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Bluffton University Town Hall meeting answers merger questions, reflects community concerns

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By Paula Pyzik Scott

A Town Hall session regarding the recently announced merger of Bluffton University and the University of Findlay began a community conversation about how and why this change is taking place. Some key details were revealed and concerns from the larger university community including former faculty and alumni were expressed.

Bluffton University President Dr. Jane Wood and University of Findlay President Dr. Catherine Fell sat side by side at Yoder Recital Hall on March 26 to field questions submitted in advance and from the audience. Persons with statements to make were asked to submit them in writing. Individuals were limited to one question with the initial expectation that the event would be one hour. Instead an intermission was taken and all questions were addressed.

The focus of this article is to review the specific questions asked at this meeting. A larger presentation on the merger is available at

Early in the dialogue, Wood said bluntly that “Findlay isn’t buying Bluffton” like an orange or an eggplant. The possibility that Findlay would sell off Bluffton University assets is not part of the plan. Fell explained that the merger would make both campuses “more powerful for moving into new markets.”

Some in the audience were upset that stakeholders did not have input at an earlier stage. The presidents said that legal considerations had to be addressed before making the merger public. The transition is now in stage two, involving accreditations and permissions from outside agencies including the NCAA and the Higher Learning Commission. How the merger will take shape, rather than if the merger will take place, is now being determined.

Wood told the audience that there would be one president, Cathy Fell. The Bluffton campus would have a CEO. Wood will remain as Bluffton president until the merger is implemented and then is open to other roles. There will be one board of trustees, including a smaller number of representatives from Bluffton. Bluffton will also have its own advisory board.

Name to be determined
An audience member asked what name would the Bluffton campus have? What name will be on diplomas? “No one wants to be a stepchild,” he said. This decision has not yet been made. Examples from other university mergers are being studied. A Bluffton freshman asked, what will his diploma say? The response was, “Bluffton will be in the name.”

Future of donations
Another audience member estimated that some 15% of Bluffton University revenue in recent years came from donations. He asked why should donors continue to make gifts to the university? Wood responded that the university is looking to the future in this decision and that they will talk to all donors. She said, “we want to grow for students and retain leaders.”

When an individual inquired about separate and combined levels of debt, they were referred to public information from Form 990. (See Bluffton University on HERE and University of Findlay HERE.)

Risk and uncertainty
The university presidents emphasized that all colleges and universities must address a future with substantially fewer students of traditional college age. The merger was characterized as making both campuses stronger by collaborating, instead of competing, with each other.

Fell said she could not predict what future Bluffton-Findlay leaders will do in another 20 years, but emphasized a united interest in preparing and teaching students. Wood noted that most students she has spoken with are excited about access to additional areas of study and tracks to graduate programs.

The presentation ended with a round of applause and with Wood and Fell encouraging the audience to stay engaged in the conversation. New information will continue to be issued on and interested individuals are encouraged to make appointments with the presidents.