As Dr. Lennox prepares for year three, his priorities are clear.
University President Dr. William J. Lennox reflected on his “sophomore year” at Saint Leo as a very positive one overall.
Lennox shared that the University was initially concerned that its expenses were crossing the revenue line, but because some productive, repositioning changes were made, the operational dollars over the last two years have been positive.
“I think a lot of people didn’t realize that Saint Leo is in very good shape financially overall. We’ve got a good reserve and we’ve been positive over the last couple of years, but we have to be good stewards as we go forward because the environment is rough out there right now,” said Lennox.
He shared that the number of high school seniors is flattening out and the military has downsized, but that the financial side is doing very well.
Lennox explained that people have jobs right now and the University is countercyclical. So, when people have jobs, they’re less likely to go to school and when there are fewer jobs available, they’re more likely to start going to school. “It’s a tough environment and we’ve got to be competitive. I think we’ve restructured ourselves in such a way that we’re in pretty good shape right now,” said Lennox.
The President informed that the primary plan he intends to tackle this coming academic school year is revenue. He said that the University has three objectives for this year: to recruit more students, to retain and graduate those students, and to communicate with one another. Lennox explained that after the University went through the restructure, people and departments that had never before interacted are talking to each other now and working on building trust and communication lines.
“When I first came in, we were much like a holding company. So, you had Saint Leo, and then you had your campus, you had your online, you had your centers, and you had the graduate program, and they really were separate entities. What we’ve done is combined everything now so that we’re one university,” said Lennox.
He shared that an example of this is the education counselors who take calls from prospective students are now talking to the centers as well, whereas they only used to deal with the online program. Essentially, the online program and the centers used to compete but are now working together to help one another out.
Additionally, Lennox informed that the University has begun putting specific staff and faculty members in charge of different objectives for the year with the goal in mind of listening to new ideas about recruitment, retention, or communication.
It has been rumored among the faculty and staff that Dr. Lennox signed a three-year contract when he first started at Saint Leo. When asked about this claim, Lennox remarked, “I plan on staying.” He reflected on his time in the military and how people would ask him when he was going to retire. He shared that he used to say that as long as he was having fun, he was going to stay.
“There’s a lot of energy on the campus here. During the summertime, it is quiet and so it’s great having the students back. For me, I look at it as stealing the energy from the young. So, as long as I feel energized and feel like I’m contributing, I think I’ll be staying,” said Lennox.
One of the primary changes happening at Saint Leo this academic school year will be the addition of a provost. Former Vice President of Academic Affairs Mike Nastanski will be returning to teaching this year, so the University is taking advantage of this opportunity to “elevate the stature of that position,” according to Dr. Lennox.
“I want the provost now to certainly take care of all the things that the VP for academic affairs did, [including] all of the classes and programs for the campus and also for WorldWide. But also, I want them to take care of the campus so you have that synergy between the academic side and the student success side. This way, I think you’ll get better mentoring and better advising, which is critical for retention,” said Lennox.
Lennox expressed his belief of the importance of the University having better advising to supplement what the people that focus on retention are doing and having those two aspects work together.
“Eventually, this means that I’ll have one person as a senior vice president who’s a provost taking care of academics and the campus and then one senior vice president taking care of WorldWide and marketing enrollment, and that’s Dr. Melanie Storms. Again, it’s a move I think to put the University together and that will free me up to do more,” said Lennox.
Essentially, the provost will be able to do more specialized things for and with the students on campus. This addition will free up the President both externally and internally. Students should expect to begin to see the provost around campus just as much as they typically see Dr. Lennox on a weekly basis.
“I think it’s critical that my vice presidents’ faces are around campus and around WorldWide,” said Lennox. “I expect that all of our faces will be around here and mine just as much as the new provost’s. I enjoy the interaction, I really do, and I would miss that if I felt like I was going to back out of this. The provost will just be an additional face taking the place of the vice president of academic affairs,” he continued.
According to Lennox, the University has interviewed three candidates for provost so far, but their lead candidate just recently backed out. “I think he was an urban person and when they came to visit the campus, we’re out a little ways and I think the rural atmosphere might have dissuaded him,” he stated.
Lennox informed that he didn’t believe that the two other candidates were quite as good of a fit, so they’re going to continue the search. “I’m looking for somebody that is a very good academic, but also a very good leader. So, I expect that person to be out with the faculty, with the staff, and with the students, too,” said Lennox. He informed that his advisors have told him that they’re coming into a good season for hiring, so he’s hopeful that they’ll find a good candidate for provost soon.
Having a provost would allow Dr. Lennox to have more time to handle other affairs, such as checking up on the centers.
