“You’re going to have to have 15 or 20 private institutions saying ‘We’ve had it’,” were the words of Former Hofstra President Robert L. Payton in a New York Times article as the University had just cut 111 from its staff in November 1975. When most people hit the age of 40, they usually go through a mid-life crisis and that was no different for Hofstra University.
In 1975, Hofstra was reported to have a $1.4 million deficit, which is equivalent to $5.9 million in 2012, and was going through a major financial crisis like the rest of the country in the aftermath of the 1973 Oil Crisis.
The 1970s at Hofstra were a dark contrast to what Hofstra was during the 1960s; a brand new university on the incline.
In 1963, Hofstra went from being a college to a university with the creation of the College of Liberal Arts and Science. This was quickly followed by the creation of the School of Education in 1964, the School of Business in 1965 and the Law School in 1970.
However, this growth would not be sustainable, as the world of academia would be experiencing a period of no-growth due to a combination of rising energy costs and the declining enrollment due to the drop-off as the baby boomer generation finished up college.
Hofstra freshmen enrollment had dropped off severely during the 1970s and was one of the major causes for the financial crisis. As freshmen enrollment was 1,091 in 1971, 1,093 in 1972, 988 in 1973, 841 in 1974 and 759 in 1975.
To combat enrollment difficulties, Hofstra began to offer grants to attract students. Hofstra tuition at the time was $3,000 a year and the grants included $1,000 for transfer students that had at least a 3.0 GPA, $800 for students that had at least a 1200 on the SAT and were in the top 20% of their graduating high school and $500 for any student whose family had a middle income of $10,000 to $25,000.
The first signs of trouble came in October 1974 when there were doubts over the future of Hofstra varsity sports. Then-athletic director Andrew Theibert stated “I think there will be an official statement of team in 1975. Yet I feel personally Hofstra will field a team in 1975,” in article in the New York Times from October 30, 1974 about the state of the Hofstra football team.
The fate of football was announced the next month when in November, President Payton spared football, but the programs of soccer, track and golf would be cut.
Football was not completely unaffected as their schedule was shortened from 11 to eight games.
There were additional changes to the athletic program that included that away games could only be played at institutions that would not require overnight accommodation and the University could generally only schedule contests with institutions that shared Hofstra’s philosophy. The moves to cut the programs and the new guidelines ended up saving the university $280,000, which would be $1.2 million in 2012.
Sports were not the only thing that came close to being shut down as the arts were also in danger. The Emily Lowe Gallery was in danger of closing down in 1976 as Hofstra was in the midst of its financial crisis. The gallery was also in danger of closing in 1975 until the board were able to find $9,000, $36,000 in 2012, in the budget to keep the gallery’s doors open.
The then-director of the gallery Robert Littman, who had served since the gallery’s opening 1969, resigned from his position as he was unsure about his future at the University and was the job of being the director of NYU’s Grey Art Gallery and Study Center.
In a wave mass firings known as the “Friday Afternoon Massacre,” Littman’s only paid staff member, Helen Carr, was let go making his situation even more difficult to manage.
Payton stated in the New York Times, “They have more difficulty proving their worth. The gallery did not figure in the academic curriculum, offering no courses and no credits. And yet it played a central role in the arts education of our students because of its excellent exhibitions.”
“This gallery has been brought to the attention of international art world. It would be a shame to lose something that has come to men so much to so many of us.”
During the crisis, Hofstra did something that was unexpected as it raised its academic standards in the face of declining enrollment numbers. During his tenure at Hofstra, President Payton strived to make Hofstra a better school academically even in the name of lessening enrollment. The school refused admissions to high school students that it would have in previous years and the school has seen its incoming freshman class go from being in the top 34 percent to the top 26 percent.
One weakness that Hofstra had in the face of its financial crisis was its small endowment that it could not use to support itself, as it still was a young school. In the 1970s, Hofstra only had an endowment of $10 million, $42.3 million in 2012.
During the crisis, Hofstra did some unique things to increase revenue as it leased space on its then 70-acre campus to a Rhode Island circus promoter. The event was called “ A Summer Thing” and was thought to bring in between $250,00 to $500,000, $1 million to $2.1 million in 2012, in revenue.