Dan Martin on COVID, finances, fall quarter

Martin makes State of the University Speech, addresses the many crisis that have arisen in the year 2020

Kyle Morrison, News Editor

On September 9, President Daniel Martin gave his annual State of the University address via Zoom to faculty and staff. Martin candidly discussed the many abnormalities of 2020.

Dan Martin meets students at the welcome dinner for new students on September 10th. (Marissa Lordahl)

“In many ways our world has been consumed and rearranged by COVID-19,” said Martin in his State of the University address on September 9. “I’m entering my 27th year of higher education, fifteenth year as a president, and my ninth at SPU. Never have I experienced a challenge this consuming, for this long of a period.”

Martin has continually compared COVID-19 to being blinded by headlights on a foggy drive, on a two lane road. He believes these challenges came during a period of positive growth for SPU.

“Everything was looking positive, all the indicators and numbers for this coming fall were positive and in fact that’s played itself out.” Martin explained over Zoom. “Everything was tracking well, we had just undergone a significant refinance of our debt structure that provided us a lot of capacity.”

Then COVID-19 hit and everything changed. With the loss of room and board revenue as well as other lost income, combined with rising expenses to get the university ready for reopening, SPU faced significant financial challenges which led to the university taking action in order to right itself financially.

“The university faced a combination of revenue shortfalls and additional expenses in the spring quarter that totaled just over $5 million,” said Martin in his speech. “With the help of $1.4 million in cares act funding, along with spending constraints, a general hiring freeze, the remaining budget contingency, furloughs, and FTE adjustments, it appears we ended last fiscal year with little to no impact on our reserves or our front balance.”

In a time of crisis, it’s hard to understand why a university or a business would prioritize keeping money in reserves. After all reserves by their very nature are in place for moments of crisis. 

Martin says it’s not that simple. 

“We’ve drawn on the reserves over the years for a variety of things,” said Martin. “When you think about the endowment, there’s so much of the endowment that’s restricted from the donors purposes. When someone establishes an endowment it’s a contract that we enter into as a university, so there’s so much of our endowment that is not available to us,” said Martin.

Martin did point out that reserve funds will be used to plan for SPU’s future. 

“As we think about utilizing and leveraging reserves at this point, we do want to invest in aspects of our operations that will enhance our effectiveness and increase our ability for the future,” Martin explained.

In Martin’s State of the University speech, the president made reference to his hopes for dismantling systemic racism on campus and in the world. This call for justice came days after student leaders asking for more out of their university in this area. 

Martin’s first speech to students of the 2020-2021 school year came at the Student Leadership Development Committee conference on Sunday, September 6. During his speech, which was directed towards student leaders, Martin made reference to his hope for SPU to dismantle any systemic racism on campus.

This was met with an outcry from many students in the conference’s zoom chat, most notably Ezra Bantum who was the first to comment at the conference. In the chat box, students clamoured for a specific plan to dismantle systemic racism on campus.

“I felt like it wasn’t being addressed in the way I had hoped it would be addressed in the speech,” Bantum explained. “I felt like it was kinda being dodged a little bit… he did mention some justice stuff a little bit, but at the end of the day there were no actions being presented.”

On September 14, Martin, Vice Provost for Inclusive Excellence Sandy Mayo, and Provost Laura Hartley co-authored an email detailing SPU’s specific plans going forward. The plan will include a new hiring program that hopes to promote equality, mitigate bias, increase diversity in staff searches. Professional staff will have to go through a three part workshop focused on racial equity. There will also be a new anonymous reporting system for incidents of bias on campus.

In his state of the University speech, Martin addressed the changing landscape of higher education. Martin believes that more and more high school graduates are looking for a “transactional” college experience, which is something Martin hopes SPU can avoid and can contrast after COVID-19 has released its grip on society. 

“We believe here that we are not preparing students for a job, we’re preparing students for their tenth job, because the employment market will continue to change and our students need to continue to change with it,” said Martin. “Not everything at SPU will be replaced by remote learning, for sure, but I do think there are certain aspects of remote learning, certainly for certain disciplines, for certain types of study that we can integrate in our community.

Dan Martin is the head of a university in an era, where so much about college life and administration is changing. Yet, while he continues to navigate the fog of 2020, he hopes normalcy is right around the corner. 

“My hope is that we can come back together as a community as we move into the winter and spring quarter so we could have events, so that we can have athletics, so that we can do service projects,” said Martin. “Everything that occurs at a college campus I’d love to see return.”