Finlandia Board of Trustees, faculty respond to vote

Photo courtesy of the TImberjay Dr. Philip Johnson, president of Finlandia College in Hancock, spoke at a Sisu Heritage Annual Meeting in Embarrass, Minnesota, in 2018.

The Finlandia University Board of Trustees issued an official statement regarding the Finlandia faculty Vote of No Confidence in President Philip Johnson on June 10.

“Finlandia’s Board of Trustees understand the faculty’s concerns. We fully support the

faculty in working with President Johnson toward solutions,” the statement read.

“The last several years have provided significant challenges for colleges and universities across the country. Many small schools like Finlandia have been unable to maintain operations. The generous support from alumni and friends has been crucial for Finlandia during this challenging time.

“The Board monitors enrollment trends very carefully and views enrollment as a top priority for Finlandia. In efforts to grow enrollment, under-enrolled programs have been discontinued and new programs have been launched. Finlandia continues to serve students with quality academic and co-curricular programming.

“The Board has devoted a significant amount of time and discussion to the issue of salary reinstatement. The Board is moving cautiously to best position Finlandia for a viable future.”

A Finlandia faculty member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, commented that the faculty’s worries for President Johnson’s leadership should not be reduced to focusing on the matter of a previous 5% salary cut.

“I would like to counter the narrative that the Finlandia faculty concern is about our salary remission,” the faculty member said. “The faculty were happy to do that. This is a longer-term set of challenges that academic leadership under President Johnson has failed to address. His tenure is 14 years, and we don’t have a lot of numerical indices or anything that say we are reaching any of our goals.

“What I want to counter directly is that this is a bunch of disgruntled faculty who lost 5% of their salary last fall. This story extends over many years in which enrollments are declining and programs have suddenly, at the whim of the administration, have been eliminated or have been driven into the ground.

“The ‘Vote of No Confidence’ has been overdue for years,” the faculty member continued. “The faculty have been kicking around this idea for a very long time. The numbers tell it all. We’ve seen a 40% decrease in enrollment and no uptick. It’s not like that was a momentary thing, it’s been over five-to-nine years.”

A second sentiment that arises out of the discussion is that it may be time for new leadership at Finlandia.

“Leadership isn’t meant to be stationary forever,” the faculty member said. “I think faculty have the sense that we’re not going in the right direction, our numbers aren’t going in the right direction. We think leadership doesn’t have to be one person for 14 years. Fourteen years is a long tenure, and several of those years have been okay, but I think it’s time for new leadership and the numbers tell the story.”

There is no ill will between the faculty and the Board of Trustees.

“I want to be clear that I support our board, 100%,” the faculty member stated. “What I want them to do, though, is to start reckoning with the notion that sometimes organizations sometimes undergo changes in leadership. It shouldn’t have to be a big deal. I think, though, it should be self-evident at this point to all of us.”

In conclusion, the faculty member stated that, “they are getting the wrong impression if they think it is as simple as a pay cut. It’s not.”

It has been emphasized that the 5% salary cut is, as multiple members of the faculty state, superficial.

“One of the greatest faculty concerns has been the short-sighted haste with which accomplished, productive, tenure-track faculty members have been fired or forced into retirement in order to close budget gaps,” said another faculty member speaking on the condition of anonymity. “Meanwhile, administrative and other non-teaching positions proliferate and persist. Our students suffer a diminished course catalog, fewer options for majors, and the loss of mentors they treasure.

“Finlandia deserves a leader who prioritizes academics and the student experience.”

A third faculty member added to that statement.

“This vote is about years of bad decision-making and is an attempt to fix our institution’s course before it’s too late,” the faculty member said.

Some of those bad decisions were in hiring or letting go personnel:

– A long-standing head of HR received a vote of no confidence by faculty. That person was then promoted to a higher position and replaced by a new hire, thereby decreasing the budget.

– Previous vice presidents who showed intelligence and initiative were let go, only to get more successful positions elsewhere. See:

– North Central Missouri College (president).

– Jefferson State University (advising).

“Administrators who have sunk academic programs — losing nearly all their student body and all faculty, many of whom voluntarily left based on working conditions — are kept on for no apparent reason,” the third faculty member said.

According to Finlandia’s Plan 2024 Executive Summary, enrollment challenges are:

“Finlandia’s three semesters of positive enrollment trajectory was not sustained in fall 2019. Although significant investments were made in FY2018/19 in areas of new consultation, personnel, and program support, Finlandia failed to realize its FTE enrollment projections in fall 2019 by 5%. This failure in the first year of the plan elevates the degree of difficulty in achieving future goals. Factors contributing to underachievement in fall 2019 include 1) mid- and late-season recruitment cycle leadership and personnel changes in marketing (director), admissions (director and two recruiters), and coaching (three assistant football coaches, men’s basketball, women’s volleyball); 2) digital-only financial aid awards used during the fall 2019 cycle; and 3) delayed execution of ongoing or new initiatives including: web-based marketing, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and recruitment marketing materials development, and enrollment probability data Project.”

Plan 2021, “An integrated strategic document spanning the seven years prior to Finlandia University’s 125th anniversary in 2021,” had an initial goal of a sustainable enrollment of 750 students by 2021. Finlandia’s current enrollment of full-time students is 350.


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