By Arthur Taylor
When Gregory Dell’Omo joined Rider in 2015, it was clear the school was being pulled in a very different direction from that of previous decades. Insisting the school could no longer ‘kick the can down the road,’ Dell’Omo quickly began attacking the faculty union, threatening layoffs, attacking a fully enrolled performing arts program at Westminster Choir College and touting a bold plan which he branded ‘our path forward.’ Unfortunately for Rider, the ‘path forward’ was a path backward, and the bold plan was a rehashed approach he had tried at his previous place of employment Robert Morris University.
If the efforts to pursue a new ‘path forward’ had ended there, Dell’Omo’s damage to Rider may have been minimized by faculty resistance. But unfortunately for Rider, this blinkered approach to running the institution included a dubious effort to play land developer with the donated land and buildings of Westminster Choir College. This effort not only cost millions of dollars in various fees, but it also hollowed out between $10 and $13 million of revenue from the university’s operations due to drastic enrollment decreases at Westminster Choir College. Narrow two-year budgets hide this fact, but it is visible examining multi-year enrollment and revenue trends since 2016.
Rider’s ‘path forward’ has also included shifting resources from education to administration, ultimately creating a bloated administration budget. Rider’s spending on what is categorized as ‘institutional expenses’ on Rider’s financial statements, that is anything not identified as ‘for instruction,’ has climbed $7.8 million since 2016, while expenses categorized as ‘instructional costs,’ money spent educating students, has decreased $7.2 million.
Between what is conservatively $11 million in lost revenue due to decreased Westminster Choir College enrollments and the $7.8 million in increased administration costs, the real cost of our ‘path forward’ is close to $19 million in lost annual revenue. Now, in the face of a failed strategic plan, our president and board have decided to pursue one of the same failed strategies which brought us to this point. A ‘strategic prioritization of academic resources’ is being launched (and school funds are being spent) to find ‘academic inefficiencies.’ This is nothing more than misdirection, like a magician who manages to get you to look at their right hand while their left hand slides the coin into their pocket. Likewise, Dell’Omo would like the conversation about Rider’s financial predicament to ignore numerous strategic mistakes and a bloated administrative budget, and instead, look at academic departments and programs.
The truth is obvious. Rider’s academic programs are not inefficient. Rider has trimmed $7.2 million from its operating budget largely due to years of faculty sacrifices. Additionally, departments have created numerous new programs to attract students to the university and increase tuition revenue. Instructional costs also known as ‘academic inefficiencies’ are not the problem.
No one should be fooled by this gross misdirection. Rider’s financial problems are due to years of failed strategic policies. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Arthur Taylor, professor, Information Systems and Supply Chain Management Department
Originally printed in the 10/27/21 issue.