DOVER — Delaware State Universitywill retain roughly 85 Wesley Collegestaff and faculty once the university finalizes its acquisition of Wesley come July 1, leaving roughly 53 staff members without positions.A small liberal arts college with under 1,000 students and a 50-acre campus in the heart of Dover, Wesley College has a 148-year history in the state capital. Since 2019, Wesley College President Robert Clark II has been searching for a partner as the college has been struggling with low enrollment and tuition numbers for at least the past five years.The acquisition marks the first time a non-minority institution will be acquired by a historically Black college or university (HBCU).
[caption id="attachment_200010" align="alignnone" width="900"] Wesley College's 50-acre campus in Dover will soon become part of Delaware State University come July 1. | PHOTO C/O WESLEY COLLEGE[/caption]
On April 14, DSU administration sent out letters of consideration to some members of the 138 Wesley College staff, not including adjunct professors, to invite them to apply for a new position with the university. Wesley College staff who received such letters had until April 19 to reply, according to DSU spokesman Steve Newton.Wesley College notified the state on April 15 that it intends to permanently lay off 62 employees, but Clark told the Delaware Business Times that the college had notified staff and faculty well before filing the required notice.“We were determined to do this in a way that would not raise anxiety. But when we went down this path a year ago, we knew there would be change and some of us would not be here. It makes no sense to have two presidents, for example,” Clark said. “We sent out a faculty and staff email about the notice, explaining why we were doing it. The sequencing worked out well with the DSU letter.”Wesley College listed 62 employees affected by layoffs based on figures from DSU, but the larger institution ended up hiring more than initially planned, Clark added. Interested candidates from Wesley College interviewed with their respective DSU department chairs, who sent their recommendations to the dean and the Office of the Provost for consideration.“Some of the candidates had excellent qualifications, but in some cases it was for specific positions in departments that might have been filled like English or nursing,” Newton said. “Then it came to a point where we had to evaluate our enrollment projections, and our targeted areas for expansion and our financial plan and whether it made sense.”“I will say our deans and provost fought for every position they could,” he added.Not all Wesley College employees who were interviewed were offered positions, but 60% of the college’s staff will be carried over to DSU, more than what was issued in the WARN notice, Newton said. About half of the 85 employees were faculty, while the rest came from a wide cross-section of support services.Wesley College professors who are tenured may elect for tenure at DSU, per the university’s faculty contract. Others may elect for earlier consideration, which could reduce the required number of years required to qualify for status at DSU.In the meantime, Clark said Wesley College has provided counseling services for faculty and staff, as well as inviting state representatives to coach staff on how to navigate the unemployment system. Wesley College also plans on offering seminars on how staff can ease the transition.“Personally, I am now laser-focused on the students but also the staff right now in this transition,” Clark said. “There’s times where I’m on the phone with other institutions to find other positions for faculty.”Under the acquisition, DSU will get a 50-acre, 20-building Wesley campus with an appraised value of $33 million and fairly low debt service. DSU’s College of Health and Behavioral Sciences will be renamed the Wesley College of Health and Behavioral Sciences.When DSU reopens for class in the fall, DSU will have a student body of nearly 6,000 students, a $30 million research portfolio and the capacity to generate $350 million annually in economic impact for Dover, Kent County and Delaware, DSU President Dr. Tony Allen said previously.Without the acquisition — or partnership, as Clark says — it might have been unlikely the liberal arts college would have survived. Since 2018, Wesley College has received a total of $6.375 million in state funding support.Serving as the college’s president since 2015, Clark said he was aware of Wesley’s financial issues and knew his job would be a challenge. But it became “crystal clear that there would need to be significant changes to the model,” as he noticed trends of mergers and smaller institutions being acquired by larger ones across several industry sectors to survive.“Across the region, we were seeing institutions bigger than us and with a stronger footing closing their doors. So we really embarked on this journey three years ago to find a partner,” Clark said. “The situation was tenuous before COVID, and COVID really accelerated things.”“The other option was to leave these buildings vacant and take the soul out of downtown,” he added. “This way, we will remain as part of the soul of Dover and part of a forward momentum for students and our state.”