Administrators threw a pizza party  last year after every St. Catharine College employee donated to build a new library and graduate studies center. Combined, the 150 full-time and 50-part time workers gave more than $200,000. Many agreed to four-year payroll deductions to support the cause.
With that library now under construction, faculty and staff met again with President William Huston last week. This time, there was no pepperoni.
Instead, employees learned their 6-percent matching contributions to their retirement funds will be suspended until at least June, and that they won’t learn whether they’ll receive a raise until at least August. While employees usually receive a slight raise (it was 2 percent last year), the increases aren't promised. Huston said there was no way to anticipate the cost-saving measures when employees were asked to donate to the library. The college also instituted a hiring freeze for non-essential positions until summer.
The 850-student Roman Catholic college in central Kentucky has grown tremendously during Huston’s tenure. When he arrived in 1997, St. Catharine had 150 students, offered only associate degrees, owned no land and was operating in an old gymnasium owned by the Dominican nuns who founded the college.
The college now owns about 100 acres, has built four new dorms, added athletic fields and expanded its academic programs to include four-year degrees.
In that time, the college has added staff, never laid anyone off and offered raises in every year but one.
But with an $8 million library in the works and a 40-acre land purchase made in December, questions arise about whether St. Catharine expanded too quickly.
Among institutions that have been particularly challenged in recent years are small private colleges without much of an endowment. But Huston insists St. Catharine isn’t in financial danger, calling the moves “cost-saving measures under tough times.” Enrollment increased last year and indicators suggest it will be up again this fall. That growth necessitates new buildings, he said, and St. Catharine has done its best to keep pace.
“You always have a pretty thin bottom line because you have to build to support that increased number of students that’s coming to you,” he said.
While Huston said faculty and staff were grateful that he broke the financial news to them in person, Inside Higher Ed learned about the cuts from a worried employee's anonymous letter. The letter writer cited job security and the fact St. Catharine doesn’t grant tenure as reasons for not signing the letter. Despite reaching out to more than a dozen employees over e-mail, no one agreed to speak with a reporter, though one faculty member expressed satisfaction that an article was being written.
If all goes as planned, Huston will give employees higher raises than usual in coming years and will restore contributions to the TIAA-CREF retirement funds.The moves aren't indicative of a systemic problem, he said, but are a way to ensure the college's future viability.
“I’ll do everything in my efforts to make this up either next year or split it between the next couple,” Huston said. “It’s my full intention to continue to raise the TIAA-CREF match,” which he said has gone from about 1 percent to 6 percent during his tenure.