Rindge

President’s last school year

Franklin Pierce’s James Birge on university’s present, future

  • Dr. James Birge outside Peterson Manor on Tuesday, the first day of classes at the Franklin PIerce University campus.

    Dr. James Birge outside Peterson Manor on Tuesday, the first day of classes at the Franklin PIerce University campus.

  • Dr. James Birge outside Peterson Manor on Tuesday, the first day of classes at the Franklin PIerce University campus.

    Dr. James Birge outside Peterson Manor on Tuesday, the first day of classes at the Franklin PIerce University campus.

  • Dr. James Birge outside Peterson Manor on Tuesday, the first day of classes at the Franklin PIerce University campus.

    Dr. James Birge outside Peterson Manor on Tuesday, the first day of classes at the Franklin PIerce University campus.

  • Dr. James Birge outside Peterson Manor on Tuesday, the first day of classes at the Franklin PIerce University campus.

    Dr. James Birge outside Peterson Manor on Tuesday, the first day of classes at the Franklin PIerce University campus.

  • Dr. James Birge outside Peterson Manor on Tuesday, the first day of classes at the Franklin PIerce University campus.

    Dr. James Birge outside Peterson Manor on Tuesday, the first day of classes at the Franklin PIerce University campus.

  • Dr. James Birge outside Peterson Manor on Tuesday, the first day of classes at the Franklin PIerce University campus.

    Dr. James Birge outside Peterson Manor on Tuesday, the first day of classes at the Franklin PIerce University campus.

  • Dr. James Birge outside Peterson Manor on Tuesday, the first day of classes at the Franklin PIerce University campus.
  • Dr. James Birge outside Peterson Manor on Tuesday, the first day of classes at the Franklin PIerce University campus.
  • Dr. James Birge outside Peterson Manor on Tuesday, the first day of classes at the Franklin PIerce University campus.
  • Dr. James Birge outside Peterson Manor on Tuesday, the first day of classes at the Franklin PIerce University campus.
  • Dr. James Birge outside Peterson Manor on Tuesday, the first day of classes at the Franklin PIerce University campus.
  • Dr. James Birge outside Peterson Manor on Tuesday, the first day of classes at the Franklin PIerce University campus.

RINDGE — Dr. James Birge enjoyed what may well be his last traditional Saturday before Labor Day move-in party with freshmen last weekend. The president of Franklin Pierce University announced late last month his intention to step down from his post come June, after which he will have spent six years leading the school.

On the first day of school on the Rindge campus, Tuesday, Birge, wearing his signature bow tie, sat down with the Ledger-Transcript to talk about his tenure, much of which took place during the economic recession that institutions of higher learning across the country are still struggling to recover from.

“This I Believe” sits on Birge’s desk. It’s a book the school is considering for a campus-wide read, and Birge said he’s now reading it himself.

“It’s my favorite time of year,” he said, referring to the new energy students bring to campus each year. “It’s the engagement with students which really makes the hard parts of this job tolerable.”

Birge was optimistic about a new line of credit that’s been secured for the university with Leader Bank of Arlington, Mass., which he says is more competitive than that which the school previously had with a financial institution that chose to withdraw a line of credit to the school last year — a trend that’s been seen elsewhere in higher education as well.

Birge pointed to two institutions of higher education in New Hampshire that have closed, Chester College of New England, which closed in 2012, and Lebanon College, which announced on Aug. 18 that it would not hold fall classes, both as a result of financial difficulties.

FPU, which has satellite campuses for adult learning in Lebanon, Manchester, Portsmouth and Goodyear, Ariz., held an open house for Lebanon College students at its Lebanon campus Tuesday afternoon. Birge said there are no plans to close FPU’s satellite campuses, where about 600 students a year are enrolled in FPU’s graduate and professional studies.

“It’s a competitive market for students,” Birge said, noting that FPU is a young institution, dependent on tuition and donations for revenue.

When Birge took up his post as president in 2009, enrollment was in a multi-year slide, he said. It’s now up 40 percent, he said. But still, the competition for students is steep.

New academic programs are part of the strategy for turning things around, he said. The school has already introduced new business and health sciences programs, and more are expected. “We have new academic programs being designed now that we think are going to respond to the markets,” he said.

The final counts are not in yet, but this year 881 returning students and 485 new students are anticipated at FPU’s Rindge campus.

Birge said the school’s financial situation was not a factor in his decision to resign. Asked what plans he has for the future, he said, “I think the possibility of having another presidency is there. ...I suspect it will be late spring before I know what will happen.”

Turnover is not unusual when a university president resigns, but Birge said he hopes FPU’s staff and faculty will stay. “I’m really proud of the faculty governance we have now,” he said, referring to the faculty senates in place for both the Rindge campus and the graduate and professional studies program.

FPU has the equivalent of 450 full-time positions, some of which are filled by part-timers. In the last year, four people were laid off, according to FPU’s Director of Communication, Corporate & Community Relations Lisa Murray. At this time last year, the school employed 295 full-timers compared with 280 this year, but FPU has some positions for hire, Murray wrote in an email to the Ledger-Transcript on Tuesday.

Birge said that developing more of presence in the region will help both area communities and the school. And he thinks collaboration with other institutions may be a possibility, although he acknowledged that collaboration in a rural setting can be a challenge.

There are no comments yet. Be the first!
Post a Comment

You must be registered to comment on stories. Click here to register.