Personal note from Ms. Roy: It is our understanding that the Board is meeting on 5/12. In advance of that, I felt compelled to write, again, to try to again sway them to see reason and act in the best interest of the College. I do not hold out hope for a response nor do I expect many (most?) will read it. But no one can say we didn’t try or that we failed to present facts. What they chose to do with it is on them.
From: Andrea Roy
Date: Wed, Apr 26, 2023 at 3:08 PM
Subject: Board of Trustees Meeting – May 12th
Dear Esteemed Members of the Board of Trustees,
It is my understanding that the Board is meeting on May 12, 2023 and as a concerned alumnus (Class of 2002), I want to express my deep unease about the direction of the college and would like to ensure that my voice is heard on the record. I have had the opportunity to speak with some of you directly and I am deeply appreciative of that opportunity and open discourse. I have also been watching over the past six months as the Administration makes half-hearted attempts to answer basic questions about the direction of the College and have grown increasingly distressed at what I’m seeing: reactive policies, actions that undermine the long-term goal of fiscal stability in an attempt to patch near-term budget holes, and a President who is completely dismissive of Whittier’s faculty, alumni and history.
The President has created a narrative that alumni are the problem; we’re stuck in the past, out of touch, clinging to antiquated ideas of college and just “don’t understand” those quirky youths of today who would rather play their video games than go to class (to use the President’s favorite trope.) And if believing Whittier College is more than an institution but an open-minded community of scholars, a truly special place, one that it is capable of providing students with the knowledge and tools to thrive in their post-academic lives, then guilty as charged. We alumni are not trying to turn back time but rather are acting out of deep love for and concern about our beloved college. We are simply trying to ensure that there is a college going forward for future generations of Poet scholars.
As a reminder of how we got here: the administration eliminated sports programs, alumni found out via social media and a lackluster email and started asking questions. Questioning and causing are two very, very different things.
If Whittier had never eliminated sports programs, would we be where we are today? Yes. And no. Yes, the school would still be floundering. Yes, enrollment would be down. Yes, revenues would continue to erode. Those are the results of specific decisions made by this administration.
Would you be receiving this type of contact from concerned alumni? Probably not. That action, taken without any outreach to alumni to fundraise to save said programs, caused many of us who had previously been passively engaged, to stand up and take notice. Red flag #1. We asked for a copy of that three-year study and were told that an allegedly rigorous, protracted analysis conducted with multiple stakeholder groups somehow failed to produce an actual deliverable. Red flag #2. The absolute disaster of a Town Hall, led by the President, raised so many more red flags that many of us started to question what we were being told and put our Poet education to use. We independently examined financials and enrollment. We reviewed faculty and board turnover. We researched trends in continuing education. And what we found was a shocking decline in the college’s financial position and confounding lack of fiscal planning and leadership.
We, the alumni, are not the cause of this problem. We, the alumni, are not the bad guys. To be clear: this isn’t some simplistic fable with “bad guys” and “good guys,” heroes and villains. This is the real world where people must be judged on merits and difficult decisions made.
I want to be clear that I am not saying that President Oubre is a bad person. I am not saying she is incompetent or lacks the qualifications for the position of President of a University. I am saying that she is not a fit for this college. I am saying that I am wholly opposed to the direction she is pulling Whittier in. And I am stating, quite emphatically, that her policies – or lack thereof – have demonstrably failed. She is not new. She has had 5 years to “See What Sticks” and nothing has. Doubling down on failed policy will not fix the situation Whittier finds itself in.
President Oubre was selected as president due to her background in private business and public universities. On paper, that looks good. What came next wasn’t. The administration attacked challenges to the school’s fiscal position from the lens that the problem with Whittier was the cost of tuition and lack of diversity (despite being a long standing HSI). They de-emphasized recruitment outside of the Greater Los Angeles area, rapidly increased use of tuition offset and removed members of the administration with extensive experience in core areas of college’s performance – recruitment, admissions, Board. She then replaced them with people that bought into her vision but had significantly less experience in the key responsibilities of the positions they were being promoted to, in a period where immediate performance was needed, giving them no grace to grow and scale into these roles. All of this was done under the working theory that a blanket decline in population under 25 years old and a wholesale re-examining of the nature and value of a college education meant that Whittier must redefine its very identity to survive.
