What is Happening at DePauw University?

DePauw

I visited the campus of DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana last September.  I was in Greenville for a volleyball tournament and came away greatly impressed with the campus and the quaint downtown area.  But like many, many other liberal arts colleges, DePauw is struggling.  Much of what I read in Lili Wright’s Indianapolis Monthly piece sounds very familiar.  Here is a taste:

For years, DePauw ran at a deficit, drawing from its flush $730 million endowment to meet the gap, but last year trustees got serious about balancing its books. Meager 1 percent raises were followed by a mid-year switch to a cheaper healthcare plan. Morale plummeted. Frustrated by what some perceived as President Mark McCoy’s lack of communication, transparency, and vision, the faculty passed a no-confidence vote. Then the real shocker: In a “restructuring,” DePauw laid off 56 full- and part-time administrators and staff, and offered a voluntary buyout to more than 100 tenured faculty, some as young as 50. Administrators jumped ship, including the academic vice president and the dean of faculty. Come spring, the admissions department announced more bad news. The incoming class was 200 students short of its usual 630 target, creating a $5.4 million tuition shortfall. Within weeks, McCoy resigned.

“It was a tough year,” says Gary Lemon, who has taught management and economics at DePauw for 44 years. “A perfect storm.”

DePauw’s struggles are personal for me. I came to Greencastle in 1999 as part of the hiring spree the college is now trying to remedy. My husband is also a tenured professor here. We raised our children in Greencastle. Some former students are now parents and have careers that have surpassed my own. Within weeks of my arrival, DePauw received what was then the biggest donation ever made to a liberal arts college, $128 million from the estate of Philip Holton and Ruth Clark, who made a fortune from cardboard boxes. On opening day, faculty was asked to jot down ideas for how best to spend the new largesse. DePauw was on a roll.

So what happened? That, like the solution, depends on whom you ask.

Read the rest here.