Arcadia University was roiled in 2013 when the board of trustees suddenly, and without explanation, fired its president. Three years later, troubles continue at the Glenside university.
Ten members of the board of trustees have resigned in recent months, and five more have left as their terms expired, according to the outgoing president of the faculty senate, Peter Siskind. That means nearly half of the board that oversaw the university a year ago is no longer there.
Those who have left include distinguished members, some with leadership positions and roles in overseeing finances. Among them, according to sources close to the university, are: Jo Bennett, a lawyer with Schnader, Harrison, Segal & Lewis; Thomas Johnston, chief executive officer of Mucosis, a vaccine development company in the Netherlands; Richard Llewellyn Jones, retired president of Abington Memorial Hospital; David Plastino, a banker; Nancy R. Kyle, who works in real estate; Ellen Toplin, a strategic marketing professional; and Patricia DeBow, a strategy consultant at Accenture Federal Services.
The departures occurred as the university, which operates on a $125 million budget, was trying to close a deficit originally projected at between $7 million and $10 million in March and reduced to $1.4 million in June.
"Among the resignations," Siskind wrote to faculty last week, "include the vice chair of the board, the chairs of the board's Governance Committee and College of Global Studies Committee, and those who had been selected to be the new chairs of the Finance and Infrastructure Committee and the University Advancement Committee. ... All this raises questions about causes and consequences."
In his email, Siskind said the campus community had been told that the budget problems were caused by a particularly large class of seniors - at 670, it was the largest in the university's history - not being entirely replaced by incoming freshmen.
He also cited an increase in work-study expenses and new federal overtime rules that will require the university to increase wages for some staff.
Faculty, he wrote, were told that solutions included a "small number" of layoffs, trimmed operating budgets in most departments, and a cutback in work-study allocations.
Faculty leadership has many questions and has not been given a copy of the 2016-17 budget, he wrote.
The university on Friday issued a statement acknowledging the projected budget gap, but said the 2016-17 spending plan has since been balanced.
"The board and administration worked very hard to develop a financial operational plan," the university said in the statement.
The university declined to comment on layoffs or specify where it cut to balance the budget. The university also declined to answer how many trustees resigned or name them. While the board is down to about two-thirds the size it was a year ago, the university statement said it considers a board of 20 to 22 "appropriate." The current membership is 20.
"While we are disappointed several trustees will not complete their terms, we respect their decisions and thank them for their time and service," the university statement said.
University representatives declined to comment beyond the statement.
Siskind did not return calls for comment. Neither did the incoming faculty senate president, Ana Maria Garcia.
Departing board members either did not return calls for comment or could not be reached, except for Johnston, who confirmed that he resigned but declined to discuss the matter.
Board chairman Chris van de Velde, general manager of Awbury Arboretum, and vice chairman Charles Lentz, principal of McKinley Elementary School in Elkins Park, did not return calls for comment.
Arcadia president Nicolette DeVille Christensen declined to be interviewed but said in a statement that the board worked with the administration throughout the summer to "reduce university expenses and strengthen revenues."
"Our board remains strong and engaged, and we appreciate its efforts," she said.
Christensen, who has been at the helm for nearly three years, stepped in to run the university after the board terminated president Carl "Tobey" Oxholm III. She was appointed president later that year. Christensen came to Arcadia in 2008 from New York University and led Arcadia's College of Global Studies for five years.
Oxholm's ouster was particularly contentious. He said in an email to friends at the time that he was cut off from the university email system and told by board leadership that it objected to his even returning to campus to say goodbye. Oxholm said at the time that he did not know why he was dismissed. The board declined to comment publicly, but Van de Velde said later that he just wasn't a good fit.
The previous Arcadia president, Jerry Greiner, who had led the school for almost seven years, also left suddenly several months before his retirement date. James P. Gallagher served as interim president and was supposed to stay until Oxholm arrived, but also exited early.
In 2014, the university abruptly announced that its provost, Steve O. Michael, second-in-command, was out. There has been significant turnover in several other leadership positions at the university in recent years, most recently Matt Golden, who had been vice president for university relations.
Arcadia, a 76-acre campus of about 4,000 undergraduate and graduate students, is known nationally for its emphasis on study-abroad programs. The university's incoming freshman class is just over 600, and its overall enrollment has remained stable in recent years, the university said.
Johnston, who said he joined the board in January 2015 and resigned at the end of June, underscored his affection for the university despite his resignation from the board.
"I can say that I am proud of Arcadia University and so thankful for the educational and worldview foundation it provided me - a simple Philly kid," he wrote in an email. "It is a true gem."