Barry University and St. Thomas University talk ‘alliance’ between schools

An interfaith prayer for peace on the Barry University campus in 2013.
An interfaith prayer for peace on the Barry University campus in 2013. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Barry University and St. Thomas University have announced the start of talks about a “strategic alliance” between the Catholic universities, and documents reviewed by the Miami Herald suggest the “reconfiguration” could include a merger of the schools.

On Friday, the Miami-Dade schools announced they will begin to formulate a timeline and framework for what they refer to as an alliance, although a Feb. 13 memo called the move a reconfiguration.

What a possible partnership could look like is unclear, although not unprecedented. Back when Barry was all-women and St. Thomas was all-men, the universities shared classes and activities.

The two campuses are fewer than eight miles from each other and cost around $28,000 a year to attend, but Barry is slightly bigger, with about 3,000 more students enrolled than St. Thomas’ 4,918, according to a U.S. News college ranking.

A set of talking points for Barry University executive administration, deans and faculty leadership obtained by the Herald stressed that this is merely the beginning of a partnership and students are the priority.

While possible questions in the memo included, “What if the merger doesn’t go through? Will the universities close?” and “Is Barry University and/or St. Thomas University bankrupt?” the suggested answers uniformly emphasized that the universities are open and in no jeopardy of closing.

The response to questions about layoffs was a little more uncertain, offering that they couldn’t speculate and “we expect enhanced opportunities through increased collaborations.”

The answer to that question continued, “Like many universities, there have been ‘reductions in force’ in the past to address changing programmatic needs and strategic priorities.”

When asked whether the partnership could include a merger, Sara Herald, vice president of the division of institutional advancement and external affairs at Barry, said it’s too soon to say.

“What we do know is that the outcome will be something that builds on our complementary programs and excellent offerings, provides enhanced opportunities for our students and ensures that Catholic higher education is further strengthened as a vibrant component of the South Florida community,” Herald wrote in an emailed statement.

Hilda Fernandez, vice president of advancement, marketing and communications at St. Thomas University, echoed Herald’s comments. She said this was just the first step in a long process and the future is uncertain but the end result will be “more opportunities for our students.”

“I guess we’ll know in a few months whichever way it takes us,” she said.

Alex Harris: 305-376-5005, @harrisalexc