OAKLAND — Holy Names University, a prestigious Roman Catholic coeducational university, announced Monday that it will close after the spring semester ends next May, ending decades of service and opportunity for East Bay students.
Just last week, the university issued layoff notices to 32 employees at the end of next month and early February after the National Collegiate Athletic Association canceled its athletics program.
In statements, university representatives laid out a number of reasons that led to the drastic move, citing in part the changing economic conditions and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on other institutions of higher education, such as Mills College.
“As we focus on the business of our fiduciary responsibilities, this is very personal and difficult, but we are focused on what we can do to support our students and minimize harm to our teachers and staff,” Holy Names Board of Trustees President Steven Borg said Monday.
“We’ve been working very hard to achieve a different outcome and our process has been full of integrity, but now is the time to make this decision.”
Borg called the headwinds in higher education “profound,” and pointed to the impact of both the epidemic and rising costs on the university and other smaller liberal-arts institutions.
“We serve many students who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and the economic downturn. Many are underserved communities. They are first generation college students. They are students of color,” he said. “The way we’ve served them is by providing scholarships, and over time the need for financial aid and scholarships has grown exponentially, to the point where it’s challenging for many students to continue that.”
The university has made additional moves over the years, including balancing a campus-sharing arrangement with Samuel Merritt College in 2017 and a test-options admissions policy for undergraduates last year.
After a nationwide search by Holy Names for long-term collaborative partners, the board plans to work with Dominican University of California as a separate transfer institution, allowing continuing students to continue academic programs while considering faculty and staff. Assignments at the San Rafael campus.
“We feel that Dominican is a place where our liberal-arts tradition and the value we place on each individual continues and continues to develop each individual to their potential,” Borg said in part Monday.
“The missions and degree offerings of our two institutions are beautifully intertwined,” Dominican University President Nicola Pitchford said in a statement. [a]And our student population is the same – Dominican has demonstrated success in supporting students of all backgrounds, so we know we’re well-equipped to help Holy Names students thrive. We look forward to welcoming future students of Holy Names University to a new, vibrant and inclusive home in San Rafael.
Undergraduate and graduate nursing students graduate from Holy Names who can complete their studies at the end of the spring semester. While talks are expected to continue for the university’s Kodali music program, the Raskob Institute of Learning and Day School is expected to start operating independently or in partnership with another institution after the school year.
Holy Names’ relief efforts depend largely on tuition and residence-hall revenue. According to numbers shared Monday, the university enrolled 520 undergraduates and 423 graduate students this year, but accepted a total of 449 students for the spring semester. HNU, which extends significant institutional aid, depends on tuition and residence hall income.
In Monday’s statement, Borg added, “Not only is the debt on HNU’s property $49 million, but as a 65-year-old campus, deferred maintenance and compliance costs could exceed $200 million.” This is a major undertaking for any college or university.”
Archbishop Michael Barber of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Auckland expressed his sadness at the news of the closure.
“This tragedy is happening at small colleges across the United States. I fully support the actions of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, the HNU Board, the Chair and the President in making me and my advisors aware of the difficult situation they are facing,” Barber said in part.
“For more than 150 years, the Sisters have been spreading the Gospel and bringing mercy to Oakland and our community. Holy Names has trained a generation of new leaders who have and are actively involved in our community.
Holy Names, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Convent on the shores of Lake Merritt was founded in 1868 by half a dozen members of the Sisters of the Holy Names as a teaching order based in Quebec, Canada. The school
At Tuesday afternoon’s Oakland City Council meeting, Councilmembers Carol Fyfe and Rebecca Kaplan were set to support a resolution calling for support for the move to remain independent, with 80 percent of Holy Names’ student body being “black and brown first-generation college students,” as well as the university’s top-10 Campus ethnic diversity and top-20 ranking among Western regional universities in the social-mobility category according to US News and World Report’s Best Colleges Guide.
Borg spoke of his legacy of raising students and fulfilling service missions.
“Holy Names University is a place where students can achieve success and grow as leaders,” he said. “Wherever they come from, wherever they are from, when we graduate from Holy Names, we are ready to be leaders in the world and we are ready to be values-based leaders. The greatest part of the mission is the sisterhood of the Holy Names, which absolutely exalts the worth and dignity of every person, and permeates everything we do. There is great love for the sisters who taught us to work and live and cooperate.
Staff Writer Katie Lauer and Harry Harris contributed to this report. Contact George Kelly at 408-859-5180.