As Saint Joseph’s College President Robert Pastoor meets today with faculty, staff and students following Friday’s board of trustees decision to suspend campus operations, he says "nothing concrete" could reverse the decision. "I think the best thing for the college at this particular point is to go through the suspension and regroup and re-engineer the institution out of its debt issues," Pastoor tells Inside INdiana Business, "and try to basically be resurrected almost as a new kind of institution." That burden he says, would fall upon the leaders "left behind" in the wake of the campus closing June 1.
Pastoor became president in March 2015, and when he first accepted the job, he says he was unaware of the full scope of the college’s financial problems. "I’ve been working in higher education for over 35 years and mostly at small colleges, so I understand there are always financial issues in private higher education, especially at small schools. So I was aware of some issues facing the college financially," he said in an interview with Inside INdiana Business. "I don’t think that anybody was really aware — until time elapsed here — of the magnitude of the issues that the college faces. Some of it is built-in: it’s debt, it’s deferred maintenance, those kind of things that every college has to deal with it. And then the rest of it has to deal with enrollment and fundraising, so I would say that no, I did not have a complete picture of it, but I certainly was aware that there were financial issues facing the college."
Pastoor says the college has been working toward monetizing some college-owned assets to help off-set some financial obligations. Those efforts, he said fell short of what was needed by SJC, and the board decided to retain the assets. In a letter last week, Pastoor outlined $100 million needed for the school to stay around. It would’ve been able to continue for another year if $20 million could be secured by the end of the semester. The university owns one particular property that has been estimated to be worth up to $75 million, but it cannot be sold by SJC and must be used only for agricultural or wind energy uses. The land is held in a trust that is controlled by SJC and The Mayo Clinic. Pastoor says SJC has had discussions with The Mayo Clinic over a potential agreement that could benefit SJC’s financial situation. He says "the money they offered was simply not enough." A source with intimate knowledge of the discussion told Inside INdiana Business the offer was valued at $15 million.
Pastoor says today’s discussions will offer an opportunity for students, faculty and staff to vent their frustrations and ask questions. "I’m not sure that we’re going to have all the answers that they’re looking for, but we certainly can provide some information to help them begin to understand what we’re going to do during this transition time to help them. And I think that’s the primary message is that all of us are committed to working — particularly with the students — in finding other schools to go to, even though that’s a difficult thing for them to get their heads around right now, he says." The university is also working with the faculty and staff on assistance for their next career move.
Pastoor says, when he accepted the job, he was unaware of the full scope of the college’s financial problems.