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ASU System Board of Trustees Approved Financial Exigency Plan for Henderson State University

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Henderson State University
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Arkansas State University’s Board of Trustees have approved an academic and financial restructuring of Henderson State University. KASU’s Johnathan Reaves has more:

In order to keep Henderson State University open, the Board of Trustees approved what is called a financial exigency plan. Financial exigency happens when an institution is in imminent financial crisis that threatens the survival of the institution. Exigency is a step toward resorting an institutions’ financial stability. Henderson State University Chancellor Dr. Chuck Ambrose.

“It is important to state that no campus leader that wants to utilize the financial exigency process,” said Ambrose. “That was certainly true when this was recommended February 3rd and was approved to come to the board April 28th. This is painful, but necessary process for the long-term viability of this institution and the students we serve. There is no way to minimize the impact of this process and the significant impact this will have on our campus community, including our faculty and their families.”

The plan was presented to the ASU Board of Trustees Thursday. The ASU System started working with Henderson State in 2019 to try to help the university. Henderson State became a member of the system in 2021. Numerous cuts and cost saving measures were employed before this plan was presented to the board. The plan calls for realigning academic programs, including cutting 12 programs. 88 faculty positions have also been eliminated, including 44 tenured faculty, which will stay employed through next spring. ASU System President Dr. Chuck Welch says this was the right move.

“I felt like it was very important due to the role that Henderson plays in Arkansas and the countless lives it has touched in the state,” said Welch. “Governor Hutchinson made it very clear that he wanted to see the university survive and would work with us. What was done was very difficult, but it was important because it shows the value of higher education in our state and the value of this institution.”

When a plan like this is presented, it is controversial. During a public comment period, several people presented their concerns. Alumni Timothy Barnes asked about accountability for those who got Henderson into the current financial state.

“My main area of concern is that it appears that there will not be any accountability for those that were in charge at that time. You can’t say that those people weren’t aware of the things that were going on at the institution.”

Others asked about the process this decision for the plan came about. History Professor at Henderson State is Dr. Megan Hickerson.

“When this strategy was introduced, it was done with no consultation with faculty. There was no discussion about the ways to try to fix the problems and we would have really embraced the opportunity to be part of this process.”

Dr. Fred Worth is a professor and also on the faculty senate. He says the faculty senate passed a no confidence vote on Dr. Ambrose. He supported that due to what he says was a lack of information coming from the chancellor about this.

“There has been no shared governance or transparency in this process. Dr. Ambrose is reimagining Henderson without our feedback in the process.”

While these concerns were echoed to the Board of Trustees, the Board voted to move forward with the plan. This is Trustee Price Garnder.

“Is cutting 88 jobs what we want to do? Absolutely not. Is it our responsibility to do that if it is in the best interest of the university going forward? Absolutely. Does this give Henderson State the best opportunity to be viable and stable going forward and self sustaining? I believe it does.”

ASU Board of Trustee Jerry Morgan asked Chancellor Ambrose about whether there was an alternate plan, Ambrose said,

“I have asked this question over and over and I don’t have one. I believe that Arkansas would be asking what to do with over 80 acres of property, there would be $78 million of debt that would become the responsibility of the state of Arkansas, and we would be looking at a campus closure.”

The Board voted unanimously to approve the plan. It will save five million dollars.