SHAWNEE, Okla. - Students and staff at St. Gregory’s University are forced to find a new path after the school president announced its closure at the end of the fall semester.
The Board of Directors made the decision Wednesday due to a lack of operating funds. The school was opened in 1875 and is the only Catholic university in Oklahoma.
“It’s a profoundly sad day because we have a wonderful staff, wonderful faculty, wonderful students, and it’s going to disrupt all their lives,” said University President Michael Scaperlanda.
Now, all 110 members of the faculty and staff, and about 550 full-time students have less than two months to figure out their next move.
Students on campus were in tears after hearing the news Wednesday afternoon.
“I haven’t really thought about it,” said senior and student body president Duncan Tiemeyer, considering what he’ll do about the classes he has left before he can graduate. “Maybe transfer to Benedictine or one of the other Catholic schools.”
“I still haven’t processed it,” said senior Gabriel Sanchez. “I didn’t cry or anything. I’m just trying to find out what’s going to happen next. I’m a couple classes away from graduating.”
The university already suspended all sports activities.
The school applied for a $12.5 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It de-annexed from Shawnee in January to fit the requirements for the loan which stated the school must be located in a rural area.
But the application was still denied.
“The USDA came up with a new rule we’ve never before seen or heard of last week to say, oh, you’re not eligible until the next census, so you can reapply after 2020,” Scaperlanda said.
We reached out to local U.S. Representative Steve Russell for clarity on the application’s denial.
In an emailed statement, he said:
“We are all saddened by the announcement of St. Gregory’s closing. The college’s impact and legacy will continue for generations to come.”
Scaperlanda said they will likely appeal the USDA decision.
“We don’t have time to do that now and be open in the Spring,” Scaperlanda said. "But we’re looking at all avenues to recover financially.”
Meanwhile, the school is in the middle of a scholarship arrangement with the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, which paid the school $5 million in 2015 for 60 tribal members to attend four years of school over a six year period.
Scaperlanda declined to comment on the scholarship, saying it would be up to the CPN to do so.
For those and the rest of the student body, he said the university is working on “teach out” agreements with four other colleges, a requirement of the regional accreditor, The Higher Learning Commission.
“’Teach out’ agreements with universities so our students can graduate from there but under our catalogue so they don’t have to duplicate classes,” Scaperlanda said.
Students are free to transfer to any university. There will be a transfer fair on campus for students next week.
Students are now trying to stay positive for their uncertain future.
“What that is, I don’t know,” Tiemeyer said. “I don’t think anybody knows except for God at this point.”