While those trends are real, the college’s response relies on a surface reading of trends belied by a very clear distinction within these numbers. Yes, college applications are down and yes, many colleges are struggling. The primary losers in the recruitment battle are regional colleges, the very trend the President is leaning into. Colleges that built up reputations as selective, bedrock institutions providing world-class educations in desirable locations? Those are thriving and one only needs to look at the SCIAC colleges to see this play out: Pomona, Claremont-McKenna, Pitzer, Occidental – our traditional peer cohort – all have remained selective, increased revenue, kept stable enrollment and hold a distinct recruiting advantage over Whittier. La Verne and Redlands, both larger regional schools, cannot boast the same. Whittier is attempting to answer the question “why should I send my student to your school?” with “well, it’s here and we can offer you a scholarship” instead of changing the narrative to “As an institution of excellence, why should we accept your student?” which our peer cohort did. Rather than leaning into Whittier’s natural beauty, strong Quaker legacy and historically solid academic reputation to elevate its profile, the President’s policies intentionally positioned Whittier a regional college with devastating – and predictable – results. It should be noted that both paths support a continued emphasis on diverse recruiting and DEI. Only one path, however – the path taken by the SCIAC liberal arts colleges and forsaken by the administration – differentiates Whittier from the myriad options students have and promotes long term viability of the institution.
Whittier is on pace for sub-1,000 student enrollment come Fall – down from over 1,700 students when the President started her tenure – despite close to a 90% acceptance rate. Yet the college’s projections show that, despite 5 years of declining enrollment, enrollment is inexplicably forecasted to rebound exponentially over the next three years despite no significant increase in admissions personnel, no change in approach to territory and no clear messaging on why one would choose Whittier. There is nothing – not a single piece of evidence – to support this type of turnaround nor indicate that Whittier is able to / capable of pulling the transfer class necessary to support these numbers, which it should be noted would be the single largest by a liberal arts college in the entire State of California. Rather than addressing these gaps and reinvesting in our core competency, Whittier is doubling down on online/distance learning, again despite any concrete evidence that this is a viable path forward to offset – not augment but offset – plummeting tuition revenues. Per the forecasts prepared by the college, the Lux program will barely surpass invested costs.
Whittier finds itself in the unenviable position of cutting programs, selling assets and freezing faculty compensation. This is not because of debt, nor is it because of expenses, which on a per student basis are already low relative to peer institutions. It is solely because of revenue, which takes two forms: enrollment and giving. The President can tout her “business brain” all she wants, but she has failed on both of these fronts. Audited financial statements are quite clear on this. That Save Whittier College, an unorganized collection of concerned alumni, were able to raise FOUR TIMES the amount of donations as the College’s Big Give efforts in less than a week despite having no staff, no marketing and no access to the full list of alumni contacts is a blistering indictment of this administration and should not be ignored.
If the campus is in disrepair, and it is, where is the renovation budget and capital plan for improvements? Why are we selling assets before ever engaging the alumni community to fundraise against these efforts? Why wasn’t Purple & Gold given the opportunity to fundraise to preserve programs before they were cut? Where is the outreach? Where is the planning? Why are we jumping to the most drastic solutions, ones that give off clear distress signals to the community and further erode recruiting efforts with prospective students, before even attempting less draconian means? Again, these are not overnight problems. It has been FIVE YEARS.
Change is not easy but it is beyond time for the Board to step up and make a move to protect the future of the institution. Will Whittier be able to recover from the death spiral this administration has put us in? No one can answer that definitively. But make no mistake: continuing with this President guarantees that this Board will be the last. Only a wholesale change in leadership will give the College the chance to recover. It is the only responsible decision to make and one only the Board can make.
When the history of this school is written, how will your story be told? As stewards of our beloved institution? Or as spectators in the destruction of 135 years of academic excellence? What happens next is up to you. I do not envy your position and wish you luck.
Andrea Roy, ’02