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Faculty Association Says Rooney is ‘Ill-Equipped’ to Lead University

Courtesy of Loyola University ChicagoThe AAUP's letter outlined concerns with Rooney's governance at the university.

Loyola’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) called for an “intervention” with Loyola President Jo Ann Rooney, portraying her as  “out of touch” with the experiences of Loyola faculty and students and “ill-equipped” to lead the university forward in a recent letter to Loyola’s Board of Trustees.

The letter, which represents around 200 faculty members, laid out concerns regarding Rooney’s governing style and financial decisions which led to the elimination of programs such as the English Language Learning Program (ELLP) and large-scale changes to the Loyola University Museum of Art (LUMA).

The AAUP also mentioned the two recent academic strikes — graduate workers and non-tenured track professors — Rooney’s publicized media policy, the severance of the Beijing Center and decreased participation in studies at the John Felice Rome Center as points of concern. 

However, the board of trustees’ June 7 response letter to the AAUP — given to The Phoenix by Loyola spokesperson Evangeline Politis — didn’t specifically address any of these concerns. Politis told The Phoenix the board’s letter is the university’s only response at this time.

Rooney couldn’t be reached for comment after multiple requests from The Phoenix. 

Loyola professors Rhys Williams, president of Loyola’s AAUP chapter, and Pamela Caughie, AAUP’s appeals advocate, co-wrote the letter on behalf of the organization. Caughie said she hopes the “intervention” will increase communication between the president and faculty, and promote increased fundraising for the university. 

The association has over 200 chapters at universities nationwide and aims to promote academic freedom, shared governance, uphold professional values and to promote the economic security of faculty members, according to its mission statement

The letter said the group wanted to give Rooney two years to assess the university’s needs and make plans to improve, but as Rooney finished her third year as president, the AAUP said it isn’t satisfied with her progress so far. 

“Unfortunately, Dr. Rooney is just finishing her third year as president, and the ‘austerity’ budget cuts being implemented — however financially necessary they may be — also point to her failure in her fiduciary responsibilities,” the letter, obtained by The Phoenix, said. 

Loyola ended its ELLP earlier this year with no apparent replacement for students enrolled at Loyola who seek to learn English, The Phoenix reported. The administration also decided to close LUMA to the public this past year after changing the museum’s purpose due to the amount of money it was losing, The Phoenix reported

The chapter also referenced what it views as a lack of fundraising following the Loyola men’s basketball Final Four run in March 2018 and ahead of the university’s 150th anniversary in 2020. While the chapter says the university did little to no fundraising for these events, it’s unclear if the university did capitalize on these things.

“[The Final Four and 150th anniversary] would seem to be great opportunities to really step up annual giving with all the publicity… as far as we know there’s not much being done about that, and that’s a real concern,” Williams told The Phoenix.

Fundraising and donations also can impact the cost of tuition, Williams said. Around 70 percent of the school’s budget is made up of what students pay for tuition, housing and dining, The Phoenix reported. Next year, students will see a 3.3 percent increase in their tuition, The Phoenix reported

“You can’t keep increasing tuition forever. … I think everybody at Loyola, faculty and administration is very concerned with higher tuition costs,” Williams said. “So the question is, what is the plan to try to increase advancement and annual giving to make sure that we aren’t just continuing to raise tuition over and over?” 

In her inaugural address, Rooney said she prioritizes the need for Loyola to stop relying on increased tuition to fund the university, The Phoenix reported. However, Loyola’s tuition has increased every year since 1989 and hasn’t stopped going up during Rooney’s tenure, The Phoenix reported. 

In its letter, the board of trustees made clear its support for Rooney and her leadership at the university. The board praised Rooney’s “prudent economic approach,” in the letter.

“The fiscally conservative approach helps to ensure our University is better positioned to succeed in the face of increasing challenges in higher education, which have caused other institutions to take such drastic actions as significant salary and benefit cuts and the elimination of hundreds of faculty and staff positions,” the board’s response letter said. 

The board also said the “prudent economic approach” has made room for Loyola’s new Parkinson School of Health Science and Public Health as well as merit-based and need-based scholarships and improved facilities throughout the campuses. 

The AAUP also mentioned Rooney’s governing style in its letter, saying she didn’t take much consultation from faculty in making decisions for the university, especially before moving forward with a one-provost model — meaning one provost will oversee all of Loyola’s campuses. 

The one-provost model came after Loyola’s unsuccessful year-long search for an academic provost. Without a permanent provost, the AAUP said Loyola is lacking academic leadership.

“Three years into President Rooney’s tenure in office, we still have only an interim provost and thus no real university-wide academic leadership,” the letter said. 

Caughie said she felt the decision to choose a one-provost model was made entirely by Rooney, without any faculty input. 

“Deans were not involved, department chairs were not involved, faculty were not involved,” Caughie said. “We feel this is disastrous for a university because even if there are differences, you want to be heard.” 

Caughie said the new provost search doesn’t include any input from faculty and students other than those on a designated committee. 

“We really are concerned about what’s going on with the provost search and if this model is going to work,” Caughie said.

In its response letter, the board said it supports Rooney’s “One Loyola” single provost model.

“Recruitment of an outstanding provost who is a strong academic leader, and the addition of a Vice President of Advancement, are the highest priority for the Board as we continue to implement One Loyola,” the letter said.

In its letter, the AAUP noted Rooney has met with the chapter more than past university presidents, but it still sees a need for change.

“The Board should understand that there is no personal animus with Rooney; in fact, she has spent more time meeting with the faculty council and the AAUP leadership than other presidents have in the past,” the letter said. 

“Yet to many faculty, chairs and deans as well, the points above add to a disturbing picture of a university leadership that is out of touch with the experience of teaching and learning on our campuses and is ill-equipped to lead us forward.”

The board defended Rooney’s time as president, citing Loyola’s three-year streak of record first-year class sizes, “all-time high levels in one-year retention rates” and Loyola’s 89th rank in U.S News and World Report’s ranking of national universities.

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