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Father Wild addresses state of university

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  • University President the Rev. Robert A. Wild said Marquette's endowment has declined 25 percent since June, but the university will avoid freezes in salaries and hiring employees.
  • The admissions office has received 17,536 applications for the upcoming academic year, a 17 percent increase over last year's record numbers.
  • The searches for deans of two colleges are ongoing, and more candidates could be added in the search for dean of the College of Arts & Sciences.
  • Additional funding is needed to begin construction of the Discovery Learning Complex, and no timetable has been set.

Marquette remains relatively stable and has reason for optimism, despite the current economic downturn, said University President the Rev. Robert A. Wild in Tuesday's presidential address to the university community.

"We are weathering the storm and doing decently well," Wild said to the crowd of about 500 in the Alumni Memorial Union. "We have positive momentum carrying us forward. There is every reason for us to remain fundamentally optimistic and hopeful for the future."

Wild said the university's finances remain sound, citing a balanced budget and strong credit rating. He praised careful university planning and oversight by the Board of Trustees in those areas.

Marquette will avoid a salary and hiring freeze, Wild said during his 30-minute speech. In fact, university employees will receive a 3 percent salary increase next year, based on merit.

However, the endowment is down 25 percent since June, Wild said.

Application surge

The endowment may have taken a hit, but freshman applications have skyrocketed. As of Tuesday, the university had received 17,536 applications for the 2009-10 academic year, Wild said. That is a 17 percent increase over last year's record numbers.

Many universities have seen a decrease in applicants, Wild said. No other Jesuit university has had an increase like Marquette, he said.

Next year's plan is to have a freshman class of more than 1,900 students, similar to this year's class of 1,950, Wild said.

A major drop in enrollment would greatly affect the university because more than 80

percent of the university's operating budget comes from tuition, room and board, and fees, he said.

"The greater risk lies with having too few students than too many," Wild said.

In response to a question about overload, Wild acknowledged the university would have to monitor prospective student deposits to avoid admitting too many.

"We're trying to walk the tightrope of not bringing in too many students," Wild said. "We want students to have a great experience and can't crowd things up too much."

The university is currently offering a large number of prospective students the option of being put on a waiting list for next school year, said Roby Blust, dean of Undergraduate Admissions. Students on the waiting list can be offered admission if it appears next year's class will be smaller than anticipated.

On the other hand, if the class starts to get too large, the university might not accept late deposits, Blust said.

"It's a delicate balance because we don't want too big of a class or too small (of one)," Blust said.

Dean searches

The search for a permanent dean in the College of Communication is going well, and the university should have a decision fairly soon, Wild said.

But, he said, the search for dean of the College of Arts & Sciences is much more difficult.

Two of the three original finalists have dropped out of the race, and one candidate has been added to the list, as reported in the Tribune on Jan. 27. More candidates could be added if deemed necessary, Wild said.

"We're going to keep looking for the right person," Wild said. "We have to stay the course on this one."

Construction projects

Fundraising efforts have slowed because economic conditions have made some donors reluctant to pledge large, multi-year gifts, Wild said.

Nevertheless, the university has raised $66 million of the required $85 million for constructing Eckstein Hall, the new Law School facility. Another $4 million is in sight, Wild said.

"We're confident all the funds will come from outside sources," Wild said.

As for the proposed Engineering building, the Discovery Learning Complex, the university will "proceed cautiously," Wild said. Significant donations have already been pledged, but the university will not begin construction until it knows where the funding is coming from, he said.

"We don't want to take on greater debt," Wild said.

The university can account for about $60 million in pledged donations, with approximately $20 million already received, said Tom Ganey, the university architect. The building's construction cost is $100 million.

Ganey said more pledges must be received before construction can begin. No timetable has been determined yet.

"As soon as the financing is in place, we're ready to go," Ganey said.

The university originally hoped to begin construction this summer. That goal is still possible, according to Michael Switzenbaum, executive associate dean and professor in the College of Engineering.

"It's still possible to break ground this summer, but right now we can't say for sure," Switzenbaum said.

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