With flames of false information spreading throughout the Cabrini community and little communication between the school, students, and their guardians, a faculty meeting early this morning attempted to douse rumors and student anxiety. So far, faculty and staff have received the most insight on the university’s current situation.
Interim President Helen Drinan emailed students on Friday, Oct. 28 to explain that Cabrini University is undergoing massive and necessary structural changes to salvage the school’s financial health. According to faculty reports about the morning meeting, Drinan’s decisions, approved by Cabrini’s board of trustees, are based on a strategic approach to picking up the pieces left by the last administration and by declining enrollment, felt by schools nationally.
These came as a shock, but in order to untangle the web of financial deficits and poor choices made prior to this year, drastic measures were needed.
The student email included vague language, such as “you may see changes to our academic offerings in the future,” but missing were specific reassurances about schools, degrees, and programs. Parents, via Cabrini’s parent portal, received similar messaging, such as, “the experience at Cabrini will feel no different.”
Jake Goss, graduate business major, said, “As students, we are usually left out of the loop of this sort of thing anyway. We never really know who’s in what position and then they switch them around and it’s hard to know what to feel. Communication with students has never been good.”
“I was very frustrated that the news was out before the students knew. Students should not be the ones left in the dark,” Sophia Harbison, sophomore social work major, said.
Drinan said she wants to give full transparency to everyone at Cabrini, but where are the official statements to parents and students about the specific changes?
Restructuring of administration
The faculty meeting, which took place in the Widener lecture hall, was a town hall-style discussion for Cabrini faculty to express their concerns.
In the meeting, Drinan referred to Cabrini as “a house that is too big.” Cabrini’s enrollment is at an all-time low (1,760 total students, 2021), due in part to the pandemic.
In an earlier interview, Dr. Paul Wright, associate professor of English and chair of Cabrini’s faculty assembly, said, “Every school has its own story and its own challenges, but in many ways Cabrini, in this case, is just symptomatic of challenges in higher education for smaller liberal arts universities.”
He credits declining enrollment to, “a changing industry overall, people re-envisioning their different opportunities when they get out of high school … the pandemic added to the equation, so we are seeing schools [in situations] like ours all over the country.”
The three-year comprehensive plan eliminated administrative positions and created alternative structures. The recent personnel cuts will save approximately $1 million.
For professionals whose positions were eliminated, the university will provide severance pay and professional placement services until those who were laid off find another job.
Effective immediately is the elimination of the provost, a major structural change. The provost position, previously held by Chioma Ugochukwu, was replaced by a dean of academic affairs. This post goes to Michele Filling-Brown, former associate provost for academic affairs. Working under her will be two associate dean positions, recruited from Cabrini’s faculty; the email to faculty indicated the positions would be filled by Jan.1, 2023.
More newly created positions include executive director of development and alumni relations, filled by Laura Chisholm. Serving under her will be Saleem Brown as the new executive director of alumni relations and annual fund, and Peter Manetas who will remain in his current role as director of major gifts and planned giving.
Kate Corcoran, former director of athletics and recreation, will straddle the roles of both vice president of athletics and student engagement. Anne Fillipone, dean of student engagement, will now report to Corcoran, and Bridget O’Donnell, director of student engagement and leadership, reports to Filippone. Food Services and Public Safety, formerly operating as part of Student Life, will now move to the Office of Finance and Administration.
Two-thirds of Cabrini students are athletes, and sports are an integral part of engagement. Drinan said she believes Cabrini’s sports culture provides a vibrant atmosphere on campus, and Corcoran’s focus on Title IX and athletes’ mental health made her a good fit for both jobs.
Still, current student activities are suffering. One source who wished to remain anonymous said that student clubs that requested funding were told the school was ‘rearranging the finances.’ A month later, the source said that sufficient funding still has not been provided.
Though the School of Education will merge with the School of Business and Professional Studies, and now will be known as the School of Business, Education, and Professional Studies, Drinan reassured the education department that it will not be minimized.
Drinan said in the meeting that budgets are being decreased across campus, and across schools. However, there is no universal reduction percentage. All budget reductions will differ.
There is also a plan to review funding and investment in the centers on campus. These are the Wolfington Center, Barbara and John Jordan Center for Children of Trauma and Domestic Violence Education, Center on Immigration, Nerney Leadership Institute, Campus Ministry, and The Center for Urban Education, Equity, and Improvement. Wolfington is the only center with its own endowment, so it is self-sustaining.
“The losses are difficult to defend … we’ve eaten into the resources that were available to us,” Drinan said.
While changes are being made to ultimately cut costs that the university can not afford, there are certain base costs that Cabrini can not avoid; for example, maintenance and keeping up with the campus grounds.
Harbison said, “I am feeling nervous. I am worried because my major is already a small major and I feel like it will get cut, especially since both department heads left. I didn’t even know they were leaving, I found out at the beginning of the fall semester.”
Partnership and mergers
Since a Philadelphia Inquirer article about the changes was published, nonprofit and for profit institutions contacted Cabrini to merge or form partnerships with the school, according to Drinan.
Drinan discussed nontraditional partnerships, such as one she previously facilitated with Deloitte, at her previous institution, Simmons University. Cabrini University is looking to form partnerships with entities outside of Cabrini to bring in investments and share resources.
New Cabrini brand
With Cabrini’s current, frustrating financial standing, Drinan’s mission as interim president is to make Cabrini prosperous for prospective and current students.
Cabrini will also rebrand itself with a complete redesign of its website. Drinan said this redesign will be provided pro bono by Cabrini alumnus and board of trustees member David Regn, founder of Stream Companies.
Drinan recognizes the current state of Cabrini’s graduate school could use some help. Reevaluating and improving the graduate school to be more marketable will help bring in more money for the university. The introduction of online degree completion is also in the works. This program allows individuals who have not completed their undergraduate degree to complete it online through courses written by Cabrini faculty.
Included with all the structural changes coming to Cabrini there will also be a new focus on student life and engagement on campus, along with diversifying faculty being a top priority. Drinan said, “We know this is meaningful to students.”
There is more to come from the Loquitur in the coming days as this breaking news develops.
Victoria Emmitt, Kyleigh Brunotte, Izabella Cipresso, and Jason Fridge contributed to the creation of this article.