The Franklin Co-Executive Editors Isaac Gleitz and Sydney Byerly catch up with Franklin College President Kerry Prather to talk about athletics, enrollment, budget cuts, Campus Tables and more.
Read on for a lightly edited transcript from their conversation.
Starting off a little bit more lighthearted… that bell game. How’d you feel about the Bell game?
I thought it was one of the most impressive displays of execution to get all that snow off the field in that amount of time for us to play. My hat's off to the physical plant.
It was cold. It was just so out of the blue. I wish we'd have played better, obviously [a loss] that's always disappointing for the team. But I was surprised by the crowd. I was surprised by the energy—Hanover brought a lot of folks so all in all it was a great event. We're just supposed to win as God intended. We’ll get him next year
Winter sports are starting up and I know both basketball teams have new coaches. Are you looking forward to seeing how their seasons go?
I'm excited for both of them and I last night, for once, I didn't take work home, so I had Franklin [vs.] Depauw on my iPad, while I had Kentucky and Michigan State on the big TV. And we came back and won last night [the men did] after being down the entire game. So for Coach Hamilton to get his first win at Depauw, [which is not an easy thing to do] was really, really encouraging. I'm really excited to see the women play because I think they've got a big shot in the arm in terms of enthusiasm with a new young, well experienced coach, so I think it'll be fun.
We've kind of heard that some of the department budgets are being cut back due to enrollment. Could you kind of confirm or deny that and then what's the plan moving forward for that and the college?
Well, anytime you have a freshman class and entering class smaller than what you budgeted for, you just have to manage the budget, essentially, to fit the class. So institution wide we're trying to reduce the whole operating budget by about 10%.
So not an across the board cut but we've just asked each of the cabinet officers to try to find places where they can conserve money, delaying purchases, that sort of thing. So we can get to that level of about 10%.
Unfortunately, we've done it often enough that we know we can do it. It's not the most pleasant thing in the world, but it's manageable. And the other caveat in my request to them was to try to prioritize the expenses that are further removed from the student experience. You could make the argument everything we do is relate to the student experience, but there's that which touches it directly and that which touches it least directly, so we're trying to save as much as we can over here.
What would some examples of that be, like things that could be cut that aren't necessarily affecting students?
Regular purchases that we might stretch out another six months in terms of like replacement of equipment, and so forth… administrative travel. We’re just trying to be very circumspect about when you really need to go on the road and when you don't.
Taking off the table, obviously the work that needs to be done in admissions and fundraising, because that is work that has to be done.
A really good look at all of our third party vendors, just to make sure we're getting everything that we're paying for is absolute necessity, any redundancy, any overlap that we might recoup some money from. It's just pretty down in the weeds budget management.
And we do have a few positions administratively that we're sitting on [hiring anyone for those positions] and that's tough because we already operate really lean in terms of staffing, but we've got two or three positions right now that we're just we've put on hold in the interest of saving some money. I'm not sure how long we can do that. But every month we do it saves a little money.
What are faculty and staff reactions to this, are they disappointed?
They're always disappointed but unfortunately, we've been through it. You know, our enrollment history has just been kind of an up and down like this. You celebrate the good years, and you learn to manage through the bad years.
I'm disappointed because I think we budgeted to a realistic figure, and we didn't accomplish that. We didn't accomplish that goal so that's part of the reason there was a transition in the leadership of the enrollment team. It would be different if you set some unrealistic goal—we have learned to set that budget figure where it can be accomplished. So I'm disappointed it wasn't. And [we] can't just keep coming down because there a certain number of expenses that are just part of the operation.
Off the top of your head. Do you know what the goal was and what we achieved?
It was 300 [new students]. And we ended up with 272.
At various points in the recruitment cycle, we were—and this was true of last year’s effort—we were on target at that interval to have gotten to 300. I don't think the cycle was managed nearly well enough.
Have Dean Jones or Dean talked with you at all about the Campus Table events? How do you think those are going?
I haven’t been able to attend one, but the early returns have been really good. I love the idea of anything that encourages discussion, debate, thoughtful conversation about big topics. I would love to see us do everything we can do to raise the frequency and the profile of scholarly discussion for a lot of reasons. I think that's why you're here. I think that's what should go on here. But also, there's so little that takes place out in the world that is both thoughtful and civil. And hopefully we can inspire a generation who can go out and kind of show other people the way this is supposed to be done. So I love the concept.
The editor’s next meeting with President Prather is scheduled for Nov. 30.
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