Lennox recounted when he first started at Saint Leo that he visited the Savannah center and the director reminded him that he has about 2,220 students on main University campus, but that there are about 13,000 students WorldWide, [across other centers around the country and online] so to not forget about them.
Currently, Dr. Mary Spoto is sitting as the interim vice president of academic affairs.
As many are aware, undergraduate admissions numbers are down so much this year that there’s a vacant floor in both Marmion and Snyder. When asked about this problem, Dr. Lennox remarked, “It’s always a concern when it [recruitment] doesn’t go quite the way you expected it, but there is a plan.”
Lennox informed that there is a campaign plan set up to remedy this problem that targets certain populations that he feels the University could do a better job at. He believes that better targeting Catholic high schools, international students, homeschooled students, and the Hispanic population will be helpful for the next recruitment season.
“We had a great meeting over the summer with the National Hispanic Institute. We had 130 rising Hispanic seniors here on campus and they had an opportunity to see Saint Leo and we’re going to continue that relationship. We’ve got a three-year contract with them now where they’re going to come back each time,” said Lennox.
The University wants to increase enrollments both on campus and WorldWide, so they have campaign plans in place in each of those areas.
A common concern for current students when enrollment is down is how it will affect tuition. When asked about this concern, Lennox said, “It’s not going to affect tuition. We have fought to keep our tuition low.”
Lennox informed that if you do a comparison between the private schools right now, Saint Leo has done a great job in “tamping down” tuition. “I’m not saying it’s not going to increase, but it’s not going to increase to offset this [the low enrollment numbers]. Remember, I told you that we restructured, so we’re in pretty good shape right now. We can take this and we’ve done well over the last couple years financially. So, we’re working to do that throughout the rest of the year,” he stated.
Lennox explained that when the problem of low enrollment arises, the argument is to either increase margins or volume and that the University is aiming to increase volume. He assured that there are opportunities available to do a better job at bringing in students without raising tuition.
The President informed that he’s been asking the staff, faculty, and students what would happen if each of them brought in one student to come to the school next year and has been explaining to everyone how powerful that would be.
He also stated that one of the ideas the University is exploring is having students go home to their high schools and possibly even some neighboring high schools to talk to them about Saint Leo. The students would wear their Saint Leo gear and bring the prospective students pennants.
Lennox’s advice to returning students to encourage the new students about their first year is to tell them to get involved. “Get your ideas for increasing campus activities to the Student Activities folks. And if you see somebody in trouble, help. Raise your hand. Whether it’s academic, financial, or whatever, raise your hand. Let’s work to retain everybody,” said Lennox.
“My idea is, if we accept somebody in and they work, we ought to be able to graduate them. And I think that’s extremely important. As long as they’re working, we ought to work to get them to the finish line. And I told the parents this, too as I spoke to them the other day with the freshmen: finish in four years. Five years is an extra charge and you’re not earning money,” Lennox continued.
Last semester, Saint Leo hosted its first Town Hall Meeting with President Lennox, and many can attest to the fact that it got a bit chaotic. When asked about the rather hectic event, Lennox remarked, “Look, I’ve been in the Army 35 years, I’ve been in business and I’ve had those sessions before. That doesn’t bother me. Those are concerns and I listen to them and I think it’s important to hear them.”
“To be more efficient, I don’t know, maybe we do it by topic. Maybe that would be an important way to focus on each particular area this time,” he added.
Lennox explained that he had a couple meetings with Student Government and the activity leaders last year, so the Town Hall was not the only time he talked to students; it was likely just the most public one. He added that they were all very productive and the students had some great ideas because they want to be engaged.
“I’ve also had breakfast with them and I’m in the dining facility with them at about 11:30 every day and I sit with students, with the vice presidents, and with faculty. So, if anybody has an idea or anything, I’m willing to listen. That’s not to say that every idea is a good idea, but I’m willing to listen to hear what they have to say,” said Lennox.
As many are aware, expansion plans for “West Campus” were recently announced. When asked for an update on the plans, Lennox informed that there are a couple plans that the University is exploring, but they haven’t brought anything to the Board yet, so nothing is official.
Lennox stated that the primary thing that they’re focusing on in relation to West Campus right now is the Wellness Center. According to Dr. Lennox, the University tried to get the government to give them $4M last year, but it got cut at the very end. Despite this setback, the University’s contacts in Tallahassee have encouraged them to try again, so that’s what they plan on doing.
As everyone became aware of last semester, the University recently partnered with Florida Hospital. This partnership is how the future Wellness Center will come to fruition. “I think that long term, we’re looking at them being partners for quite a while,” stated Lennox.
