UB working toward fiscal self-sufficiency Financial independence won’t cut ties to Unification Church
Connecticut Post, Dec. 23, 2002
By LINDA CONNER LAMBECK
Dec. 23 – BRIDGEPORT – More than a decade after the Professors World Peace Academy became the University of Bridgeport’s fiscal lifeline, a leader of the group is anxious to wean UB from its dependency.
Not to sever ties, said Gordon Anderson, secretary general of the PWPA, in a telephone interview last week.
Instead, he wants to start “working together with the university on projects related to peace, international citizenship and other programs.”
“We want money that now keeps the doors open to instead to help foster growth in those areas,” said Anderson.
In 11 years, the PWPA, which gets its funding from the controversial Unification Church, has pumped an estimated $113 million into the university.
In recent years, the dependency has slowed considerably. In the current year, the PWPA put up $3 million to balance a $42 million spending plan, according to UB President Neil Salonen.
Salonen can’t say how quickly self-sufficiency will be reached but predicts a dramatic reduction in the need for funds from this year.
“I will announce it loud and clear if we don’t ask for a subsidy,” he said.
Salonen said the decline in PWPA support is as steep as it can be to keep the university’s forward momentum moving.
“We’ve been able to give raises every year, usually in the 3 percent range. We’re renting facilities we used to let out for free and enrollment is up,” he said.
Modestly so, given the large upswing on other college campuses, but Salonen said the upsurge in domestic enrollment, particularly in the freshman class, has generated a reason for optimism on campus.
“We’re expecting that this is the beginning of a wave that’s going to build,” he said.
This year, UB’s enrollment is listed as 3,173 students, including 834 full-time undergraduates. The international student population remains high. Online programs continue to grow, and the university is working to introduce a doctoral program in engineering.
Salonen said the numbers would be higher if the university hadn’t begun suspending students who don’t pay their bills and cutting back on financial aid.
“The result is while in the last three years we increase enrollment overall by 18 percent, we increased our net tuition revenue by 30 percent,” said Salonen.
One area Salonen is willing to spend money on, he said, is maintaining and strengthening the school’s athletic program. “I can’t put a lot of funds there, but [athletics] provide a lot of the glue and energy to school. It’s what makes students passionate about a school,” he said.
One reason black ink remains elusive, Salonen said, is because UB has a huge physical plant to support. The campus is big, but not as big as advertised, he added. According to Salonen, the 86-acre description of the campus in all of its literature is an exaggeration.
“When we measured, it was 52 acres,” he said.
Salonen said it’s hard to borrow money to make capital improvements as long as the university relies on the PWPA for fiscal support.
“As long as we are dependent, even in part, it makes our access to the normal capital markets problematic,” said Salonen.
Another recurring expense has been interest and payments on a lien on the property left over from the late 1980s. This spring, UB plans to pay off the $3.5 million mortgage, making it debt free, said Salonen.
For his part, Anderson said the PWPA has every confidence UB will finally become self-supporting, even though it’s taking longer than anticipated.
“When we made our original five-year plan we were told $57.5 million over five years would do it,” Anderson said.
In 1998, when PWPA officials turned what amounted to $89 million in loans into a gift, they pledged up to another $15 million to help balance the books.
Anderson, who runs a publishing company in St. Paul, Minn., said he’s optimistic that even if UB can’t completely balance its budget this year, the subsidy needed will be much less than $3 million.
The PWPA, he added, has no intention of cutting off funding or walking away
as much as those who oppose the university’s ties to the Unification Church, would like. Some view the church as a cult.
“We haven’t invested 10 years worth of effort just to cease. We’re interested in shifting from a life-saving mode into a further development mode,” said Anderson, who did not provide details about the kinds of peace initiatives the PWPA would like to support or exactly what international citizenship entails.
Both are recurring themes of the Unification Church.
Even if the PWPA were to stop its contributions, its 1991 agreement with the university, gives it the right to name 60 percent of UB’s Board of Trustees forever.
Salonen said even when he can balance the budget without the PWPA’s help, he expects it to be a “safety net” for a considerable period of time.
“Absent large endowments, and not knowing what the business cycle and enrollment cycle would be,” Salonen said, that’s the way it is.
When Sun Myung Moon, 83, dies, Salonen expects that most organizations that receive church funds, like UB, won’t be dramatically affected.
“By that time, hopefully, UB won’t be dependent anyway,” Salonen said.