The Franklin Co-Executive Editor Taylor Wooten talks with Franklin College President Kerry Prather about white supremacist promotional materials found on campus, empty faculty positions and recent changes to the college’s admissions department.
Read on for a lightly edited transcript from their conversation.
Taylor Wooten: So my first question is regarding the whole sticker thing, the flyers and all of that. So, the first question that I had was why did it take a little bit for the college to respond to the situation?
President Prather: Well, same question, the same question the last time this happened, Taylor and the answer is to allow us the time to investigate fully research organizations, behind this. And then plan a strategy so we could address all those things at one time.
TW: Is there any way you want to expand upon your email statement?
PP: Well, only with frustration. Short, there's a difference between the last incident and this one because the last one was actually on public property proximate to the campus. So, we have virtually no control over that. When somebody steps onto our campus, it's a completely different issue. So to the extent that no one authorized folks to be able to do that, they are, in fact, trespassing. But as with most cowardly acts that was nighttime on a weekend, on a Sunday. So, we have some camera images but they are from the inside of a building shooting out, so you can't begin to be able to identify anyone in that, so that's why I say. I talked to the mayor today, he was more than happy to direct the chief of police to step up their evening patrols. And then if we can just have the campus community, keep their eyes and ears open. Steve Leonard has reached out to some representative of this group to tell them they're not welcome here, and to stay off campus, but we would certainly prosecute anyone who tried to come back. And we have evidence that ours was not the only campus, there's at least another campus and I think more than one more, where the same group is visited. So you know, it's a frustration because it runs counter to everything that we believe. It's unsettling, especially for our minority populations. And so, as I say, the best we can do is try to be vigilant, stop it from happening on our campus, if we have the opportunity. And then I think, in all instances, just reassure everybody in our community that there's no appetite for that here. It runs counter to everything we believe in, you know, our job is to keep everybody safe and ensure that everybody has a successful, rewarding experience so anything that detracts from that from the outside is just hugely frustrating.
TW: We have one reporter, that was concerned about the suggestion I believe it was in Jones's email that students may remove them themselves because she had at least heard a rumor that there could be something like a sharp object underneath them or just the idea that maybe a student could be seen removing one, and that people someone could think they were like putting it up.
PP: Well, you know, I think Dean Jones's heart is where mine is which is the sooner we get that trash down, the better. So, I suppose there are potential unintended consequences, but I'd be all for yanking them down and taking them off windshields if you see them. I did think his suggestion was really good too, for us to make sure we capture an image if this is actually a different group than we had dealt with previously so it gives us a chance to dig into, to the extent that we can determine what their philosophical bent is.
TW: Yeah so completely switching directions, how is the search for a new CDI director going?
PP: Dean Jones is chairing that. So I think he has the search committee assembled and has the advertising out. But he could give you a little more specific, where he is on the timeline of things.
TW: With the news that ‘Vinny’ Vincent-Dunn sent out yesterday that the associate director of financial aid is stepping down. Is there going to be a search for that, and how is he going to handle the financial aid office on his own?
PP: Yes, there is going to be a search for that, and probably we’ll hire some interim help. We'll run a search, but in the meantime. There's several layers of expertise that go in finance, in financial aid. Some require more experience, and more expertise, than others. And there is a certain amount of literal number crunching that goes on there so I think we can plug in some interim help, because it is going to be obviously financial aid packaging season so we're—I think Vice President Maceo is on his way to figuring out how to staff that.
TW: One of our reporters is working on a story focusing a lot on admissions so I wonder, like, why have we seen such an increase in hiring in admissions?
PP: Well, there are no new net positions. So traditionally on most campuses, at the counselor level, that's an entry level position that typically is a kind of a skill development stage of life. Now, some people stay in admissions, or they go into other areas of higher ed, but it's more often the case that as an admissions counselor they pick up sales experience, organizational experience, interpersonal skill experience. All of those things that they can leverage into the next job that they take. So on every college campus, that's a frequent replacement cycle and ours has been the same. But in a couple of cases we held open positions to do a more conscientious search, I think, which has brought us the Director of Multicultural Recruitment Myron Duff, which has brought us the Director of Admissions Ryan McClarnon. And, which has brought us the American Baptist liaison assistant, which is a kind of a catch up, that position existed but had not been filled. And then most recently, Adam Hearn [director of data Analytics and market research], his position is actually the conversion of a counselor position into a data analyst position. And I'm very excited about that one because what we're finding is, in addition to the excellent IT department we have, more and more in higher ed the technical aspects of each division required that division to have an expert in house. So when we moved Adam Dunigan [Director of Development Information & Analytics] into development, it was to manage the technical aspects of development work, its sophisticated software system. We just in January, hired an education tech specialist [Mandy Henry]. So, she is managing all of the virtual applications in the program, but also all the data gathering and reporting that's necessary for all of the accreditation efforts. So Adam is the admissions version of the same, and there's some pretty high tech analytics that go on in admissions for you to do it well. Targeted markets, and you know where you're leveraging your influence, essentially to get the most bang for every buck. So I think that one's going to pay off several times over and honestly all of these have. My point is Taylor, we haven't created any new positions there.
