Long Island University President Kimberly Cline has earned a contract extension through 2023, with trustees endorsing and encouraging the changes her administration made at the 17,000-student school during the past five years, despite ongoing clashes with longtime faculty on both the Brookville and Brooklyn campuses.
The endowment of the private, nonprofit university has nearly doubled in the past four years to $200 million. Raising private donations for the endowment and striking partnerships were essential for a school that had a bleak financial picture when Cline arrived — and still must grapple with a revenue stream reliant on student tuition.
Looming large over the transformation, though, are faculty and staff who repeatedly have dissented during the Cline administration, including two votes of no-confidence in her leadership, threats to strike and pleas to state education officials to intervene.
Still, trustees credit Cline with executing tough decisions at a pivotal time in American higher education while also operating in a competitive regional market where colleges are vying for a shrinking pool of self-paying students.
“She talked the talk and walked the walk,” said board Chairman Eric Krasnoff, who led the search committee that appointed Cline in 2013. Krasnoff, a retired industrial executive, has been on the LIU Board of Trustees for 24 years.
“We have tremendous gratification that the school is moving in the right direction, both from a student-centric point of view and a faculty-centric point of view,” he said.
Cline, former chief financial officer in the State University of New York system, is the 10th president of LIU, founded in downtown Brooklyn in 1926 and expanded to the Post campus in Brookville in 1951. In July 2013, she became the school’s first female leader, succeeding David Joel Steinberg, who retired after 28 years as president.
A representative for the school declined to reveal Cline’s salary. In 2014, before receiving a raise accompanying her new contract extension, her total compensation was $859,494, according to the most recent salary list published in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
“We’re not where we want to be, but we are singularly focused on making this a really unique student experience,” Cline said in a recent interview. “Everything we do is not just focused on bringing in students and graduating them, but bringing in students and giving them the skills and experiences that are going to take them throughout their lives. I feel like that’s our responsibility.”
Cline’s stamp on the university can be seen mainly in the exposure students are encouraged to have in the private sector. There are eight student-run businesses on the Post campus, including a student-run consulting firm, a technology store and a designer-label clothing boutique. Internships, study abroad and undergraduate research are major components of the curriculum under Cline.
In the past four years, LIU has received more than $42 million in major gifts, an increase of more than 50 percent from the preceding four years, school officials said. Moody’s Investor Services upgraded its rating and for the first time in years revised the financial outlook to “stable.”
“This institution was much like Dowling in the early 2000s and it needed to change,” said Christopher Favola, vice president for finance at LIU. Favola, who was hired 10 years ago, referred to Dowling College, the debt-ridden liberal arts school in Suffolk County that closed in 2016.
The student academic profile is slowly improving. In fall 2013, the average SAT score for first-time freshmen starting the semester on the Post campus was 956, and on the Brooklyn campus, 934. By fall 2017, those numbers had risen to 1,126 and 1,094, respectively.
In 2013, the six-year graduation rate at Post was 39 percent, and at the Brooklyn campus it was 24 percent. Five years later, it is 47 percent and 31 percent.
Amid this change, vocal tenured faculty members are asking state officials and accrediting agencies to take a closer look at budget-crunching they say is at odds with the liberal-arts mission of the college. The most recent action came from professors at both campuses calling on the state Education Department to investigate universitywide practices they believe compromise the school’s academic integrity.
Faculty members from LIU Brooklyn and LIU Post sent letters in June and November, respectively, to Deputy Commissioner John D’Agati at the state Education Department. Their concerns ranged from a lack of transparency on fundraising and accurate enrollment figures, to the suspension of academic programs, to failure to grant tenure based on predetermined criteria. The complaints also noted high turnover in the academic advising office and a failure to address admissions staffing deficits.
“The vast majority of our concerns speak to a pattern of prioritizing financial considerations over academic ones in ways that have undermined student learning,” faculty members wrote in a copy of the letter sent to LIU trustees.
State officials, who have cautioned there are limits to how much they can intervene in the operations of a private school, said: “We have previously asked the college to respond to the allegations contained in those letters and the college has done so. We are currently preparing a response to the most recent letter, dated ‘November 2017.’ ”
John Lutz, chairman of the LIU Post Faculty Council, said many professors have felt excluded from the college’s decision-making process. The council, which has about 22 members on the Post campus, is “making gains with administration to resolve these matters and move forward,” Lutz said.
“Faculty have the most investment in the academic progress there,” said Lutz, an English professor. “We are most familiar with the needs of the students, and it’s safe to say that the faculty don’t believe that their voice on the matter of student needs is given enough weight.”
Brooklyn faculty members arguably are more bitter. It has been 16 months since Cline’s administration locked them out of their offices on Labor Day weekend 2016 in a well-publicized battle over their employment contract.
Ralph Engelman, journalism professor for 32 years and vice president of the Long Island University Faculty Federation, the union representing faculty on the Brooklyn campus, said communication with Cline’s administration “continues to be a problem.”
“Clarification is needed. We are missing a sense of orderly planning,” said Engelman, who acknowledged higher education is changing. “But that change needs to come about with collaboration between administration and faculty. Without it, it would be very difficult to move forward in a productive way.”
The 12-day “lockout” included street demonstrations, a student walkout and the participation of Randi Weingarten, president of the nation’s second-largest teachers union. Faculty members on the LIU Post campus did not hold a job action, but most said they were supportive of their colleagues in Brooklyn.
Faculty on the Brooklyn campus voted no-confidence in Cline on Sept. 6, 2016. Two days later, the LIU Post faculty at the Brookville campus followed suit.
Michael Soupios, political philosophy professor at LIU Post for 40 years, said: “There is no doubt about the damaging effect of the lockout.”
“They alienated an entire community down there,” Soupios said.
For the most part, Cline declined to talk about her relationship with the faculty. In the interview, she said the administration successfully worked with faculty representatives on revisions to their core curriculum. She and other officials noted each of the faculty unions agreed to extend their employment contracts through 2022. Some of the programs that were suspended had enrollments of only a handful of students.
But she demurred when asked about the lockout, saying simply: “It was a moment in time.”
LIU fast facts
Locations: Main campuses in downtown Brooklyn and Brookville.
Enrollment: Roughly 17,000 students, including post-graduates.
Undergraduate tuition: Roughly $35,500 per year, with an average discount rate of 22.5 percent.
Financial aid in 2017: Roughly $100 million, shared by more than 80 percent of students.