Questions submitted to President Oubré in advance of the ‘State of the College’ Address on February 17, 2023

February 15, 2023

President Oubré,

A total of 341 alumni and friends helped to prioritize a list of questions for the “State of the College Address” on Saturday, February 18. We respectfully submit the questions in priority order.

Alumni & Friends of Whittier College

  1. For at least 5 years before you became president, Whittier’s undergraduate enrollment averaged a robust 1700 students. Since you became president, enrollment is down to 1092, including over 113 students fewer than last fall. That’s a total loss of 36%, and a 10% drop since last fall. You compare enrollment at Whittier to other local institutions, but Whittier lost more new enrollment during the pandemic and has been slower to recover comparatively. What decisions have you made that contribute to this alarming decline? Why have your plans for enrollment such as local recruitment and community college recruitment only led to more losses?

    Additional Questions Related to Enrollment
    • What is the goal for FTE undergraduate enrollment in Fall 2023 and Spring 2024?
    • What is the goal for FTE graduate enrollment in Fall 2023 and Spring 2024?
    • How many first-year and transfer applications for Fall 2023 have been received? How many have been processed/accepted? What is the expected yield?
    • How many applications for graduate programs? How many have been processed/accepted? What is the expected yield?
    • What is the yield plan . . . events planned, mailings, contacts, etc.?
    • When will new students be packaged with financial aid?  When will returning students be packed with financial aid?
    • How many transcript requests to transfer out has the Registrar’s Office received? This needs to be updated weekly and tracked.
    • Is the Admissions Office fully staffed? Is the financial aid staff fully staffed? If not, why not . . . when will those positions be filled?
    • What is the goal for a stable, efficient and capable admission and financial aid staff?  When will that goal be reached?
    • What is the 18-month plan for recruiting the Class entering in Fall 2024?  Which markets?  What efforts? This needs to begin in Spring 2023 with robust recruitment events / travel. What is planned? What are the Student Search parameters? What is the collateral being sent? What is the follow up plan?
    • What is the financial aid / merit scholarship plan for recruiting the Class entering in fall 2024?
    • What is the plan to re-implement strategic tuition increases and on-campus housing requirements?  Who is in charge?  What are the goals?  When will those goals be met?
    • What is the operational plan for undergraduate retention for Fall 2023?  Who is responsible?  What is the goal? What is the long-term plan for retention?  
    • Is there a detailed strategic enrollment plan for 2023 – 2026? Who is responsible for developing and implementing the plan? 
    • What is the goal to rebuild enrollment? What portion of the enrollment will be transfer students vs. first-year students? Who is responsible for reaching that goal?  When will it be met?
    • Many Whittier alumni have extensive experience in admissions, financial aid and enrollment. Is the Board willing to bring several in to make an assessment of the situation facing enrollment, offering solutions and perhaps creating a strategic plan?

  2. Whittier College has hired multiple lawyers to send cease and desist letters, conduct investigations, or accuse individuals of harassment, slander, and racism. Targets of these actions include alumni, current and former Trustees, faculty, staff and members of the public who comment on the downward spiral of the college and your role in that decline. How many people have received such letters and how much has the College spent on these pursuits?

  3. Trustees have a fiduciary responsibility and oversight for the college and they are expected to make a commitment — both financially and personally — to the institution’s success. Trustees often have a personal history, knowledge and vested interest in the organization. Recently, the College eliminated the annual Trustee contribution that has been a minimum of half-tuition (approximately $30,000). Thus, Board members no longer have a financial commitment and nothing to lose when their experiments with Whittier College fail. You stated on a podcast with the Harvard Business Review that the charitable gift requirement precluded bringing experts on the Board whose professional experience would yield 10x in revenue. You cited Yvonne Romero da Silva, Vice President for Enrollment at Rice University, as an example of someone who would bring hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition revenue by leveraging her expertise in Admissions. However, net tuition revenue has dropped by $18.6 million since Ms. Romero da Silva joined the Board. How have the other fifteen new Board members improved the finances of the College in lieu of giving?

  4. The facilities are decaying quickly with reports of leaks, mold in dorms and faculty offices, and unusable spaces on campus. What is the plan to improve infrastructure on campus? Instead of renovating the two residences on Founders Hill, why wasn’t that money allocated for vital repairs affecting health and safety?

