Know the Facts: Marquette University Misrepresents AAUP’s Independent Financial Analysis

In a recently published “rumors versus reality” webpage, Marquette University has misrepresented an independent financial analysis of the university commissioned by Marquette’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). Learn the facts here.

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MU administration claims: The recent AAUP-supported analysis of Marquette University finances was not independent and was prepared by the president of another AAUP chapter.

Fact: With fundraising from 53 faculty members, Marquette AAUP sought out analysts to evaluate Marquette University finances. They ultimately

commissioned the analysis to Dr. Howard Bunsis, a Professor of Accounting at Eastern Michigan University and a certified public accountant who has prepared hundreds of reports that detail how universities raise revenues and allocate expenditures, making him one of the country’s foremost authorities on university finances. Dr. Bunsis holds a J.D. from the Fordham Law School, as well as an MBA and a PhD in Accounting from the University of Chicago. He teaches graduate accounting courses in financial accounting and government accounting as well as the law of nonprofit organizations. While he is a member of Eastern Michigan’s faculty union, he is not the president of the AAUP chapter there.

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MU administration claims: Bunsis’ report is just an advocacy document that is meant to undermine university administration actions.

Fact: Bunsis’ report simply characterizes the financial condition and analyzes the spending priorities of Marquette University. All the analysis is sourced and uses standard accounting and statistical analyses. Interested readers should consult the report themselves.

MU administration claims: Bunsis’ report must be false because it resembles reports Bunsis has prepared for other institutions.

Fact: Bunsis’ report is an analysis of Marquette University’s finances, pure and simple. The resemblance of the findings to those of other institutions is indicative of broader––and, in our opinion, disturbing––trends in higher education towards the devaluation of the instructional core of the university and the instrumentalization of the pandemic to allow for these maneuvers. Interested readers can examine a recent national report on some of these trends.

It is disappointing that a university would employ this anti-intellectual “logic” – that a consistent set of findings automatically renders an analysis suspect. This sets a bad example for our students, who are here in part to learn how to evaluate evidence and make inferences.

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MU administration claims: Bunsis’ report is flawed and makes factually inaccurate claims, in contrast to Marquette’s audit prepared by KPMG.

Fact: Marquette University’s website never says which of Bunsis’s claims are flawed and factually inaccurate. The KPMG report constitutes the primary basis of Bunsis’ data analysis.

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MU administration claims: Bunsis’ conclusion that Marquette generated positive operating cash flows of $52 million in FY20 that could have o   set our challenges is false.

Fact: First, Bunsis used standard methodology to determine operating cash flows, and in fact, the method he used led to lower cash flows than Moody’s reported in their bond report for MU. If anything, the Bunsis approach was too conservative. As the 2021 Moody’s report puts it: “The university’s operating cash flow margin of 13.6% in fiscal 2020 highlights good financial performance.”

As to the cash flows being used for debt service, the 2020 audit reports that debt principal payments are scheduled to be between $9 million and $10 million from 2021 to 2023, and cash paid for interest is about $9-10 million per year.

With respect to lower enrollment and discount pressures, tuition revenue has been increasing,  and cash flows continue to be strong and positive. As the 2021

Moody’s report states: “Marquette’s debt service coverage of 3.5x in fiscal

2020 highlights the strong coverage of debt service from operations.”

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MU administration claims: Moody’s did not improve their evaluation of Marquette’s bond rating in 2021.

Fact: While Moody’s maintained Marquette’s A2 bond rating, they raised Marquette’s outlook to stable, as Bunsis’ report correctly notes. Many other universities had their outlooks either downgraded from stable to negative, but Marquette’s bond rating is now stable. This is important because Marquette’s executive leadership team––throughout the pandemic––routinely exaggerated the severity of the university’s financial troubles.

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MU administration claims: Federal discretionary aid to Marquette of $18.5 million was only a drop in the bucket compared to the $45 million in losses from lower enrollment; lost revenues; de-densifying residence halls; and COVID-19-related expenses for testing, quarantine and isolation space, increased cleaning and other mitigation measures.

Fact: The administration’s $45 million loss figure is entirely fictitious, and is not supported by the university’s own audited financial statements or bond reports. This figure has not been updated since August 2020, despite many changes in the situation, including retirements, program cuts, layo            s, and multiple stages of federal relief.

Marquette University received $33.8 million from the federal government during the pandemic. Of that money, $15.3 million was reserved for student aid and $18.5 million was entirely discretionary. Marquette had the ability to spend that $18.5 million on any number of measures to support core instructional tasks during a moment of crisis.

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MU administration claims: Bunsis fails to acknowledge any forward-looking information, such as demographics, costs or student enrollments.

Fact: The Bunsis report has an entire section on enrollment, detailing enrollment changes through fall 2020. Pages 15 to 22 of the report focus entirely on enrollment. The report analyzes enrollment broken down by level (grad, undergrad/professional), by headcount and FTE, by full-time and part-time, and by college. The report analyzes number and percentage changes in enrollment by all of these facets, and the changes are examined on an annual and long-term basis, from 2015 to 2021. As to costs, there is an entire section that analyzes costs, starting on page 26. One of the major results of the report is that Marquette University spends more than all peers on administrative salaries, and less than almost all peers on instruction and research.

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MU administration claims: Marquette University remains committed to shared governance and has faculty representation on our University Financial Planning and Review Committee.

Fact: If the administration was committed to transparency and shared governance, the faculty member of the UFPRC would be chosen by the faculty-elected University Academic Senate, the administration would share its 2021 draft financial statements, and invite faculty to serve as voting members of the Board of Trustees.

If the administration were committed to shared governance, it would not have insisted that faculty participate in ad hoc university restructuring task forces governed by nondisclosure agreements.

And frankly, if Marquette had shared governance and greater transparency with faculty regarding university finances, an independent audit by AAUP would not have been necessary.

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