Herald-Whig View

QU putting itself on right track by keeping Conover

Posted: Sep. 13, 2017 2:15 pm

MEMBERS of the Quincy University Board of Trustees showed impeccable judgment in choosing Phil Conover to remain as the school's president through the 2018-19 school year.

Trustees opted to ensure stability and continuity for students, faculty, staff and supporters the next two years while the university continues its financial recovery efforts and a board committee searches for a permanent replacement.

And in accepting the challenging assignment, Conover further exemplifies his commitment to one of the most valuable assets in West-Central Illinois.

QU found itself facing an uncertain future a year ago when the school discovered an unexpected $5 million budgetary shortfall for that fiscal year, which came on the heels of a $1.4 million operating deficiency in fiscal 2016. The disturbing disclosure necessitated emergency action by trustees to identify the causes of the financial crisis and formulate plans to address it.

Clearly, one of the best decisions by trustees was to coax Conover out of retirement last December to serve as interim chief operations officer. With outside consultant Tom Ponto charged with overseeing financial issues, Conover worked tirelessly to re-engage students, faculty and staff who said they had often felt left out of the school's day-to-day affairs.

During his first months on the job, Conover met one-on-one with every member of the faculty and staff, and had regular informal meetings with students. He listened to concerns, solicited suggestions and asked for help in improving the educational experience at QU.

Most important, he provided a calming influence both on and off campus during a chaotic and apprehensive time.

When QU President Robert Gervasi, the target of a no-confidence vote by faculty last fall when the depth of the financial crisis was revealed, left to take a similar position at Ohio Dominican University last spring, trustees wisely asked Conover to step in as interim president.

Conover has since been instrumental in establishing new educational agreements with local community colleges, a new strategic plan that includes more focused marketing efforts, and multiple student recruitment initiatives to boost enrollment and reduce discount tuition rates that had been negatively impacting the school's bottom line.

Moreover, the 73-year-old Conover, who has compiled extensive educational and civic credentials during his career, has assisted the university's financial recovery fundraising campaign that has generated $4.2 million toward its five-year, $7 million goal.

Clearly, the importance of QU to Quincy and the region cannot be overstated, which makes Conover's decision to remain actively involved for two more school years even more significant.

A three-month study by the Rural Economic Technical Assistance Center through the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs in Macomb showed that QU has an annual economic impact of $53 million on the geographic area encompassing Adams, Brown, Hancock, Pike, Scott and Morgan counties.

Combined, university operation and employment accounted for more than $36.7 million in annualized economic output in the six-county region. Meanwhile, QU spends $1 million annually in building improvements and construction projects on campus facilities.

In addition, the study showed the 900 students enrolled at QU in 2016 spent an average of $3,371 each off campus for transportation, food, drink, dining, recreation and other expenses, or about $3.03 million overall.

The study also showed that 65 percent of students graduating from QU in 2016 found employment in Quincy or the six-county region. The average salary and benefits of those 157 graduates was $40,000, or nearly $6.3 million combined.

Admittedly, considerable work remains and difficult decisions must still be made for QU to get its financial house in order so it can continue to play a vibrant and consequential long-term educational, employment and economic role for Quincy and the region.

However, Conover has demonstrated during the last nine months that he is fully committed to working collaboratively to ensure that QU -- established by Franciscan friars in 1860 -- not only will survive its current predicament, but will emerge even stronger.

While we extend our appreciation for what Conover already has accomplished under trying conditions, we also look forward to the promise his much-needed leadership will provide.