When John R. Porter starts as the new president of Lindenwood University on July 1, he immediately will be asked to deal with the fallout from the St. Charles, Mo.-based college’s decision to shut down the undergraduate program at its Belleville campus.
Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert said Porter is expected to meet with him by July 10 to discuss ways to keep the Lindenwood University-Belleville campus “viable.”
Also, the spokesman for a Change.org petition said he will send a letter to Porter asking him to reconsider the decision to close the day classes at the Belleville campus by next May. The petition has over 2,800 signatures and asks the board to retain the undergraduate program in Belleville.
Porter could not be reached for comment.
“We recognize and appreciate the passion that people have for the Belleville campus; however, our focus at this time is in providing an excellent experience for our students on both campuses,” Lindenwood University said in a statement in regards to the petition.
The Lindenwood board of trustees in St. Charles announced May 13 that it would end the undergraduate program in Belleville but that the night school would remain open.
In late May, the board announced that Porter, who has worked for IBM for 33 years, would be the new president. Porter is currently vice president of services for an IBM business partner, Gulf Business Machines in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
Lindenwood established the Belleville campus in 2003 with night classes in the former Belleville West High School at 2600 W. Main St. and later added undergraduate classes and sports teams.
Belleville campus’ future
Eckert said he won’t be unrealistic about Lindenwood, “But I’m going to be optimistic that we’re going to approach this new person, even though it’s not a new board, but we’re going to approach this new person and try to explain to him everything that Lindenwood has meant to Belleville and how we partnered and if nothing else we’re going to try to maintain a good relationship so that they keep us in the loop if they sell something or different parts of it.”
Belleville signed an agreement with Lindenwood in 2003 that called for the city to give the college TIF grants and for Lindenwood to make payments in lieu of taxes.
If the agreement carries on through 2021, Belleville would have given Lindenwood about $2.9 million after receiving the payments in lieu of taxes.
Lindenwood spokesman Chris Duggan said last month that the Belleville campus has lost $2.5 million to $3 million annually for the Lindenwood system, adding that an estimated $16.4 million worth of maintenance has been deferred.
Duggan said an additional $10 million in capital improvements would be necessary to attract new students.
Eckert said that the school’s interim president, Art Johnson, told him that the university had invested more than $40 million in the Belleville campus.
The announcement to close the day classes came just three months after the university’s board of trustees fired Michael Shonrock, who was president of the St. Charles-based Lindenwood University system since 2015, and less than four months after Brett Barger, the former president of Lindenwood University-Belleville, left the college after being placed on administrative leave last fall.
“I’m looking forward to meeting (Porter) and telling him that we want to work with him,” Eckert said. “We’re not sure what’s all happening, I’m not sure he’s sure what’s happening.
“But first and foremost we’d love to do anything we can to keep Lindenwood viable here. But second of all, if they are going to make these drastic changes, we just want to make sure that we’re as much as a partner and work together on this transition and this repurposing.”
Eckert said Lindenwood has told him that Porter would meet with him in the first 10 days of July but a date has not been set.
Jason Kennedy, who grew up near the Lindenwood campus in St. Charles and graduated from the Belleville campus last year, wants his alma mater to maintain the undergraduate program in Belleville.
Kennedy, 23, is the spokesman for the petition calling for Lindenwood to keep the undergraduate programs in Belleville. He has drafted a letter that will be sent to Porter.
But Kennedy said candidly, he doesn’t think the board will reverse its decision.
“As much of a dreamer as I am and I would hope that it would change their mind, I don’t particularly think that it will because they’ve always treated ... the Belleville campus as a stepchild.
“It really seemed like the St. Charles campus had no interest helping to make the Belleville campus better.”
Kennedy, who earned a degree in mass communications, said he is fighting to keep the Belleville campus fully staffed by Lindenwood because of his positive experience in Belleville.
Kennedy said he and his classmates studied with local and international students.
“We have friends from all over the world now,” he said.
Kennedy also praised the professors at Lindenwood.
“If there was a project we had in mind, we had all the tools to go after that project and we were encouraged by our professors to try new things, to challenge ourselves and to do things differently than I expected college to be.”