  5. Every new leader inherits a record of achievements and challenges from prior administrations. From the earliest days of your presidency through your most recent communications, you have faulted the past leadership with creating problems that you must address. And yet, there is no evidence that you have made any progress toward solving these issues during your 4 1/2 years at Whittier College. What are three specific achievements that you have accomplished to strengthen and advance the College that will define your presidency?

  6. Why do you keep canceling in-person events like faculty meetings and even your ‘State of the College Address’ whenever it is clear that people wish to appear and be heard?

  7. What is the plan for developing a transparent and inclusive communication and decision making environment within the College that includes administration, faculty, Trustees? Who is overseeing this? When will it be implemented?

  8. A precipitous drop in enrollment and an increasing tuition discount rate have resulted in a reduction in annual net tuition revenue of $18.6 million between 2019 to 2022. Total revenue at Whittier College has declined from $70 million in 2018 to $49.4 million in 2022 representing $20.6 million in lost revenue. To offset this reduction in operating revenue you implemented layoffs and hiring freezes. At this same time you grew your Executive Leadership Team from 6 to 11 people and have promoted members of your senior team multiple times. Given the revenue declines, it is hard to see how this expansion of senior administrators could be considered a sound investment. What is the reason for this near doubling of your leadership team?

  9. You repeatedly cite the Series 2014 tax-exempt loans that contain covenants relating to compliance with specified financial ratios as the College’s biggest financial challenge. The notes are secured by the Colleges real property.

    As described in the FY2015 audited financial statements:

    “On October 1, 2014, the College executed a master loan agreement with First Republic Bank to defease $51,255,000 of City of Whittier Variable Rate Demand Revenue and Refunding Bonds – Series 2008 (“Variable Rate”) and provide up to $39,985,811 of additional borrowing (“Fixed Rate”), a total of $91,240.811 – Series 2014 Tax-Exempt. The Variable Rate loan is payable over the period ending December 1, 2036 at a rate equal to one-month LIBOR plus 1.25%. The Fixed Rate loan will be used to fund the renewal of an academic building, complete adjacent site work, and other campus improvements. The loan is subject to prepayment penalties through October 10, 2018.”

    The fact that the loan is collateralized by campus assets is not an uncommon structure. The College’s inability to meet the liquidity ratio of the Series 2014 loans is directly related to the declining enrollment and corresponding loss of revenue. Why do you continuously misrepresent the Series 2014 debt and cast aspersions on prior administrations and Trustees? Rather than criticizing your predecessors, please articulate your plan to restore enrollment and increase net revenue.

  10. Why are two of the Faculty Houses vacant on campus with no co-curricular programming offered to students?

  11. You stated in the recent Alumni Townhall that you would sell Wardman House on Summit Drive and three properties on Earlham Drive and use the proceeds to offer scholarships. You are basically liquidating physical/capital assets to pay for operations. If you are going to sell these donor-contributed assets, why not invest the money in the endowment or pay down the debt that you claim is causing the college so many problems?

  12. Whittier recently eliminated the requirement that non-local students live on campus. This caused a huge loss of residential and food service revenue, left dorms unused and contributed to the ghost-town feel of the college. What was the reason for that decision?

  13. The 2023-2024 Budget would normally be voted on at the February Board meeting so that Tuition/Room/Board can be set for the next academic year. This allows financial aid to be packaged and students to apply for loans. Has the 2023-2024 budget been set? What is the projected net tuition revenue for 2023-2024? 

    Additional Questions Related to 2023-2024 Budget
    • What is the housing / residential plan for 2023-2024 . . . is there a strategy to reach capacity?  
    • What is the food service contracts plan for 2023-2024 . . .  is there a strategy to reach capacity?
    • What is budgeted to meet the needs of deferred maintenance in 2023-24?
    • What is the projected revenue for Broadoaks School for 2023-2024?
    • What is the projected revenue for other auxiliary programs (summer camps, online courses)?
    • Is there a projected deficit for 2023-2024? If so, what is the plan to address it?
    • If layoffs are being planned, what is the strategic plan guiding the decision on what areas will be cut?
  1. Your son was hired for a newly created post of Director of Innovation and New Ventures in August 2021. What accomplishments has he had in the past 18 months? Is his salary higher than the majority of professors? What revenue has been generated from the investment in his role?

