President Hennigan preparing to retire despite $9 million pandemic-related budget deficit

Written By Jordyn Hronec, Editor-in-Chief

It has been two weeks since President Hennigan announced his retirement following the Spring 2021 semester via an email to students from the Board of Trustees. Since then, Hennigan expressed his desire to see new leadership at the university, in addition to confirming that the university is facing a $9 million deficit due to effects of COVID-19.

“There’s no doubt that higher education in general, and Point Park in particular is going to have to go through a process to reimagine itself, and restructure itself just based on what students are going through right now,” Hennigan said. 

Hennigan also stated that for the current year, the university is looking to cut costs by $3 million in order to combat the budget deficit.

“Our enrollment is down, and our housing is down,” Hennigan said. “We’ve had significantly greater costs for housing off-campus. Technology, cleanliness and safety, as well as the medical management of COVID-19…so yes, we are in a deficit situation for the current year, as are most schools throughout the country. It’s very serious, very serious for all schools.”

Hennigan described the Board of Trustees’ proposed plan to reduce spending by $3 million as “good fiscal management.”

Hennigan also said that he was unable to personally make the long-term commitment to lead the university through a post-COVID-19 future.

“We’re nearing the end of our current strategic plan,” Hennigan said. “It’s the third one I’ve done. And to commit to doing a fourth one is a long-term commitment which I know I can’t make at this point in my life.”

The current strategic plan was formulated in 2016 and is set to cover through 2021.

“I think the decision is poorly timed,” Jake Berlin, the former president of the Student Government Association (SGA), said. “I think to leave before the Academic Village initiative is complete is a disservice to community members, and to announce his departure in the middle of a pandemic is cowardly.”

“I’ve been at Point Park now for 20 years,” Hennigan said. “Fifteen of them as President, and then the first five as Vice President for Finance and Operations. And that’s a long time for a senior leadership position, and I’ve always been a very strong advocate of leadership renewal in organizations. And a lot of the vision that we set out to do, years ago, we’ve achieved, and actually more. We’ve done more things than I would have imagined 15 years ago, 20 years ago.”

In the 2010/2011 Presidential Perspectives series “Economic Prosperity in the Last Decade,” published by Aramark, Point Park is featured in chapter 10, “Keep the Vision Alive: Growing and Building in Tough Economic Times,” where Hennigan wrote about the university’s plans for the future.

“Just months after we announced plans for the Academic Village at Point Park University, the country’s financial markets were in turmoil,” Hennigan wrote. “Clearly, from an economic and fundraising perspective, 2008 was an immensely challenging time to launch a major growth strategy. Yet, the benefits we envisioned—new academic and cultural facilities and programs, architectural and streetscape improvements, and economic opportunities for students and residents—made the $244 million initiative critical to pursue. We had two choices: delay our plans or move ahead and embrace the future.”

The publication goes on to detail plans for building upon the university’s Academic Village, as well as obtaining grants and public funding for these projects. Hennigan wrote that plans to build upon the Academic Village included a “Student and Convocation Center,” which is now known colloquially on campus as the “Student Center.” As reported by Lindsay Dill in The Globe in 2016, the “Student and Convocation Center” opened in August 2016 after the university purchased the building that used to house the YMCA. According to Dill’s reporting, students welcomed this expanse to campus. 

The original plans for the “Student and Convocation Center,” according to Hennigan’s 2010/2011 “Presidential Perspectives,” report, were to include a “1,800-seat space for community events and activities,” something that the Student Center does not possess. 

The 2010/2011 “Presidential Perspectives” report also included the original plans for the downtown Pittsburgh Playhouse. The report stated that the Playhouse would include “three performing spaces: a 400-seat proscenium theater, a 250-seat thrust theater, and a 150-seat studio theater,” as well as “a parking garage below the structure to be developed through public and private partnerships.”

The Playhouse does possess three theaters that follow the stated design specs. It does not possess a parking garage. The university currently owns no on-campus parking spaces for students, faculty or staff. 

“Point Park’s stakeholders were assured that a convocation center would come before the Playhouse,” Berlin said. “We already had a Playhouse, with varying degrees of functionality, and with it, the school managed to land itself on top ten theater lists all across the country. We didn’t need a shiny new toy downtown to improve the quality of education…what we do need is a convocation center to foster school spirit, to build upon the essence of being a Pioneer, so we don’t have to tell students they must Uber to the nearest community college to attend one of the school’s basketball games.”