It’s been a busy few weeks for Arkansas State University System President Dr. Charles “Chuck” Welch.
The ASU leader recently announced plans for the troubled Henderson State University campus and revealed the new chancellor for the flagship Jonesboro campus.
Less than two weeks ago, state education leaders and Gov. Asa Hutchinson renewed their commitment to Henderson State, saying a “reimagined” college is in process to help dig the financially troubled school out of its crisis.
Over the past seven months, the university started a plan to save $5 million and slashed faculty teaching positions and salaries. The plan reduced 88 positions, including 21 unfilled positions or 37% of the 237 total positions in spring 2022. Of the remaining 67 positions cut, 44 are tenured faculty members who may remain employed through the 2022-2023 academic year. The changes will result in annual salary savings of $2.55 million in fiscal year 2023 and an additional $2.79 million in fiscal year 2024.
Critics of the plan have been vocal in their discontent.
“The press conference last week was about what the [HSU] future looks like moving forward,” said Welch, who served as HSU’s president from 2008-2011. “First of all, I will say every single student will have the opportunity to complete their degrees. It may be in different fashions. It may be through partnerships, but those opportunities will be there. And I certainly understand the criticisms from those who are losing their jobs or who are really deeply impacted by the changes.”
Welch said the financial decisions are intended to bring the institution into a stronger financial balance.
“…We had to make some very difficult changes. They were based on data that really suggested that the institution was not sustainable, was not moving in the right directions, and so those changes were made. And change is hard, and leadership is hard, but I’m really proud of the team that is continuing to fight and work hard,” he said.
Over the next few weeks, Welch said there will be announcements about new partnerships being formed with the “State Department of Education, other institutions, even some private-sector entities.”
He added that HSU is embarked on a “long-term” recovery process and that more changes may be in the works.
“There may be more difficult decisions that still have to be made, but we’ll try to make those decisions that are based on student success and moving the institution forward. And hopefully we’ll all look back here in the next few years and be proud of what Henderson has become,” he said.
Last week, ASU announced Dr. Todd Shields would serves as chancellor of the university’s Jonesboro campus. Shields, the dean of the University of Arkansas Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, will replace former chancellor Kelly Damphousse who was hired as president of Texas State University.
Expectations are high for Shields, who has a track record of student success, fundraising, and program management.
“I think ‘rock star’ is an appropriate word, and I think that there’s been a lot of shock that he’s coming over to the other side of the state,” Welch said. “He’s not only a rock-star academician and a wonderful leader, but he’s just a good person. And when he came and interviewed and talked about the vision that he had for Arkansas State when he talked about the growth potential he thought he could bring from both student enrollment as well as from fundraising, when he talked about community engagement, he got people excited. I was already excited, but he got people in that community excited.”
“I had a call from a colleague who described his hiring as a coup on our part, and I’ll take it. But I really expect tremendous things to come from Chancellor Shields’ leadership,” Welch added.
You can watch his full interview in the video below.