By all accounts, John Deegan did great things for St. Andrews Presbyterian College. During his four years as president, he managed to increase enrollment, revenue and donations. He revitalized the general education program, started eight new varsity athletic teams, and created five new academic programs. He even had a plan to increase the student population by an additional 25 percent in the next five years. But he resigned this week in an apparent clash with the board over how much of his time and energy should be spent on fund raising.
Reached at his office where he was packing up his things, Deegan said that he disagreed with the board about the college’s future priorities, and no longer had its backing. “I’ve decided to do the honorable thing and resign,” he said. “My heart is broken because I’ve given so much to this place.” Faculty members agree: “He has done a tremendous service, and we are sorry to see him go,” said David Herr, chair of the history department.
Deegan said that the contention centered on the college’s finances. “That’s it in a nutshell,” he said. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools placed St. Andrews on probation last December because of the institution’s shaky finances, and the accreditor extended the probation for six months at a meeting this month.
“He has done wonderful things, but he does not like to be on the road fund raising,” said David Burns, chairman of the board of trustees. Burns praised Deegan continuously throughout the interview but pointed out that most presidents of small liberal arts colleges spend about half of their time raising money. The board felt that Deegan preferred to spend his time attending to other campus duties, Burns said.
During Deegan’s presidency, fund raising grew from $1.7 million in 2002 to $2.6 million this year. Burns acknowledged that the campus had been taking in more money, but said that the board would like to find someone who can raise at least $3 million a year. He added that Deegan will become a wonderful asset to another college.
In a seemingly clear signal of its shift, St. Andrews announced Thursday evening that Deegan would be replaced by Paul Baldasare, who has been the instution's vice president for institutional advancement since 1997. "One of the highest priorities of presidents at small, private liberal arts colleges is to spend time on external relations and to raise money," Baldasare said in a statement announcing his ascension. Baldasare headed the college's most successful capital campaign and noted that he would spend at least half of his time building relationships with alumni and donors to solicit gifts.
Deegan said that the board had never given him a fund raising target, and that he had turned around the institution’s financial health. When he arrived in 2002, St. Andrews was more than $5 million in the red. This year marked the first time in well over a decade that St. Andrews broke even, and Deegan asserts that the college is expected to have a half-million-dollar surplus next year. “It’s the first time in decades that we are projected to have a surplus.”
He acknowledged that it had been difficult to generate revenue and raise funds for a college that limps along so close to collapse. “It’s hard to get someone to want to put their name on a building, when you’re not certain that the college is going to be around next year,” he said. Still, he said that he had pulled in a $1 million gift this April.
“Not everybody is cut out to be a fund raiser,” said Claire Van Ummersen, vice president of the Center for Effective Leadership at the American Council on Education. “You must be able to ask for money shamelessly.” Ummersen said that an effective president must be able to identify and befriend potential donors, discover their motivations, and then shape a message about the institution that dovetails with the benefactor’s emotional desires. Finally, the president must have the skill to close the deal -- to “do the ask.”
“Some people are not comfortable with that,” she said. Because this need for cash is so imperative, Ummersen said that some small, private colleges have ignored academics and looked for fund raisers to run their institutions. “They are now moving into presidencies,” she said.
“My record shows that I saved a failed college,” Deegan said. “I want to see St. Andrews succeed. I’m glad I had a role in that,” he said, before adding, “I’m looking for employment.”
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