The Signal

Serving the College since 1885

Tuesday June 6th

Obtained documents raise questions over Foster’s announcement to step down

(Photo courtesy Elizabeth Gladstone / Photo editor).
(Photo courtesy Elizabeth Gladstone / Photo editor).

By Mike Sherr and Victoria Gladstone 
Managing Editors 

President Kathryn Foster stunned the campus community last month when she announced that she would be stepping down as president in June. The surprise announcement raised questions about what prompted the decision, which comes at a time when the College is implementing changes and is facing rising financial concerns.

In documents acquired through New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act and provided by the College’s General Counsel's office, The Signal has been able to explore some of the details of her decision.

Foster has been with the College since 2018 and has since implemented the five-year strategy plan TCNJ 2027: Extending Our Excellence, which aims to diversify the campus community and become more financially sustainable, among other initiatives. She also led the College through the Covid-19 pandemic and the return to in-person learning, which the Board of Trustees commended her on. While at the College, Foster has been popular with faculty and students and has been a prominent presence on campus. 

After June 30, according to the announcement last month, Foster will take a one-year sabbatical and return to the College as a Full Professor in the Political Science Department. 

The 2022 renewal of Foster’s contract describes the post-resignation benefits that Foster was offered by the Board of Trustees upon her stepping down. These benefits, including the sabbatical and the offer of professorship, would not have normally been extended to her if she resigned voluntarily, according to the contract.

All of these post-resignation benefits were available to Foster if her contract was “terminated without cause,” but not if she voluntarily resigned. 

“In the event Foster elects to voluntarily resign,” the contract states, “she will forfeit rights to further Compensation and Benefits as President after the effective date.” 

It is specified in the contract, however, that if Foster steps down “at the Board’s request,” her resignation would not be considered voluntary and instead be considered to be “terminated with cause.” Under this classification, Foster would have received no post-resignation benefits whatsoever. 

Luke Sacks, Head of Media Relations at the College, confirmed that the forfeit of benefits described in the contract was not reflective of “the benefits granted to Dr. Foster as described in the campus announcement on April 14.” 

“The Board of Trustees used its discretion to award her the post-agreement benefits to which she would have been entitled had she completed her contractual term,” Sacks stated. 

While the true nature of her leaving is currently unclear, the awarded benefits and timing of her resignation are surprising. 

“While I appreciate that the timing of my announcement may have been surprising for some, I have had the pleasure of serving two institutions as president for over 10 years and have accomplished a great deal during unprecedented times,” Foster told The Signal in an email. “Returning to the classroom to engage even more deeply with TCNJ’s students will be an exceptional capstone to my 40 year academic career."

Foster’s stepping down comes at a crucial time for the College. The institution is currently going through the accreditation process with the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. This would indicate whether the federal Department of Education views the College as an institute of quality education.

On top of this vital process, the College is facing a debt payment problem, with millions of dollars due in the coming years. The College is set to pay $13 million in FY 2024 alone, and from FY 2026 to FY 2030, the College will be paying about $26 million each year consistently.  

Accreditation and debt are only some of the challenges facing the College right now. Others include the reupping of faculty contracts that are set to expire on June 30 as well as lowering the current admission rates while simultaneously trying to find a greater number of students to come attend the College.  

This range of pressing upcoming issues led the Board of Trustees to announce only a two year interim president, forcing a quick choosing process for a permanent president. 

“We look forward to working with President Foster in the coming weeks to ensure a smooth transition of leadership,” stated Rebecca Ostrov, Chair of the Board of Trustees, in Foster’s announcement last month. “We expect that a more traditional process will begin in the Fall of 2024 to select the next permanent leader of The College of New Jersey.”

On April 24, leaders from Student Government, Faculty Senate and Staff Senate wrote and signed a memo to the Board of Trustees asking to be involved in the creation of a final pool of candidates for interim president. 

“We recognize the primacy of the board role in appointing a president,” the memo stated. “We ask to be partners in the process of reviewing the application pool and selecting the finalists who will be brought to campus.” 

Within the last eight months, many prominent figures within the College’s administration have left their positions; aside from Foster’s resignation, Dean Jane Wong of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, as well as Dean Kathryn Jervis of the School of Business, have both retired from their positions. There is currently a search committee for the next permanent Treasurer following the retirement of Lloyd Ricketts, who had a nearly 24-year career in his position.

The convergence of all of these resignations and issues spells uncertainty for the College in a time when even greater uncertainty is faced throughout higher education institutions. 

A celebration will be held on behalf of the Board of Trustees starting at 3 p.m. in Alumni Grove honoring Foster’s career on Tuesday.


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