Deja Vu Dell'Omo
In a meeting with members of the Rider AAUP executive committee, President Dell’Omo accused Rider’s faculty of ‘hiding in their classrooms’ while he does the hard work of 'saving the institution' from financial ruin.
He is wrong on both accounts.
Rider is not headed towards financial ruin, and it is not faculty who are hiding from some objective truth. Instead, it is Rider’s Board of Trustees who are hiding from the series of failures implemented by President Dell’Omo over the past three years.
This legacy of failed policy at Rider bears a striking resemblance to his actions at his previous school,
Robert Morris University, where as president he set out to perform the hard job of saving that institution. Following the decades long trend of U.S. college presidents, he attempted to bring a business like approach to running Robert Morris University. Treating faculty as commodity labor and presuming ‘investments’ in education would somehow provide predictable returns he instituted layoffs, sold real estate, froze faculty pay and benefits, ‘invested’ in new programs, and sought foreign investment by reaching out to the Saudi government to bolster enrollments. Those policies ultimately failed to improve the financial situation at Robert Morris University and restructuring began soon after Greg Dell’Omo left to join Rider University. The school is currently suffering from declining enrollment and a large budget deficit.
At the College of St. Rose in Albany, New York, president Carolyn Stefanco pursued a similar business like approach to dealing with a financial crisis. This approach included layoffs, program closures and ‘investments’ in campus buildings and what administration considered ‘promising new programs.’ The Albany business community awarded the president a disrupter award for her disruptive efforts. But years after instituting these actions and insisting they would solve the university’s financial problems, the university continues to struggle with enrollment and budget gaps.
The lesson to be learned from these failures is that a not-for-profit institution of higher education cannot be run like a business selling common commodity products in a market. A university is something completely different. Slashing faculty headcount, pay and benefits to provide ‘investment’ in new programs which ostensibly increase revenues did not work at Robert Morris University or the College of St. Rose, and will not work at Rider University. Students, the primary source of university revenue, do not make decisions based solely on programs available, buildings, or in response to slick marketing, so ‘investments’ in these areas alone have little short or long term impact on the university’s revenues.
Unfortunately at Rider, senior administration and Board of Trustees continue to insist that our path forward requires the university to sell Westminster Choir College so that the university can ‘invest’ in a currently non-existent engineering school or some other ‘promising new program.’ That this expensive effort is now drifting towards complete failure is obvious to anyone not hiding from reality.
It is highly unlikely that the sale of Westminster Choir College will complete by July of this year, at which time the prospective buyer has the option to discontinue their efforts to buy the school. This multi-year failure will represent a defining moment for the university. One can only hope that at this point Rider’s Board of Trustees will recognize that Rider’s future lies not in repeating the mistakes of the past, but in committing to the university as an institute of higher education, a cultural center which exists for the common good, an institution where Westminster Choir College is a necessary and welcome component of that which is Rider university.