Now, some of the school’s strongest supporters worry that Urgo made too many changes too quickly. Urgo has taken “personal responsibility” for the college’s failure to recruit enough students for this fall’s freshman class, a shortage that could cost $3.5 million in lost tuition and force cuts at the school of about 2,000.
“There is no justifiable reason in the world that admissions should fall off like this,” said James P. Muldoon, a trustee who led the board when Urgo was hired in 2010. “I would say that there is a general concern about some of the decisions he has made. . . . He will have to answer for that.”
Urgo’s contract is set to expire at the end of June. Trustees plan to meet privately next week and discuss the president’s performance. The evaluation was originally scheduled for a May trustees meeting, but it was delayed when dozens of students and faculty unexpectedly showed up.
Three other trustees on the board — which has about two dozen members — said it is unclear what level of responsibility Urgo should take for the shortage or whether it will affect his contract negotiations. Several trustees spoke on the condition of anonymity because a board leader forbade them to speak to the media.
Urgo said he has no reason to believe that his employment is in danger. Last week, he e-mailed students, faculty and staff with a promise to fully investigate the student shortage and make any necessary changes. Urgo wrote that he was “humbled by those of you who have shown me the passion that you feel for St. Mary’s College, and have made clear the weight of trust you have placed in me as your president.”
The St. Mary’s community has been roiling with anger and concern since early May, when Urgo announced that the school had secured only about two-thirds of the students needed for a full freshman class this fall. Faculty were told to expect budget cuts equal to 5 percent of the budget.
At the trustees meeting on May 10, Urgo said the shortage — estimated at 150 students — was a “crisis” and a “wake-up call for all of us.”
“We cannot survive as an institution if we do not make significant changes,” he said.
Urgo attributed the problem, at least in part, to the public college’s high cost and isolated location in rural Southern Maryland. He also cited the impact of national enrollment trends.
Many faculty think there is much more to the problem, Faculty Senate President Alan Dillingham said.
“Some of this adverse development has to be related to changes in the admissions strategy and tactics,” Dillingham said. “The drop is too large to attribute to trend factors.”
‘A culture shift’
Over three years, Urgo has replaced nearly every top administrator with an outside hire. Several faculty and former employees said the college quickly lost a wealth of institutional knowledge, and the fact that so many of the new leaders were from private universities instead of public ones raised immediate concerns.