TW: This is a big follow up question but, how are they all adapting or are they all adapting well? I know you named a lot of people so that's a lot to go back to.
PP: My sense is that as we've interviewed people who... Take Ryan McClarnon, who is an experienced admissions professional. Part of his attraction to Franklin, is the opportunity to work with Thanda [Maceo, vice president of enrollment and marketing], because Thanda brought so much experience from higher ed, and then from the consulting world in higher ed. So, he's just a wealth of knowledge about how this works, and I can honestly say the combination of Thanda and Ryan is the most experience we have ever had in those two positions combined in the 40 years I've been here. So, I know that's going to pay off in the sense, the statistics are already bearing that out.
TW: How has admissions changed since you've been president?
PP: Well, I think we have kind of reestablished the extent to which successful admissions work is time intensive, one-on-one outreach. Part of the reason our athletic recruiting historically has been so successful is because it is kind of modeled in that way, you know, it's a relationship building process, well athlete recruiting is exactly the same. So, I think technology has its place. I think we went through a phase where maybe we felt like technology would carry us farther than it actually will. At the end of the day, it's a very personal decision made largely on the basis of personal connections that high school students make with people on this campus, not just admissions counselors certainly, but faculty members, coaches, staff members. And I think what Thanda has brought us and really what Andy [Hendricks, current athletic director and former acting vice president for admissions and financial aid] brought us during his interim stint last year was just kind of a re-emphasis on that. We're not going to have successful student recruitment via email. Every aspect has its place but at the end of the day, like almost everything we do on this campus, it's a people business. And so I just think we have that awareness. I think the other thing Thanda has brought to us is a little greater degree of accountability in terms of what's expected of the operation collectively, and then what is expected from each piece of that operation as well. And then the last thing is, I think, a better alignment of the marketing function as it serves the recruitment function. So, we have very good people in marketing. I think Thanda’s expertise in how that work actually really impacts our student recruitment has been critical to the whole operation coming together. And then he's on another planet in terms of data driven decision making, just because he brought so much more experience with him, to be able to know at any given point in time where we are, how we are leveraging our assets. And what that allows you to do is not wait til the end of the recruiting year to decide what you should have done two months ago. You know he's making real time decisions based on the fluctuation of applications and acceptances and pay deposits, all of which is hugely important.
TW: This might be more of a Thanda question, but are there any new projects planned as far as admissions goes?
PP: We're actually transitioning, we're in the middle of a transition in terms of consultancies. So I think there will be... He's also in the middle of a conversion of the central management system, probably ought to ask him about both of those. But both of those will be a plus that will impact more next year's effort than the current year's effort. And I would say Taylor also Myons’ role, and the American Baptist liaison role are both intended to be more targeted efforts towards specific demographics, where we've perhaps not been as organized in how we go about that. So, in the wealth of minority recruitment. We had a conversation yesterday about outreach to the Latinx population in Indianapolis and in involvement with organizations there. So I think the diversity effort is going to be well served by having someone in that role, who is a mature professional with already some existing networks into the markets that tend to be more minority heavy.
TW: I was wondering if there were any updates on the CARES Act funds and what the college is going to do with them and when students could expect money.
PP: We know what we're going to get, we don't yet know how we can use it. So there was a set of rules with the Trump administration. And then there is not yet a different set of rules by the Biden administration. And we've got to wait to see what that guidance looks like because once you access the money there's a very small window of time to be able to then distribute that money in the case of students, or spend that money in the case of the institution. So, the guidance we've gotten thus far, all colleges have gotten is pump the brakes, until we know from the administration, what the rules are going to be.
TW: Do you know what that window of time is, how long it is? You know, how long the window of time is that you said you have to use it.
PP: The institutional money window, as it is, as it was originally written as three days. So, you get the money and then by three days later, you have to have spent it. So all of this, you know, is going to come down as the new administration gets its Department of Education. And there's a much longer window of time before the actual expiration of the opportunity so we're kind of in a wait and see for right now. And I would say, Taylor, the likelihood is the actual process of distribution to students will look very much like the previous effort. There are a couple of changes. Thus far, one of them being the ability for a student to choose to apply that money directly to their bill. So the institution can't do that but they can give the student the option if they would prefer to have the cash or prefer to have an application to their bill.
TW: Do you think that like, because the numbers of COVID are going down in Indiana and hopefully the Franklin College numbers are mirroring that, do you think students are getting a little bit too relaxed on the protocol? Because I did notice that Andrew Jones sent out an email reminding everyone of it.
PP: I haven't seen it, I've worried about it, but haven't seen it. You know we tested 164 or so students two weeks ago and found one positive. So, that's by far the lowest result we've had, of all the surveillance testing we've done. I have a theory, and it's only a theory, but my theory is, we will be helped by having all of our sports in motion. Because I think our athletes are trying really hard to not miss any contests, by virtue of exposure or illness. So I hope that's going to be continued to be kind of a deterrent of sorts. But I also think there is a natural tendency when you see light at the end of the tunnel to maybe try to jump the gun a little bit. We’ve just got to be really careful about that.