Hesston president resigns; college’s focus will shift to four-year degrees

Photo by Larry Bartel/Hesston College Photo by Larry Bartel/Hesston College

This article was updated Nov. 10.

Hesston College announced on Nov. 8 the resignation of President Joseph A. Manickam, a shift in focus from two-year to four-year degrees and a reduction of 13 faculty and staff positions due to financial challenges.

The college’s Board of Directors announced the changes, following board meetings that took place Oct. 26-28.

The board accepted Manickam’s resignation, effective Dec. 31, following a faculty vote of no confidence Sept. 5 and an independent investigation into concerns raised by faculty, who cited “failure to lead effectively, lack of taking responsibility [and] inappropriate or unprofessional behavior.”

“The findings of this investigation, which included interviews with various stakeholders and a comprehensive review of the issues raised, revealed a complex situation with multiple perspectives,” wrote board chair Ken G. Kabira in a letter to employees that was quoted in a Hesston release. “In light of these findings, Joe chose to resign from his position as president to allow the college to move forward.”

The college is facing fiscal and enrollment challenges and in April acknowledged past failures in responding to reports of sexual harassment and abuse. The board approved a 2023-24 budget with a $960,000 deficit in May. Enrollment dropped from 440 students in 2017 to 308 students this fall. A report released April 14 by an external team of investigators found Hesston failed to consistently respond to reports of harassment and violence, failed to provide complainants with consistent care and information, and improperly used resolutions focused on forgiveness to resolve student concerns.

Vice president of academics Ross Peterson-Veatch is serving as interim president effective Nov. 13 as a search begins for a new president. Peterson-Veatch came to Hesston over the summer, replacing former academic dean Carren Moham. Peterson-Veatch has served as academic dean and associate vice president for academics and student affairs at Goshen College in Indiana and Southwestern College in Winfield, Kan.

Manickam will serve as liaison to the interim president through the end of December. Manickam is a Hesston graduate who began as president July 1, 2017, after being director of the Institute of Religion, Culture and Peace at Payap University in Thailand. The board voted unanimously in October 2020 to appoint him to a second four-year term.

Hesston announced it will continue to offer associate degrees but “will now focus primarily on bachelor’s degree offerings in professional fields.” Four-year degrees are already offered in aviation, business management, ­engineering and nursing. The college will offer additional bachelor’s programs in these areas as soon as possible. Athletic and performing arts programs will also transition to four-year models, as the arts shift from academic programs to “activities.” General education courses for music and theater will continue, as will performing arts scholarships, but higher-level courses for transfer to bachelor’s degrees in the performing arts are ending.

Faculty and staff cuts reduce the faculty by 30%. The cuts are based on the positions’ connection to ­Hesston’s mission and new trajectory. The college did not specify which positions were eliminated. Programs that will no longer be offered for transfer to other institutions include education, physical education, psychology, sociology, sports ministry, music, theater, communications, English, history and Spanish. Pastoral ministries and disaster management were eliminated in recent years.

In an interview on Nov. 10, ­Peterson-Veatch said the elimination of 11 programs affects 22 students.

“We have identified them all and reached out to them to meet with them individually to develop plans to graduate from Hesston or transfer elsewhere,” he said.

The academic shifts are connected the Vision 2025 process, which instigated the current four-year programs.

“It’s become apparent that we need to push further in that direction and become a four-year institution with two-year programs,” he said.

Peterson-Veatch said the college expects growth to about 475 students as it shifts the focus to career-specific “professional field” majors rather than relatively broader liberal arts fields.

Other efforts to address finances include reducing travel, looking at rising utilities costs, reevaluating external contracts and selling properties. The college is retaining two houses next to campus but selling other properties on Main Street, farmland and the 17-acre Stutzman Retreat Center west of town.

Hesston is looking to develop partnerships with other colleges. Nursing students at Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kan., can transfer to Hesston’s program after two years. Peterson-Veatch hopes a similar approach could allow business students to complete accounting degrees at Tabor.

“There could be shared programs going both ways with Tabor and us in the coming years,” he said. “Because we traditionally recruit from different pools, we’ll have access to different groups of students.”

Tim Huber

Tim Huber is associate editor at Anabaptist World. He worked at Mennonite World Review since 2011. A graduate of Tabor College, Read More

Anabaptist World

Anabaptist World Inc. (AW) is an independent journalistic ministry serving the global Anabaptist movement. We seek to inform, inspire and Read More

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