The Rev. Kevin Wildes, president of Loyola University since 2004, is faced with a daunting, three-part challenge in the months and years ahead.

He must cut expenses sharply, attract and retain more students and win the support of disgruntled faculty members, some of whom have lost faith in his leadership.

That’s the picture that has emerged at one of New Orleans’ most important universities over the past few weeks, with Wildes finalizing his budget plans even as a segment of the faculty pushed for a “no confidence” vote on his ability to carry those plans out.

Wildes is planning to slice the university’s spending by $11.5 million over the next five years. But he estimates Loyola would actually need to cut $25 million from its budget over the same period unless it can lift enrollment and fill the rest of the gap with tuition money.

He’s hoping that it can. “My plan is to grow, rather than to cut our way out of this,” he wrote in the plan released to faculty last week.

Loyola’s faculty largely back the new budget proposal, having been consulted about the details before they were announced. But their feelings are mixed about whether Wildes should be the man to carry it out.

Left reeling after years of buyouts, layoffs and other cuts, some are questioning his leadership style and what they describe as an indifference to faculty concerns, despite the recent outreach to them.

Almost all are nervous about where the budget axe might fall should Loyola come up short in attracting and retaining more students.

The plan

Wildes’ “plan to achieve a sustainable, vibrant and productive Loyola” was crafted after input from a president’s advisory group, a faculty academic planning group and eight task force committees. Department heads weighed in as well, and there were small group discussions with faculty and staff.

The plan calls for eliminating 11 programs, which should save the university $550,000 annually. On the chopping block are grant programs for faculty research and training, some night academic programs and faculty stipends.

Not due for elimination are Loyola’s American and Catholic studies interdisciplinary minors, its studio/visual arts and theater arts & dance programs, or its Center for the Study of New Orleans — five programs the president’s advisory group initially sought to toss.

Wildes kept those programs on the recommendation of Loyola’s Standing Council on Academic Planning, the faculty academic planning group. However, he said they will be subject to “action plans,” as some have had only fitful success in recent years.

His plan reduces funding in 85 programs and beefs up another 20. One hundred and six programs will remain relatively unchanged.

No current students will be affected by the cuts, which will come over the next five years, Vice President for Marketing & Communications Laura Kurzu said. Instead, the university will stop promoting programs that are set to be axed. Tenured faculty working in such programs will eventually be moved elsewhere.

Decisions about non-tenured faculty members’ jobs will come in the spring, after department heads restructure their newly defunded programs, Kurzu said. Generally, Wildes seeks to avoid firing people. Departments might instead cut costs in other ways, such as through attrition.

Kurzu would not release dollar amounts for individual programs that are seeing increased or reduced funding, saying that doing so before department decisions are finalized could create needless worry that people will lose their jobs.

While Loyola implements the new budget plan, Wildes will continue to draw on the university’s endowment to help the school stay afloat, she said.

The man

Wildes has said his plan is driven by faculty and community desires, a statement that even those who protest his leadership agree with. Notably, his decision to keep five programs his advisory council suggested he toss has been cast as a pro-faculty move.

But some claim Wildes isn’t a pro-faculty president.

“As the president of the university, he has been completely and totally hands-off with the faculty,” said Connie Rodriguez, who chairs the classical studies department.

Wildes doesn’t regularly attend full meetings of the University Senate, the faculty body that advises Loyola’s leaders, she said. Many key day-to-day decisions are left to Provost Marc Manganaro.

Complicating matters have been buyouts and other cuts, which have lowered morale among the rank and file. An initial buyout and layoffs occurred after 200 fewer students than expected enrolled in 2013. Another buyout, coupled with a two-year reduction in the university’s contribution to its employees’ retirement funds, followed.

Enrollment since then has risen some, university figures show, though this year’s incoming freshman class of 661 is still a far cry from 2012’s 866.

Finally, Wildes’ controversial Pathways restructuring plan, implemented in 2006 — in the wake of Hurricane Katrina — despite faculty protests, continues to irk Rodriguez and other longtime faculty members who privately said it caused a slew of problems. That plan did away with academic programs such as broadcast journalism and education, sparked costly lawsuits from fired faculty members who had tenure and inspired a vote of no confidence in Wildes from the faculty in one of Loyola’s colleges.

Now, some faculty are pushing for another vote of no confidence based solely on Wildes’ leadership. The University Senate weighed the matter last Thursday — a day after faculty received the new budget plan — but decided to postpone a vote until January, after some professors raised concerns about timing and others said Loyola’s board of trustees should be present for the debate.

For Rodriguez and others who advocated denouncing their boss, it boils down to trust. There’s a $13.5 million budget gap that must be closed by 2021, and they aren’t sure they trust Wildes to effectively close it, absent more morale-lowering cuts.

“To be really quite honest with you, absolutely no one knows if this (plan) is going to work,” Rodriguez said.

Path forward

Kurzu, the university vice president, disputed claims that Wildes doesn’t care about the faculty. “That is hard to believe,” she said, especially after Wildes has taken pains to hear faculty views on the new plan through small-group discussions and advisory groups’ recommendations.

As for claims he is hands-off, she agreed that Wildes is not a micromanager and that he generally trusts Manganaro and other top staffers to handle their jobs. The faculty largely reports to the provost, she said.

In response to claims that enrollment or budgeting woes can be linked to the Pathways plan or generally inept leadership, Kurzu cited Katrina’s impact on the university and the timing of the enrollment drop, which occurred six years after Pathways was finalized.

Shortly afterward, Wildes hired a new top staffer tasked with enrollment management. He also has been an active fundraiser, and Loyola is well on its way to meeting a $100 million 2017 fundraising goal, she said.

Should all the efforts fail to bring in more students, additional cuts will have to be made, Kurzu said. It’s not clear how that blade would fall. But, in response to fears that the new plan might not go far enough, she stressed that the future enrollment estimates the university is relying on are conservative. Wildes also said the plan does not include additional revenue generated from new programs. Further, several task force committees continue to hunt for additional savings.

Not everyone at Loyola is critical of Wildes. After learning of the discontent, the board of trustees endorsed him last month. Other faculty members say he has shouldered much of the blame for something beyond his control.

“There’s so many people working in a university that determine its success or failure, but when things aren’t going well, it’s the top guy that gets called to the mat,” said sociology professor Marcus Kondkar.

Bob Thomas, who leads Loyola’s Center for Environmental Communication and serves as vice chairman of the University Senate, agreed that across the campus, there is discontent. But rather than push for a “no confidence” vote a day after a new plan was released, he called upon aggrieved faculty to craft a list of specific complaints to give to Wildes. That list is forthcoming.

“I’m confident that good things will come from it, and we will set a path forward that will really contribute to the well-being of the university. This will work out,” Thomas said.

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.