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Fresno Pacific University's chief financial officer retiring as campus seeks ‘clarity’ on financial future

Fresno Pacific University is the only accredited Christian university in the San Joaquin Valley.
Fresno Pacific University
Fresno Pacific University is the only accredited Christian university in the San Joaquin Valley.

FRESNO, Calif. — Weeks after announcing it was cutting 16 degree programs, Fresno Pacific University is losing its vice president of finance and business affairs to retirement.

Robert Lippert spent nearly a decade at the university. His retirement was announced in an email to the campus on Monday by university president Andre Stephens.

Fresno Pacific University is the only accredited Christian university in the region. It has four satellite campuses in Merced, Bakersfield, Visalia and north Fresno.

The university has recently faced concern over its finances since it has seen professors laid off as well as cuts to its academic programs.

According to a university press release, the course cuts affect 3% of all its students. The students in the 16 programs that were cut will still be offered the courses needed to complete their degrees. The cuts mean 11 faculty members will end their employment in the summer, according to the university.

Justin St. George, a U.S. Navy veteran and alumnus of the university who has spoken out about financial issues says the layoffs are “alarming.”

“[The professors] have dedicated decades of their lives to this community,” St. George told KVPR. “I think this is a real injustice not only for the school and the students, but the faculty and the staff that are being left behind.”

University spokesman Wayne Steffen says there are no plans to lay off more faculty.

Steffen says like many other universities, enrollment has been down in recent years since the pandemic, and the university has faced budget issues as a result. The university said in a press release enrollment recently did rise slightly.

But with Lippert’s retirement next summer, the university signaled its plans to take a closer look at its finances. University president Stephens noted in his email to the campus obtained by KVPR that the university is putting together a budget task force. The task force will “provide clarity and strategic planning for the university” Stephens writes.

The task force will be led by interim Vice President of Student Development Paul Blezien, and will include faculty, staff and administrators. It will present a report at the Board of Trustees’ June board meeting and will make recommendations for the 2024-25 budget year.

“We are in a dynamic and complex time in higher education,” Stephens said in a statement. He called this “a season that calls for courageous leadership to face the historic challenges and emerging opportunities before us.”

Stephens also said in the email the university plans on hiring more people for the finance team, including financial consultants to help with future financial planning.

Plans to fill Lippert’s position will begin in the spring, but Lippert’s position will not be the only vacancy the university will need to fill. The university president said the search is continuing for several other leadership positions including a provost, chief diversity officer and vice president of student development.

St. George, the university alumnus, drafted a petition in early November calling for the university’s board of trustees to resign. In it he said he feared if the board stayed on, the university would go bankrupt. The university declined to comment on the petition.

Rachel Livinal reports on higher education for KVPR through a partnership with the Central Valley Journalism Collaborative.