Wheeling Jesuit board declares ‘financial exigency’

Wheeling Jesuit University’s board of trustees has declared a ‘financial exigency’ at the school, officials confirmed Tuesday. (Photo by Scott McCloskey)

WHEELING — The Wheeling Jesuit University Board of Trustees has declared “a financial exigency” at the institution.

WJU President Michael Mihalyo said the action was taken Friday at a special session of the board.

“It was a difficult meeting, as trustees and administrators considered how best to bring the WJU mission forward and continue to serve our students in light of our current financial challenges,” he stated.

The new president has been at the helm for seven months.

News of Wheeling Jesuit’s financial exigency also was noted online Monday by Inside Higher Ed.

The Inside Higher Ed article stated, “Traditionally defined as an ‘imminent financial crisis which threatens the survival of the institution as a whole,’ financial exigency has been used in the past to terminate long-standing, often tenured faculty.”

Mihalyo disclosed the situation in a letter sent to alumni and friends of the school. He directed any immediate questions to Julia Cook, WJU director of communications.

Cook, however, said, “There’s really nothing that I can disclose really from what is in the letter … I’ve been directed that we have to stick with the press release and that letter. We really cannot say anything until the next board meeting.”

In the letter, Mihalyo said, “Continued financial challenges have put our university in a position where we do not have the resources to bridge the gap between highly discounted enrollment, associated academic and athletic programming costs, and the revenue needed to support the institution’s operational expenses.”

Defining “financial exigency,” the president said, “Our faculty handbook contemplates that when the university is confronting a ‘critical, pressing or urgent need on the part of the university to reorder its monetary expenditures,’ the board can declare a financial exigency in order to maximize our ability to improve the university’s financial condition.”

In May 2017, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston purchased Wheeling Jesuit University in an effort to assure the school’s future. Earlier that year, WJU’s trustees appealed to the diocese to take action to help secure the university’s long-term future and lower its operating costs.

Outlining the university’s current plans for combating the new crisis, Mihalyo stated, “Over the next few weeks, the board and the university community will be working with state and government officials, regional and community leaders, and our university’s accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission, to determine the best path forward.”

Campus meetings were being held to provide additional information.

“We remain committed to sharing more information with members of our community as it becomes available,” he said.

In the letter, Mihalyo added, “While we continue to actively and aggressively pursue additional funding sources, new and innovative partnerships, collaborations and supporters, any path forward for our university must be based upon a financial model that is sustainable, allows us to provide a high-quality education to our students, and preserves the value of a WJU degree for our alumni.”

He also told supporters, “I recognize that WJU’s financial challenges will generate concern for our students, alumni and this campus community. I share those concerns deeply. Despite those challenges, we remain grounded in our Catholic identity and ideals. Among those ideals has always been a contemplative vision formed by hope. At this moment, we will take all necessary steps to consider how the WJU mission might be brought forward in a new way and with a sustainable model. I look forward to working with you to achieve this goal.”

Two years ago, the Most Rev. Michael J. Bransfield, now-retired bishop, and the diocese redeemed WJU’s bonds after the university determined that annual debt payments were more than it could sustain.

In exchange for the bond redemption, the diocese purchased all of the university’s property, which it originally gave to the college in 1952.

The board elected Mihalyo as WJU president in August 2018. Mihalyo replaced Debra Townsley, who had served as interim president since February 2017.

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