as an institution with these appointments.
Enrollment continues to be a top priority this fall. Coming off the leadership transition of the department last year after a record-setting first year class of 425 first-year students, Dr. Rebecca Sandidge has stepped in and along with new team members done a remarkable job of recruiting another amazing class of approximately 400 bright, creative, and service-minded students for the Class of 2027. Our total enrollment also includes the students we retained from Spring semester, 42 transfer students, five adult degree program participants and 20.5 full-time equivalent students including both full- and part-time students in the new Oglethorpe MBA. I was able to join the MBA class for the first meeting this week, and I am excited to see how our drop-in/log-in format works in practice.
It’s important to note, however, that our financial success isn’t just based on raw tuition numbers. Our revenue is dependent on such factors as the discount rate on tuition and housing occupancy. This year, our housing numbers are down. We have been fortunate in recent years with the amount of television and film projects being produced on campus. Filming provided an alternative revenue source that enhanced our bottom line. Federal funds for universities to offset the impacts of COVID were also a tremendous help. With the cessation of the COVID programs and strikes by the writers and actors in Hollywood, those revenue streams have ended or dwindled.
These and other factors are why I am practicing responsible stewardship during the interim. We had more revenue to draw upon a year ago. We are in a different place now. We are not in a place of affluence, but neither are we in a place of austerity. As a result, we are able to invest some funds in a few key areas, such as modest faculty and staff raises. We set aside other projects because recognizing everyone’s hard work with some kind of a raise was important to me and to SALT. Members of SALT willingly agreed to exempt themselves from the salary increases so that our pool of funds would be larger.
We also decided to set aside up to 30% of most departments’ operating budgets originally presented to the Board of Trustees in May until the Board of Trustees meets in November and approves a budget for this fiscal year. Because of the late announcements of Nick Ladany and Juan McGruder’s departures, a provisional budget was approved by the Board in May with the caveat that we manage spending plans closely. Priorities for spending for this year include enrollment, with guidance from the Strategic Enrollment Plan work that is underway; retention of faculty and staff; and Advancement initiatives designed to increase expendable income for FY24 as well as targeted long-term giving that every university needs to have a financially healthy future.
I am no longer looking back to May 5, 2023. I am focused on today, this semester, this academic year, and May 31, 2024. My commitment to you is to position the university well for whatever leadership comes next, as determined by the Board of Trustees. Our collective mission remains the same: we are committed to teaching excellence in an inclusive learning environment. We prepare students for success in professional endeavors as responsible and productive contributors to a global society. I couldn’t be prouder to be part of that work with all of you.
Kathryn McClymond, Ph.D. (she/her)