September report cited Dowling troubles

Dr. Nathalia Rogers on the Dowling campus in

Dr. Nathalia Rogers on the Dowling campus in Oakdale. (Dec. 2, 2011) (Credit: Ed Betz)

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Dr. Nathalia Rogers on the Dowling campus in $entry.content.alttag

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A gloomy September report from the Dowling College faculty's liaison to the board of trustees described the Suffolk school as an institution in financial jeopardy and struggling to survive.

The Sept. 11 report by executive faculty chairwoman Nathalia Rogers to the trustees, about two weeks before they removed president Jeremy Brown from his post, stated: "Many faculty members have serious concerns about the ability of the college to survive."

Rogers, an associate sociology professor, also said in her report, "To quote one of my colleagues: 'Numbers of people, both inside and outside the college, have characterized what they see on campus to me in the same way: the place is a ghost town . . . The place reeks of poverty and cutbacks.' "

Rogers declined to comment on the report, which was obtained by Newsday.

Dowling spokeswoman Marissa Sanseverino said in an email to Newsday, "The report you cite is a document used for internal purposes. The board of trustees will make no public comment on this document."

Brown was removed about a week after Newsday reported Sept. 16 on financial problems and administrative turmoil that have plagued Dowling for years.

 

College faces $60M debt

The college, which has a main campus in Oakdale and another in Brookhaven, ran a budget deficit of $977,000 in 2011 and is almost $60 million in debt.

Moody's Investors Service announced last week that it is reviewing Dowling's credit rating -- already rated speculative, after two downgradings in 2011 -- for a possible further downgrade. Moody's said the review "reflects the recent unusual announcement by the college that the president will be leaving well before his contract expiration date."

The rating service is expected to make a decision in about 90 days. Of nearly 600 colleges rated by Moody's, Dowling is among 14 ranked below investment grade.

The trustees have not announced an interim president or updated the status of negotiations with Brown, whose contract runs through June 2014.

Some faculty members say Dowling's travails started long before Brown arrived. Several of them recently emailed colleagues in an attempt to drum up support to ask the trustees to reinstate him.

Financial and enrollment records show Dowling's problems were well under way during the tenure of interim president Scott Rudolph, a trustee who is a successful businessman but has no college degree.

Rudolph, who has donated millions of dollars to Dowling, served as interim president from 2010 to 2011, before Brown was hired from Edinboro University in Pennsylvania.

Rogers' report to the trustees expressed concerns about steep enrollment losses at the liberal arts school, a lack of direction and sinking faculty morale.

"Upon hearing about another drop in enrollment, a number of my colleagues are wondering why the college had not engaged in an aggressive recruitment and marketing campaign a year ago," the report states.

New York State college enrollment statistics show that in fall 2011, Dowling had a total of 4,416 students, 782 fewer than in 2010.

The college still uses a 2008 enrollment figure of 6,300 on its website.

Dowling's steep enrollment drops have meant a loss of revenue from tuition.

Even one of Dowling's mainstays -- its education school, which has churned out thousands of Long Island teachers -- is in trouble.

Before Brown was removed, he said the education school had lost 800 to 1,000 students over the past five to six years.

In addition to the other problems, there have been multiple staff layoffs.

In the spring, the faculty union agreed to a 5 percent pay cut, wage deferrals and an end to the school's pension contributions.

 

Skilled workers lacking

Among the complaints Rogers made to the trustees in her report was an assertion that Dowling does not have "many skilled workers in the areas of academic assessment, grants, career services, development and student recruitment."

Rogers assured the trustees, however, that the faculty appreciates "efforts of the board to keep the college afloat."

The report concluded with Rogers' summary of what Dowling needs to become in order to survive: "A flourishing, selective institution with a high retention rate of students, a highly skilled and productive staff, and a growing endowment."

Dowling has a $1.8 million endowment, a restricted fund composed of donations and gifts. By contrast, competitor St. Joseph's College in Patchogue has a $46 million endowment.

On Wednesday, Rogers conducted a faculty meeting at which Dowling's troubles were discussed. Several administrators and about 70 faculty members attended the meeting on the Oakdale campus, sources said.

Interim provost Elana Zolfo was among the administrators who attended the meeting. She did not respond to a phone call for comment.

No trustees attended the meeting, although they were invited, sources said.

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