Fiery meeting on College of St. Joseph's financial struggles

RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) Angry professors and students packed a theater at the College of Saint Joseph Monday afternoon after getting an email saying the school could close.

The Board of Trustees had planned to be there but canceled suddenly, fearing for their safety in front of the hostile crowd. But people decided to meet with or without the board. Emotions were running high during the forum.

The president of the college says the school is in financial trouble but not hopeless. President Larry Jensen tried to assure students and faculty that the College of St. Joseph is not shutting its doors.

The concern stems from an email sent to students last week by Board of Trustees Chair A. Jay Kenlan, in which he says closing is an option if the school cannot resolve financial problems.

The concerns over the future of the school have some students considering transferring.

"They don't know if it's going to be open or closed. And that's understandable but the problem with that is, you're not giving it a chance to survive," student Jillian Beayon said.

Board members abruptly canceled their campus meeting but President Jensen did address the crowd. He says over the past two years, the school has spent $2 million more than it has brought in.

The president answered angry shouts of "On what?" saying the deficit has been driven by faculty salaries and campus improvements.

Faculty member Lisa Chalidze has volunteered to take a 20 percent pay cut and is asking other professors to give up 2 percent of their salary.

Radiologic Sciences Program Director Roger Weeden has offered to serve as president of the school with no pay increase for the first year. Professors say it would save money on a search after Jenson retires. Weeden also proposed several ideas for increasing revenue, including opening a certified day care center on campus.

For many here, the sacrifice is worth it.

"This college is magic. We work miracles here every day. We need to stay open," Chalidze said in tears.

The Board of Trustees will meet Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to gather information and get public comment.

The College of St. Joseph is just one Vermont school struggling with low enrollment and revenue. Castleton University, St. Michael's, Lyndon and Johnson State have also faced troubles.