Wheeling Jesuit University To Remain Open for the 2019-20 Academic Year, But Staff, Program Cuts Are on Horizon
WHEELING — The Wheeling Jesuit University Board of Trustees has decided the school will remain open for the coming academic year, continuing to operate under the existing declaration of financial exigency.
In a statement released late Wednesday, university President Michael P. Mihalyo Jr. said, “Based on our analysis and planning to date, the Board believes that the University can marshal the resources necessary to sustain operations for academic year 2019-2020.”
Mihalyo noted, though, that changes are on the horizon.
“This plan, however, requires difficult decisions,” he said. “Those decisions include a narrowed set of academic programs and co-curricular activities, and a reduction in faculty and staff. It is recognized that these changes in our program portfolio and campus community will be difficult.”
The board declared the university to be in a state of financial exigency earlier this month. Defining “financial exigency” at that time, the president said, “Our faculty handbook contemplates that when the university is confronting a ‘critical, pressing or urgent need on the part of the university to reorder its monetary expenditures,’ the board can declare a financial exigency in order to maximize our ability to improve the university’s financial condition.”
Tim Bishop, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, said it likely would be up to the school to approach the diocese if it again wants to request financial support. In 2017 the diocese purchased the school’s long-term debt in exchange for the campus property. The diocese leases it back to WJU for $1 per year, Bishop said, adding that the diocese does not own WJU.
“The diocese saved the school from closing. It most certainly would have closed if the diocese had not stepped in,” he said.
Faculty Council Chairwoman and Associate Professor of Theology Jessica Wrobleski said via email late Wednesday that the university faculty “has no more information than the general public at this time.” She said she may be better able to comment following all-student and all-employee meetings scheduled for this afternoon.
“Many of us have been called to mandatory meetings scheduled throughout the day (today), but we have been given no indication of their agenda or content,” Wrobleski wrote.
Wheeling Vice Mayor Chad Thalman was happy to hear that the university will remain open in 2019-20.
“It’s obviously good news. I went for a master’s in business administration there and also taught business classes there,” Thalman said. “It has a special place in my heart. I’m excited and optimistic, but I hope they can stay open much longer than a year.”
Thalman noted the city recently worked with WJU to help secure funding for a new footbridge that spans a creek to reach the campus. The bridge is used by city residents and WJU students alike.
Wheeling Councilman Ty Thorngate, whose ward includes the school, described the news as “promising.”
“It’s tough to watch a pillar of the community struggle to stay afloat, but today’s news that the university would remain open for another academic year was promising,” he said Wednesday evening.
“The last thing I want to see is the university shutting its doors. For over five decades, Wheeling Jesuit has lifted our city academically and economically. Without their support, projects like the recently replaced walking bridge connecting Wards 4 and 5 wouldn’t have been possible. Losing Wheeling Jesuit would leave an enormous hole in the city’s heart.”
In a letter to the WJU community about the situation released on Wednesday, Mihalyo said, “Continued financial challenges have put our university in a position where we do not have the resources to bridge the gap between highly discounted enrollment, associated academic and athletic programming costs, and the revenue needed to support the institution’s operational expenses.”
According to information released after the board’s decision, WJU will use the coming year to evaluate how to restructure under a sustainable model.
“Those explorations will likely include consideration of new strategic partnerships that could allow the University to bring its mission forward in new ways,” the university stated.
Shelley Hanson contributed to this report.