- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 5, 2007

ROANOKE — A 123-year-old private college in southwest Virginia is unable to issue faculty contracts and needs about $4 million to remain open next year, its president said yesterday.

Financial difficulties aren’t new for Virginia Intermont College, a Baptist-affiliated institution in Bristol with about 925 students.

“We’ve never been a wealthy institution,” college President Michael Puglisi said. But “in some ways, it’s more urgent than it has been in the past.”

Mr. Puglisi, who has been with Virginia Intermont for 10 years and its president for two, said officials are reviewing the school’s business practices and seeking funds from alumni and other donors as well as pursuing bank financing. The college receives some support from the Baptist General Association of Virginia.

In addition, the school is “actively exploring” merging with another private college in Virginia, Mr. Puglisi said. He would not name the institution.

Faculty members were told Tuesday they would not have contracts, said Robert Rainwater, faculty president. But since then, community leaders have shown support for Virginia Intermont.

“Yesterday the mood was a little apprehensive,” Mr. Rainwater said. “People are much more positive today.”

Students and staff members organized a rally on campus yesterday to show support.

Founded as a women’s school in 1884 in Glade Spring, the college moved to Bristol in 1893 and became coeducational 35 years ago.

This is not the first time contracts have been delayed, Mr. Puglisi said, and none of the 45 full-time faculty members has resigned as a result of the announcement.

“We have an amazingly loyal faculty,” he said. “Those that have been here a long time understand.”

Mr. Rainwater, a philosophy and religion professor who has been at Virginia Intermont for 26 years, said he has seen budget crunches at least a half-dozen times. In some instances, he said, the faculty received no pay raises.

Beyond covering the shortfall in the school’s $18.8 million operating budget for next year, Mr. Puglisi said, college officials have a goal of increasing the school’s endowment from $4 million to at least $10 million “as a first step.”

The liberal arts school, whose equestrian students regularly win national championships, also hopes to grow.

Mr. Rainwater said next year’s class is about 20 percent larger than this year’s, and Mr. Puglisi said the long-term goal is a student body of 1,500. About one-third of the students are in an adult-degree program.

Students come from 36 states and 31 countries, according to the college, but Mr. Rainwater estimated that half are from Virginia.

Tuition, room and board for traditional students is about $12,000 a semester, according to the college’s Web site.

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