An unnamed group of Marylhurst faculty members released a “Statement of the Faculty” on Friday, objecting to the decision by the university’s board of trustees to close.
Marylhurst officials announced Thursday that the 125-year-old university would be shutting down later this year because of declining enrollment and dwindling finances.
But in the wake of that announcement, faculty members are privately questioning the decision. In emails to OPB, an anonymous faculty member said they were concerned about “retaliation for speaking to media.”
“We, a core group of concerned faculty, challenge the decision by the Board of Trustees to close Marylhurst University,” the statement said, which OPB verified with other faculty.
“We believe alternate paths forward exist that can serve our current and future students,” the statement continued.
The faculty members argued university leaders had not “considered all options,” prior to announcing the decision to close down later this year.
Several faculty members met with the board of trustees Wednesday and offered a brief statement of how they could work together on ways to avoid closing the university.
Among the faculty suggestions in their May 16 statement was a request to explore how to operate a smaller Marylhurst with a narrower educational mission.
“Might we reconsider the viability of integrating liberal arts-based education and professional studies in fewer degrees, connecting these and creating a unique value proposition that starts with a small number of students and positions us for future growth and innovation?” the faculty’s May 16 statement asked, pushing for a “revised academic structure.”
Board of trustees chair-elect Chip Terhune spoke of previous attempts to scale back the university in an interview with OPB on Thursday, after the closure announcement.
Terhune noted the university’s “rare” mix of “very, very small class sizes, highly personalized instruction and, quite frankly, a large breadth of degree offerings.”
Terhune said that combination was “a tremendously expensive proposition to offer.” He said the board struggled to make that “more sustainable” without compromising Marylhurst’s values and standards.
“It became clear to us that we weren’t able to make enough change fast enough,” Terhune explained.
Faculty members, however, questioned the university’s defenses of the closure in their Friday email.
“The narrative put forth by [Marylhurst president] Melody Rose misrepresents both the decisions that led up to this moment and the capacity of the organization to continue to serve students with a smaller administrative structure,” the faculty argued.
In the one-page statement to the university’s board on May 16, the faculty suggested working on a plan for a smaller, 500-student university.
“We see this as an opportunity to reconnect with our mission and ask how we can most effectively support the board’s work of keeping Marylhurst open and able to serve our students,” the faculty statement said.
In a brief response late Friday, the board members defended the decision against the faculty criticism.
“The board considered every possible alternative, including the faculty’s suggestions, and concluded the only viable course of action was the one we took,” a statement from the board said.
“We greatly appreciate the passion and commitment of Marylhurst’s outstanding faculty, and we believe this was the most responsible decision for our entire University community,” the statement concluded.
University officials point out that the faculty had earlier opportunities to make suggestions and that leaders and staff had discussed the financial problems for some time. However, the faculty argues they had asked for two weeks to come up with alternatives and the board declined the offer.
University officials contend Marylhurst was forced to close due to national factors such as a declining base of college-bound students and increasing competition in higher education. Rose also pointed to Marylhurst’s suburban location as limiting the university’s appeal. But the decision to close without having creditors breathing down their necks, and before potentially steep tuition hikes and further staff cuts were the path Terhune said was best for Marylhurst.
Rose said this week’s decision to close Marylhurst, helped the institution do so “gracefully.”
Terhune, too, pointed to the “symmetry” of closing the university and handing the land back to the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, who originally owned the campus a century ago.
But the faculty Friday reiterated its call for more discussion of ways to maintain Marylhurst.
“We again request that the university administration disclose details of the budget to enable faculty to set forth a sustainable new plan for the university, aligned with its original mission and values,” the faculty said.
Marylhurst leaders are already pursuing steps to shut down. They’ve been in touch with Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission about its statutory obligations. They were planning to send out transition information to students as soon as Friday.
Other colleges may start showing up as early as next week to offer transfer opportunities for students seeking options to continue their educational careers.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correctly reflect the original owners of the land. OPB regrets the error.