2015 President's Forum Highlights

March 12, 2015

At his quarterly President's Forum in Pigott Auditorium, President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., began with a progress report on the still developing FY16 budget. He shared current plans for budgeting more conservatively while investing in key strategic priorities, limiting the undergraduate tuition increase and completing the market equity compensation increases. He also announced that there would be no funds for the wage pool in FY16, which is used to provide merit-based pay increases for faculty and staff. After taking questions on the university's finances, Father Steve then turned to the issue of adjunct faculty unionization and shared his views and thoughts, including his thinking on next steps, before welcoming questions and further dialogue on the subject.

 Below are some highlights. You can watch the full video of the forum here

The Goal and Plan Forward   

 Alluding to the challenges and opportunities of the changing and increasingly competitive higher education sector, Fr. Steve discussed the goal of positioning Seattle University to be one of the world's most vibrant Jesuit universities and a university that is central to the promising future of greater Seattle and beyond. 

 While the university has a strong foundation, Fr. Steve stressed the importance of seizing upon the window of opportunity in the evolving landscape by investing in strategic priorities, including new programs and growth in enrollment, supporting a successful capital campaign and repositioning the university's finances and operations. He added that the FY16 budget is a bridge to the repositioning initiative, which will help the university further invest in its exceptional faculty and staff, grow enrollment and develop new programs and make SU more affordable and accessible. It will also help move the university beyond the need for across-the-board reductions if there is a shortfall. 

Starting Point for FY16   

 As previously indicated, the administration is taking a more conservative approach to the FY16 budget. It was a message Fr. Steve heard clearly during his numerous briefings with colleges, schools and divisions in the fall. Following through on that commitment, the starting point for the budget is based on a freshman class of 950 first-time in college students, 425 transfer students and an increase in graduate credit hours based on projections from deans. The university is also setting aside $1 million in a volatility, or contingency, fund. The new fund is an additional step to respond as needed to the greater volatility in higher education and reduced reliability of projections based on historical trends. The four percent reductions across divisions from the fall are also being carried forward as part of the base budget. 

 Some good news from the winter quarter is that our retention rates for returning undergraduate students, along with new student enrollment, exceeded projections and Fr. Steve took a moment to thank faculty and staff across the campus for working together to make it happen. 

Strategic Priorities   

 Fr. Steve provided a brief overview of the strategic priorities that will receive new funding in FY16. New funding is being targeted to the highest priority initiatives and those aimed at growing enrollment and non-tuition revenue. In addition to the market equity initiative, the priority initiatives for investments include new academic programs, the purchase of a modern Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) suite of software and technology support services. The new programs include the School of New and Continuing Studies, a certificate in fundraising leadership, an intensive English program, a Master of Structural Engineering and Master of Social Work. 

 The new ERP will replace an aging, 16-year-old system and provide the university critical software for its business operations and greater efficiency in carrying them out. 

 Additional investments to help us grow revenue and reduce expenses include funds for the capital campaign consultant and a director for centralized procurement. 

Tuition and Fees    

The university is planning to increase undergraduate tuition four percent in Academic Year 2015-16, which is the lowest rate increase in recent years. There will be no increase in fees for recreational sports and technology, which means the overall increase to attend SU when considering tuition and fees will be less than four percent. Financial aid is expected to increase from the $65 million in FY15.

Faculty and Staff Compensation and Benefits    

The university will complete its five-year planned investment of $7.4 million in new funding for market equity adjustments for faculty and staff in FY16. The faculty portion was completed in FY15. More than $1.6 million in compensation and benefits will be allocated to complete the staff portion in FY16. The goal of the initiative is to have all faculty and staff at least within the median market range of their position.  

Fr. Steve announced that the plan is to have no wage increase for faculty and staff in FY16. He noted that many universities have had to take similar steps in recent years and that the step is difficult yet necessary given current fiscal realities, the more conservative approach to the budget and the need to invest in strategic priorities.  

Fr. Steve said that there is no plan to make any changes in FY16 to faculty and staff benefits. 

Adjunct Faculty Unionization    

Fr. Steve took some time to discuss his thinking and the factors under consideration on the issue of full-time, non-tenure-track and part-time faculty unionization.  

He indicated the most important factor is the ability of the university to freely and fully carry out its Jesuit Catholic education and mission in an unobstructed way. A strong consideration is the impact on the longer-term quality of the community in terms of how we work together and engage one another to carry forward the mission.  

Fr. Steve then turned to two important principles. The first is his belief that faculty have the right to organize and choose who should represent them. The second is the right of the university to uphold its religious character and be able to be religious on its own terms and in its own way. He went on to note that court precedent has ruled that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) does not have jurisdiction over religious-affiliated universities. Numerous Catholic higher education associations, including the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, have consistently expressed support in public and in legal filings for the constitutional right of Catholic universities to carry out their mission free of government interference by the NLRB.  

In a majority ruling by its five members, the NLRB recently redefined the standard it will use for determining whether it has legal jurisdiction over religious-affiliated institutions. It is a standard that has yet to be reviewed by the courts. 

The regional director of the NLRB for Seattle subsequently ruled that the NLRB has jurisdiction over Seattle University under the new standard. Fr. Steve said that he was strongly leaning toward petitioning the NLRB for review of the regional director's decision by the March 17 deadline. The procedural move is necessary in order to preserve the university's options should it decide to seek a review by the courts, though Fr. Steve noted no decision has been made at this time on whether the university will do so. He also shared that it is the university's expectation that the NRLB would rule on the petition in a timely manner and that, if the NLRB agrees with the regional director ruling, the votes would then be counted.