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St. John’s College looks to consolidate administration to save money

Mark Roosevelt, president of St. John's College in Santa Fe, is headed toward becoming president of the Annapolis campus, also.

Mark Roosevelt, president of St. John’s College in Santa Fe, is headed toward becoming president of the Annapolis campus, also.


SANTA FE — The president of St. John’s College in Santa Fe is on track to reign over both of the college’s campuses as moves are underway to consolidate administrative functions for the Santa Fe and Annapolis, Md., locations.

The changes are intended to address an ongoing financial shortfall amounting to almost a quarter of the two sites’ combined budgets.

Mark Roosevelt, who became president of the Santa Fe campus at the beginning of this year, would preside over both campuses beginning July 1 under a proposal going before the Board of Visitors & Governors on June 18 at a meeting in Annapolis.

“St. John’s College, like every other liberal arts college in the country, is in a new world,” said Jim Reische, chief communications officer, citing financial challenges, affordability for students and reduced earnings from endowments. He said the combined campuses, with a budget of about $50 million, have been suffering an annual structural deficit of $11.5 million in recent years, which it has made up mostly through donations.

Seven people have been laid off — three or four of them (some retirements still are in discussion) on the Santa Fe campus — in the past academic year as administrative functions have been consolidated, including communications, development, alumni relations and some admissions activities, Reische said.

The plan also is to put one president, Roosevelt, over both campuses. Longtime Annapolis campus President Christopher Nelson, who has announced his retirement at the end of the 2016-17 academic year, would continue to report directly to the board during his final year, according to written information sent to the faculty, staff and alumni from the board.

Despite the financial troubles, Reische said there is absolutely no discussion of closing down the Santa Fe campus, which opened in 1964. The Annapolis college was founded as King William’s School in 1696.

The recent management moves, which have been the subject of some dissent and criticism within the St. John’s community, flared into controversy recently with an article on by Roger Kimball, editor and publisher of The New Criterion and a former St. John’s board member. He called the change in management a “coup” and cited some past board impatience with the St. Johns’ revered Great Books curriculum, in which tutors work closely with students in reading and analyzing the texts of Western civilization’s landmark texts.

He claimed the changes will dilute the college’s unique academic approach, putting St. John’s “on the road to intellectual blandess and conformity.”

But Reische denied that the recent moves will have any effect on the college’s curriculum.

Kimball also wrote that “the truth is that the Santa Fe campus has struggled since its inception. It has had trouble attracting enough students. Its finances are in shambles.” Reische also said that is not true, and that both campuses are about the same in their financial status. Each campus generally has between 400 and 450 students enrolled, he added.

On, writer Rick Seltzer quoted Nelson as pointing out that St. John’s had a single president for more than two decades after the Santa Fe campus opened. Nelson also denied Kimball’s implication that he was being forced out of his job and that Roosevelt would change the campus culture.

Roosevelt had his first meeting with the Annapolis faculty last Friday, coming out with the sense that while many don’t love the changes, they see him as someone they can work with and respect, Reische said.

St. John's College campus sprawls over the Sangre de Cristo foothills east of Santa Fe. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

St. John’s College campus sprawls over the Sangre de Cristo foothills east of Santa Fe. (Eddie Moore/Journal)