Spittal re-elected as university president
By Alex Schmitt and Joshua Brisco
After being re-elected as university president, Dr. David J. Spittal said that MidAmerica is in the black for the first time in five years and that he would focus on increases in faculty compensation in his second term.
Spittal was unanimously re-elected to a second five-year term by MNU’s board of trustees during its annual meeting Nov. 15 and 16. On Nov. 29, Spittal told The Trailblazer that his biggest goals for his new term would include increasing pay for faculty and reinstating a faculty retirement plan beginning next year.
“My highest priority right now is to give compensation increases for faculty and staff for next year and to keep tuition as low as possible,” Spittal said.
The chair of the board of trustees, Dr. Larry D. McIntire, DO, also said that a plan to increase faculty compensation is important for the university, but its feasibility hinges on the school’s financial capability.
“That is a definite priority, and it is dependent upon having the finances to do that,” McIntire said. “But there is no question, it is what we need to do, and want to do, for our faculty.”
Spittal said that this fiscal year was the first year in his tenure as MNU’s president that the school turned a profit. Spittal also estimated that this is only the second time in the last 10 years that MNU has finished in the black.
“This is strictly revenue-to-expense with a small profit,” Spittal said, confirming that the financial success is independent of the $9.5 million gift left to the university last December. “It’s a balancing act because we recognize that it is a combination of things.”
The board of trustees made the choice to retain Spittal after an assessment of his last term. McIntire said this process included opinions shared by members of faculty and students who served as representatives on various committees, but McIntire said he could not estimate the number of students or faculty who were consulted.
“Our committees each have faculty members on them, representing the faculty, and so those are sessions that lead into and towards the board meetings themselves,” McIntire said.
McIntire said that a great portion of his personal belief in Spittal was based on MNU’s successes in the last five years, including the advancements made with the Mabee Learning Commons, the Bright Futures project and the New Horizons project.
The Nazarene Youth International liaison to the MNU board of trustees, Rev. Fred Toomey, said his vote was based on Spittal’s personal qualities.
“For me, it was his knowledge, his expertise, his passion, being able to turn the college around,” Toomey said. “He’s brought us through some pretty tough times in the last five years - and his track record - we talked to a lot of the staff members and professors and got a lot of input and we felt that God placed the right man at the right place to get what we need to get in the next five years.”
Rev. Joel Atwell, a member of the board of trustees and the enrollment and development committee, said that he had several reasons for choosing Spittal for re-election, one of them being that MNU is still too unstable for a change in leadership.
“Change of leadership at this particular juncture would just not be wise or healthy for the school, with the huge financial campaign that has been rolled out and with other key decisions and key issues at stake,” Atwell said. “It definitely would have done more harm than good to try and process any kind of leadership change at this particular juncture.”
One polarizing storyline from Spittal’s first five-year term came with the administration’s handling of controversy stemming from a chapel message delivered by then-chaplain Dr. Randy Beckum. Beckum resigned from the chaplaincy in Dec. 2015.
Regarding whether the events surrounding the controversy between Spittal and Beckum affected the decision and conversation of the board, Atwell said that it did play a part.
“It was a part of the conversation, and there were those who thought [Spittal] probably made the right decision, and there were some who thought he probably didn’t make the right decision necessarily on that,” Atwell said. “But that was one of many things that played, and it was certainly a part of the conversation.”
McIntire, when asked about board conversation regarding the Beckum situation, said, “That didn’t come up, that hasn’t been up for quite a long while.”
Toomey said that conversations surrounding last year’s controversy did not occur in any of the general sessions of the board, and Spittal also said that topic was never discussed with him regarding his re-election.
“It wasn’t brought up in a discussion with me personally at that point,” Spittal said. “I’m sure they’ve had discussions more broadly than that, but I’m sure that’s all part of the consideration.”
Though Spittal’s second term is billed as a five-year commitment, Dr. Jon North, vice president of university advancement, said that it is his understanding that Spittal and MNU are not monetarily committed to each other for the full five-year span if either side should leave the term early - a system that North believes is the norm for most Nazarene and private Christian schools.
“Technically, he doesn’t have a contract,” North said. “They’ve asked him to stay the first five years now they’ve asked him to stay another five years. … [The five-year term] represents the intent of the institution and the intent of Dr. Spittal. It is the board’s full intent, unanimously, passionately; they ask him to stay and work another five years.”
Spittal said that he is willing and open to serving for the full term.
“I made myself available for five years,” Spittal said. “That’s what they’ve asked of me and I said, ‘I will make myself available.’ I always say, ‘It’s up to the Lord and the board.”
Alex Schmitt- More by this author
Alex Schmitt is a student at MidAmerica Nazarene University and a reporter for The Trailblazer.