Op-Ed: MacMurray's toughest challenge too much to overcome

April 10, 2020

Submitted to the Jacksonville Journal-Courier by Dr. Beverly Rodgers, president of MacMurray College. Printed on Friday, April 10

In its 174-year history, MacMurray College faced many challenges. None were as difficult as the financial problems we confronted in recent years.

The board of trustees and I worked for more than a year and until the day before we voted unanimously to close MacMurray to find a way to keep the college open.

The board and administration explored at least three different options: merger, affiliation or partnership with another institution; going forward by creating a new plan; and closure.

Each of these paths required time-consuming preparation and deliberation.

As with a growing list of small, private liberal arts colleges that have closed and others facing the same realities, the combination of declining enrollments, rising competitive costs, an insufficient endowment and recurring annual deficits were too much for us to overcome.

COVID-19 was a recent factor that didn’t help our financial condition, but it was not the principal reason for the board’s decision to close.

When I became MacMurray’s 17th president last year after serving as provost, I knew we faced a tough financial future. I was determined to work with the board, students, alumni, faculty and staff to do everything we could to help MacMurray survive.

We deeply regret this decision and are sorry for the disruption and disappointment it will have for everyone in the Mac Family, including the Jacksonville community that has supported the college for generations.

Our final challenge now is to close an historic institution with dignity, preserve its legacy, and help our students transition to new colleges with honor and pride. I am especially proud of our final graduating class and hope we can honor their achievements later this year.

For students currently at MacMurray and those who expected to enroll next fall, we are working to transition them to a school where they can complete their undergraduate educations without delay and build on the academic and personal qualities that brought them to MacMurray.

To assist in this process, we negotiated transition agreements with seven schools within a two-hour drive of MacMurray. This includes our Jacksonville neighbor, Illinois College.

For staff and especially faculty, we kept them informed as best we could about the financial problems MacMurray faced and potential solutions we were exploring.

At a time of economic disruption when many people are abruptly losing their jobs, faculty and staff will be paid through the end of the semester, and most faculty will receive a final paycheck in late May that includes pay through August because they are paid on a 12-month schedule for a nine-month academic calendar.

Health insurance and other benefits will also continue through the same period of time as each faculty member’s employment.

We carefully considered the provisions of the faculty handbook regarding severance and sought legal review to ensure our decisions adhered to its terms, which specifies notice and severance only if some faculty remain when programs or departments are eliminated.

According to the handbook, which the faculty approved in 2019, severance payments do not apply to current circumstances because all faculty appointments will end when the college closes.

For alumni, we know how disappointed and saddened they are about MacMurray’s closure. I share their pride in MacMurray, and my duty will be to work with the board to honor it.

As alumni know, MacMurray is a special place.

I noticed a predecessor of mine who served as the 12th president of MacMurray, B.G. Stephens and his wife, Sandra, shared their thoughts about MacMurray in a recent letter to the editor.

“MacMurray is not a collection of buildings and grounds,” they wrote. “MacMurray is its people. It is the alumnae, alumni, students, parents, friends, donors, faculty and staff who are MacMurray College.”

I couldn’t agree more.

As difficult as the decision to close MacMurray was to make, I am comforted to know we went through a challenging process with integrity and honesty.

The honorable legacy of MacMurray deserves nothing less.

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