Lennox believes that getting a real medical center on campus is key. “I’d ask you to go down to deChantal Hall and take a look at what’s been done down there. They’ve really done an expert job of improving conditions over the summer. But, we need a better facility and this gives us an opportunity to build that facility with a fitness center on top,” said Lennox.
“I’m not saying that it [the Wellness Center] was bad before, but there was a lack of privacy. Now, they have real examination rooms, a waiting room out in front, and they’ve been working to digitize the records so that you can actually have electronic records instead of handwritten ones. We’re just becoming more professional over there,” said Lennox. “I’m sure we’re going to have challenges because this is something new. But at the same time, I think we’ve improved what we have to offer over there,” he added.
He shared his belief that the campus fitness center is not appropriate for most students and that the school needs a better place for the athletes to workout. So, a new wellness and fitness center combined would solve both problems.
Another thought the University has for West Campus is a “freshmen experience.” Marmion and Snyder would be redone and converted into office space, a new residence hall would be built in place of Marmion and Snyder and likely in place of the ones on main campus as well, and new academic buildings for general education courses primarily would start being built. Again, these are all simply ideas being considered; nothing is confirmed yet.
Lennox also stated that the University is looking into pursuing opportunities for various programs such as nursing and STEM programs.
Recently, some students have expressed concern that some of the scholarships that have been available for application in the past have disappeared from the website. Dr. Lennox informed that the amount of scholarships offered to students has actually gone up considerably and that the University’s donors have been very generous.
He stated that approximately 80 new scholarships will be published on Sept. 1, so students should pay attention and look out for them on the website. He also believes that there will be approximately another 50 offered in the spring for the following school year.
“We have about 350 scholarships, whereas about two years ago, we had only about 150. But when you commit them, they’re usually committed for three or four years. So, some years look like there’s more and then some years less because if you’ve made a commitment, it takes away from that 350 for a number of years because you’re going to get that over a period of one to four years,” stated Lennox.
“Maybe what students saw last year was a slight reduction because others had been given earlier, but they’ll become available again as time passes. And we’re going to keep raising money for scholarships. I think that’s a critical area for us. That sort of goes with keeping the tuition low and providing assistance as we can,” he continued.
There has been some confusion about where the location of the ROTC center has finally landed, as it has moved a couple times recently. According to Dr. Lennox, it will now be located in St. Francis Hall. The official ribbon cutting for the new center will be on Sept. 6.
“Throughout the summer, they worked to improve it. They’re going to be in classrooms now and we’re going to get rid of those old portables over there. They’re just unattractive and that’s not the appropriate place for them. We’re trying to increase the number of people in ROTC and that was really an unprofessional looking operation,” said Lennox.
The Military Resource Center is still for veterans, but Colonel Martis wants the ROTC program working with the veterans to serve as another place that they can go. “We want them to have a classroom environment. So, what we’re trying to do is improve and expand the ROTC program here,” said Lennox.
Lennox also informed that the ROTC program has a new Captain: Ivan De La Rosa.
With the University’s goal of graduating students in four years, many believe that implementing summer classes is a necessary step. When asked about this thought, Lennox remarked that he’d “like to see it.”
“We tried it two years ago, but I think we tried it too late. I think they announced it and everybody already had jobs and activities so it didn’t work. I’ve talked to Dr. Spoto about taking a look at it again this year,” stated Lennox.
Lennox informed that some of the faculty suggested the new incoming class taking some classes as they entered the year, which is what is now the FIRST program: First-Generations Immersed in Rewarding Scholarship to Transition Successfully. The program is comprised of 16 students who are the first in their families to attend college.
“It’s really a great concept. I think taking some of the students who need some extra help and getting them into the classroom and campus environment and actually taking classes early gives them a great advantage. They get to know their way around, they shake off any of the homesickness, and then they have a little family that they stick together with,” said Lennox.
“So on one end, maybe in the April-May time frame, we take a look at classes for the upperclassmen to supplement what they’re doing and then maybe in the August time period we take a look at some of the new ones coming in and giving them an opportunity to get ahead of the game,” he continued.
When asked about one piece of advice he’d give to the new freshmen class, Dr. Lennox advised to “Get involved.” He believes that the key things are to get engaged, to do an activity, and to take advantage of “what we have here.” “Don’t stay in your rooms. Do your studying and if you have problems, get help. As long as you’re working, we’ll work with you to get you through the gates here,” he said.
As mentioned before, President Lennox shared that the main thing to focus on for this year is recruiting more students, retaining more students, and graduating those students. Additionally, he hopes that everyone keeps communicating with one another.
“Work together as a team to get the job done. I think that’s sort of been a hallmark of Saint Leo in the past. We want to just make sure that we’re doing everything we possibly can and to do those things,” stated Lennox.