Last Week’s Town Hall Meeting and Delta State’s Future

March 6, 2024

Dear Colleagues,

Thank you to all who attended last week’s Town Hall meeting focused on academic affairs. If you were unable to attend, you can review a copy of my PowerPoint presentation, as well as a recording of the meeting, at this link.

I realize that discussion of potential program closure and impending budget cuts raise concerns among the faculty and staff, as well as students, alumni, and supporters affiliated with our programs. I also understand how recent news stories about potential university closures increase anxiety levels.

You may have noticed that I was the only university president to offer comment in the recent Clarion Ledger article about a proposed bill to reduce the number of public universities in Mississippi. I was rightly reminded by those wiser than me that I ought to leave public comment on such matters to the IHL, and I will show more restraint in the future.  But, if nothing else, I hope my naïve choice to answer a reporter’s questions about Delta State’s livelihood was a signal to our stakeholders that we will be active participants in our future and not passive victims of circumstance.  We are in the peak season of the enrollment cycle, and the last thing I needed — we needed — was speculation about our viability as a university.

During my investiture ceremony last month, IHL Commissioner Al Rankins charged me to “serve the university with good stewardship, protect and defend the university, and build the university to new heights.” It may be that in responding to the press I took “defend” too far. Or, perhaps I imbibed some Fighting Okra spirit, and I let a bit escape into the public sphere. But, after all, I didn’t drive a moving truck 700 miles across the South to preside over the closing of a university.

However, in all seriousness, the charge issued to me is an important one. And, defending the university requires more than just talk; it requires that our fiscal circumstances change. Yes, we will close programs and reduce services. Yes, we will have fewer colleagues than we have had in the past. Yes, we will have to cut our budget in order to bring our expenses in line with our revenue. I have never pretended otherwise. Delta State must survive, and, to do so, we must live within our means. In preparing the 2024-25 budget, my expectations should now be clear. We will not spend more than we have.

It will not be easy; tackling a structural deficit cannot be accomplished without controversy. I accept that pivoting the university—so suddenly and so traumatically—will lead to hard feelings, finger pointing, propagation of rumors, and cynical speculation. Unfortunately, higher education in America has no shortage of universities at fiscal risk. I study them, and I have concluded that while there are few good ways to cut budgets, there are many bad ways. The “least bad” way, if you will, is to share as much as one can about the motivations, metrics, and strategic goals that inform fiscal decisions. The worst way is to “do nothing” and hope things work out.

When it is done, we will be in a much stronger position when it comes to justifying our existence to those who may not understand our mission. The best defense we have against external attack is to become a paragon of educational efficiency and effectiveness. We are obliged to show our students, who pay tuition; our donors, who offer us their gifts; and, the taxpayers, who help fund our operations, that we are excellent stewards of their resources. If our own fiscal house is not in order, we can expect continued skepticism about our worthiness for further investment.

It may be hard to believe (considering bad news gets the “clicks”), but I can see glimpses of the next chapter in Delta State’s story. Our storyline will not be an endless tale of decline and contraction. We’ll resolve our immediate fiscal crisis, and then we’ll build back up — with opportunities for our students resting on a firmer foundation. If I did not believe this, I would not have come here.



Dan Ennis