  2. Whittier College has been historically incredibly diverse, with minority enrollment at well over 50%. You seem to have a singular focus on DEI, and even intend to “double-down” on those initiatives. How does this agenda help to increase enrollment? Why has student diversity declined over the past four years?

  3. Historically, the College has contributed 8.25% to retirement as an annual employee benefit. This was eliminated in 2020 and has not been reinstated. Currently, there is no employer contribution toward retirement. When will you reinstate this essential benefit so that Whittier College can offer competitive compensation and benefits to attract and retain employees? What else are you doing to address the dramatic attrition of faculty and staff?

  4. When will a plan be complete and implemented to replace lost faculty? Who is responsible and what is the timeline and strategy? What is the long-term plan for academic distinction at Whittier? 

  5. Questions to you are being pre-screened and selected by someone. In the interest of transparency that you claim to espouse, will you post all submitted questions for alumni and participants to see?

  6. Your first hire in enrollment (Falone Serna) left after less than 2 years and moved to Cal Lutheran where they had a record Fall ’22 class. Why was he successful there but not at Whittier? Why are the demographic and other trends that you claim are the cause of Whittier’s enrollment decline not impacting Cal Lu, our longtime peer?

  7. How much did Whittier College spend to renovate a property on Founders Hill Road to house the Vice President, Chief Administrative Officer? Whittier College has never previously offered housing to such a position. How can such an expense be justified in this time of fiscal crisis? Was this capital expenditure and additional compensation benefit approved by the full Board of Trustees for an officer of the College?

  8. How much have you spent on Whittier LUX to date (personnel, administration, technology) and how much gross revenue has it produced? What is the projection for net revenue for it in the next 5 years?

  9. In your latest release to alumni, you touted donations of “nearly $2 million since Thanksgiving.” The majority of these contributions are the result of longstanding relationships with major Foundations and charitable bequests from loyal and generous alumni. What specifically have you and Timothy Anderson been responsible for raising in more than four years at Whittier?

    Additional Questions Related to Fundraising
    • How many alumni have been solicited in the annual campaign this year? What is the total giving and participation rate from alumni?
    • In addition to the $1.3 million in Foundation grants awarded since December, what gifts has the College received? Specific sources and amounts.
    • How many realized bequests have been received this year? Total value and number. 
    • How many new bequest intentions have been established?
    • How many donor visits have been conducted by Development staff since July 2022? How many donor visits have been conducted by the President and Vice President (Tim Anderson)?
  1. In December 2021, you announced a partnership with Rio Hondo College to allow students to stay in the Whittier College dormitories in exchange for re-housing vouchers. This partnership was approved to start in Spring 2022 and end June 30, 2026. How many students from Rio Hondo are taking advantage of this housing option? What is the net revenue for the College?

  2. Whittier College only gets 40% of the full tuition cost from the average student. What is your plan to bring in more net revenue per student?

  3. You have spent a good deal of time promoting the Harvard Business School case, Linda Oubré at Whittier College, across numerous media outlets. You are scheduled to present at SXSW EDU on March 8 on how you have fixed the lack of diverse leadership in higher education by working quickly to diversify your staff, administration, and board. How have these changes at Whittier College strengthened the institution? What metrics do you use to define your success?

  4. In the last town hall you mentioned adult degree completion as a way to solve the revenue issues. What do you think Whittier has to offer compared to the many other institutions who have done this far longer (Brandman, Redlands, Cal Lutheran, SNHU, Phoenix, Grand Canyon)?

  5. With Coronavirus transmission on the decline, Los Angeles County health officials relaxed their broad recommendation that everyone mask up indoors while in public as of January 2023. Why hasn’t Whittier College followed this updated guidance and ended its mask mandate? Might this requirement be contributing to a general feeling of unease and a loss of community and connection on campus?

  6. It’s no secret that faculty morale and retention is very low per the Spring 2022 survey conducted by FAC. These results were shared with you and VP sal johnston at the last in-person faculty meeting on May 23, 2022. FAC also asked you to share the survey results with the Board of Trustees and asked them to specifically respond to their concerns. Faculty are not aware of any follow-up by the administration or Board of Trustees on these items. Were these concerns ever shared with the Board of Trustees and what was their specific response to the FAC concerns?
  1. When will you tender your resignation?

  2. On November 1, 2022 the College responded to the WSCUC accreditation team’s request for an update.  Will you release that report to the general public? If not, why not?

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