Judson College board of trustees vote to close school

Published: May. 6, 2021 at 10:26 PM CDT
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MARION, Ala. (WBRC) - The Judson College board of trustees voted May 6 to close the 183-year-old institution. Board members called it “heartbreaking.”

The vote follows months of fundraising to try and keep the college open. In December 2020, WBRC reported Judson had raised more than $500,000.

The Alabama Baptist reported 18 members of the 24-member board voted in favor of suspending academic operations and to move through an orderly closing through Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Only about 80 students are registered for the fall, down from 145 in December.

Staff members said they did not hear the news until it was circulating on social media.

“I found out on Facebook,” Head of Judson College’s Equine Science Department Dr. Pam Boliew said. “Everything just sort of fell apart. I think the board of trustee and the administration is trying to make the best decision they can, but it was tough to find out the way we did.”

With the school closing, Boliew said she’s losing more than just her job

“I don’t have family here in this town so Judson became a family to us,” she said. “It’s not just faculty, it’s all the staff, the maintenance , the housekeeping. There are a couple husband and wife pairs that work on campus, so that’s both sources of income, so those families it is particularly troubling.”

Boliew said campus President, Dr. Mark Tew did apologize to faculty for how they found out.

“Dr. Tew, our president, did apologize that the story went out before we had that meeting at school. It was supposed to be to have the meeting at school and then the story went out, and it just didn’t quite happen that way,” Boliew said.

Here is the official news release posted on Judson’s website:

In a “heartbreaking” decision today, the Judson College Board of Trustees voted to close the 183-year-old institution.

The news is a somewhat unexpected end to the five-month emotional roller coaster for the Judson community following the hopeful report from the Board on April 2. But after several multi-million-dollar fundraising efforts since December 2020 and the exploration of potential mergers and other options, new developments during the first few days of May forced school officials to prepare the board for the reality of Judson’s financial situation.

In April the Board approved the College’s 2021-2022 budget, which was based on the confidence the Board and College administrators had in the potential support of new significant donors to help close the College’s operating deficit.

Despite the College’s aggressive efforts in March to pursue promising leads with new potential donors, those significant funds never materialized.

The College’s enrollment continued to dwindle during the uncertain period since the December 15, December 31, March 3, and April 2 announcements–from 145 to roughly 80 returning students (41 seniors graduated April 30). In addition to the uncertainty surrounding Judson’s future, the cancellation of three preview days and the challenges of virtual recruitment shared by all institutions of higher education further hurt Judson’s fall 2021 enrollment–just 12 new student confirmations for Fall 2021.

The continued financial strains caused by all of these factors, said Judson President W. Mark Tew, came to a head when one of Judson’s creditors called the note on a loan, which was due (and not renewed) two days before the May 6 scheduled Board meeting.

The Board voted today to suspend academic operations of the College and move through orderly closing through a Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The Board will create a five-member committee from its Executive Committee to work with administration and bankruptcy counsel as it moves through its transition to closure.

Addressing the board, Tew said that “we know this was the right decision, but there is not a person here whose heart isn’t broken over this. I share the heartbreak of this decision that is felt by generations of Judson students, faculty, and friends.”

“No decision by this Board is ever taken lightly,” said Joan Newman ’73, chair of the Board of Trustees. “Today’s vote is the outcome of months of research, fundraising, and yes, prayer. Acknowledging the incredible legacy of Judson, acknowledging the thousands of lives that were changed through a Judson experience and grateful for my own personal journey at Judson, it is with broken hearts that the Board votes to suspend instruction.”

According to Tew, an orderly shutdown with a small number of employees will follow in the coming months.

The College will suspend its academic operation after the summer term ending July 31, 2021.Residence halls will close as scheduled after the May 2021 summer term.

The College will assist each student in preparing transfer plans, taking into consideration their majors, remaining hours to graduation, and institutional preference.

Judson will complete its corporate transition according to closure regulations of the Southern Association of Colleges & Schools and the U.S. Department of Education. The College will make every effort to provide assistance in employment transition and give as much notice as possible for its employees.

The College’s alumnae and friends who made statements of future financial support for the 2021-2022 academic year will not be obligated to complete their gifts.

“Judson has served the cause of Christ through Christian higher education for young women with uninterrupted dignity,” said Tew. “We want to be as God-honoring in these last days as we were in the very first.”

The Judson campus is still processing this devastating news, but we assure our Judson community that we will find ways to honor our College’s amazing 183-year-old legacy in the coming days.

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