Thursday, June 20, 2024

A map of Lesley University campuses is installed at a Massachusetts Avenue property in Cambridge that has since been sold as part of a campus renovation plan. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Lesley University’s faculty gave president Janet Steinmayer a no-confidence vote amid concerns about shared governance and cost-cutting to offset a $10 million budget deficit.

The Cambridge university’s Faculty Assembly approved the measure Feb. 28, with 88 percent of the 105 participating faculty expressing no confidence, citing the administration’s decision-making process amid declining enrollment numbers. It was the second no-confidence vote for Steinmayer in 14 months, according to a statement by the group. The first was in December 2021.

“Decisions made by the university’s leadership have eroded the student experience and endangered the long-term viability of some academic programs,” the statement said. A notice of the Feb. 28 shared with Cambridge Day said leadership was ignoring that Lesley is “operating inefficiently and ineffectively” and refers to the “destructive erosion of shared governance by failing to engage meaningfully” with faculty and the University Council.

Lesley’s budget shortfall is due to lower-than-projected enrollments coupled with a weak demand for on-campus housing, the group said.

To offset the deficit, Steinmayer and the Lesley board of trustees announced in January a six-week efficiency study called the Better Lesley initiative to identify possible areas of improvement. Faculty Assembly chair Grace Ferris said the plan was unwisely undertaken without a permanent chief financial officer in place.

Lesley University president Janet Steinmayer, right, at a school commencement. (Photo: Cambridge Community Foundation)

Requested input on the cost-cutting plan from faculty members was also “performative” and largely disregarded, she said.

The Better Lesley initiative also comes atop a Campus Plan introduced in October 2021 to remake and connect its three Cambridge campuses through 2026 with everything from wayfinding and landscaping to work less visible to the public, from updating the plumbing in aging dorms to ensuring classrooms are state of the art. Steinmayer said then that the plan was expected to cost in the tens of millions of dollars.

The university has posted multimillion-dollar shortfalls in seven of the past eight years, the release said. Steinmayer has been president since mid-2019.

Statement from the university

Steinmayer declined through a Lesley spokesperson to take questions about the no-confidence vote. Instead, the university provided a five-sentence statement indicating that Lesley has the resources it needs to study what it needs for future operations.

“While we appreciate how stressful change can be,” the statement reads, “Lesley has the right leadership, and the board and the administration are committed to using this opportunity to create a bright future for Lesley that is tailored to the challenges for the next few decades.”


Ferris said the faculty has always been concerned about the lack of shared governance at Lesley during Steinmayer’s tenure. “It really felt different from the start,” she said. Some faculty point to a turnover among cabinet leaders as cause for concern.

Lesley, which operates a 5-acre campus across three Cambridge neighborhoods, was founded by Edith Lesley in 1909 to train kindergarten teachers at her family’s Cambridge home. In 1943, it was authorized to award bachelor degrees in education; it adopted the name Lesley College the following year. In 2000, the school became a university when it established a graduate school of arts and social sciences.

Last year, Lesley reported 288 staffers in Cambridge, 170 core faculty members and 255 adjunct faculty.

It lists undergraduate enrollment of 1,518 in its most recent town-gown report to the Planning Board, down from a five-year peak of 1,927 in 2019; the number of graduate students is given as 1,899 in the report, down from 1,980 in 2019. The school is ranked by U.S. News & World Report as No. 331-440 of 443 U.S. universities.

The report by Lesley lists property sales that included: 1627 Massachusetts Ave.; 815 Somerville Ave.; 7 Mellen St.; 9 Mellen St.; 11 Mellen St.; 13 Mellen St.; 17 Mellen St.; 19 Mellen St.; 21 Mellen St.

No-confidence for trustees

After last month’s no-confidence vote, Steinmayer invited faculty leaders to meet March 8 to discuss the Better Lesley initiative, Ferris said.

In addition to Steinmayer’s no-confidence vote, the faculty provided the university’s Board of Trustees its first vote of no confidence from the faculty. Steinmayer, the school’s fourth president since 2016, was formerly a trustee.

In response to Steinmayer’s 2021 no-confidence vote, Board Chairman Hans Strauch wrote: “I want to be very clear: The Board of Trustees unanimously and fully supports the president and believes in her leadership and the current strategic direction for Lesley University.”