St. John’s weighs one president for both campuses

Mark Roosevelt

St. John’s College is working its way out of financial trouble, cutting its annual projected deficit to $5 million from $12 million by the 2017-18 school year, a top official says. But the progress has come with a price: nearly 40 vacant positions at the school’s campuses in Santa Fe and in Annapolis, Md., and plans to reduce salaries, sabbaticals and benefits.

“It’s very clear that we have the worst behind us,” said Mark Roosevelt, president of the Santa Fe campus of the small liberal-arts institution founded in the late 1600s in Annapolis.

The college’s financial challenges are not unique. Around the country, small liberal-arts campuses are either making drastic cuts to their budgets and staff or reducing curriculum programming in an effort to stay solvent. An Inside Higher Ed article last year said enrollment is declining at many of these colleges, which in turn means they have to get by on less revenue.

Enrollment at St. John’s had declined over the past years, though Roosevelt said last week the college is expecting modest increases in both the number of students and revenue derived from their enrollment.

In a February letter to St. John’s alumni and supporters, Roosevelt said the past year was one of difficult work, with “39 fewer staff employees now than … a year ago. Staff and faculty salaries and benefits will be cut when the new budget is in place on July 1.”

In an email to The New Mexican, Roosevelt said that most — though not all — of those 39 vacant positions, which were spread out over the two campuses, were the result of attrition, including seven on the Santa Fe campus. “I expect no more,” he said.

The salary cuts will impact employees making at least $40,000, and the highest-paid staff will take a 5 percent cut, he said. In addition, three top-paid administrator positions have been vacated or downgraded with no plans to fill them again, Roosevelt said.

Other savings will come in cuts to programs for alumni, many of whom contribute to the college’s well-being.

Last year, for example, alumni Warren Spector and Ron Fielding each announced $25 million capital campaign gifts, and Roosevelt said in his letter that three Board of Visitors members just pledged gifts amounting to $30 million for that campaign. Those funds will be used to make renovations to the college’s campuses in the next eight years.

St. John’s has about 750 students enrolled in both campuses, with Annapolis having about 75 more students than Santa Fe, Roosevelt said. The school’s emphasis on learning from roughly 130 books covering theology, history, economics, philosophy, natural science and political theory comes with a price. Because it focuses on a narrow range of students who may not be looking to major in a particular subject — engineering, accounting, computer software, for example — it may seem a risky financial choice for students and parents wanting to ensure that a college degree buys graduates a well-paying job.

Roosevelt said that situation is even more specific for St. John’s, where the students, “Don’t get a choice in what they study. They have to go deep into science, deep into math and have to learn Greek.”

As a result, he said, “We’re always going to be fishing in a small pool of students.”

College leaders are reviewing applicants to replace Annapolis campus president Christopher B. Nelson, who plans to retire by this summer. Roosevelt said the college hopes to make a decision on that appointment in April or May.

St. John’s opened its Santa Fe campus in 1964.

Contact Robert Nott at 505-986-3021 or rnott@sfnewmexican.com.