President Hill's letter on Vassar and the economy

November 14, 2008

On behalf of the senior officers, I am writing to all members of our community to update you on our response to the economic conditions affecting the country, higher education in general, and Vassar College. Many of you attended presentations on these issues at recent administrative forums and faculty meetings, and regular discussion will continue to occur in those meetings and at staff forums, chairs and directors meetings, and other venues as plans develop. We also will have periodic email updates to the community.

We are currently working on the budget for 2009/10, assessing the implications of the economy on estimates of financial aid and also estimating revenues from the Annual Fund and other sources. The dollar amount we draw from the endowment cannot rise next year, given the loss in value of the underlying assets. We must budget for no increase in total operating expenditures as we develop our plans. Because certain kinds of costs rise outside our control, other operating costs must decline.

Here’s a summary of actions we’ve taken to date:

Operating budgets: We have distributed worksheets for departments asking them to develop a budget alternative that includes a 10% reduction in discretionary spending. Although discretionary spending is far less than what we spend on personnel, plant, and financial aid, we need to achieve all possible efficiencies in order to preserve funds for our highest priorities.

Computer allocations: Desktop computers purchased in the last four years will be replaced after five years, rather than four. This saves us about $500,000 next year as a one-time savings. We will attempt to budget a limited amount for more urgent computer needs.

Staffing levels: As reported earlier, we are examining all vacancies that arise with a goal of leaving as many as possible unfilled through 2009/10.To facilitate this, we must examine the work that needs to be done and reduce some of what we are accustomed to doing. When we decide to fill a bargaining unit position, we will rely on an internal search, and we may apply this same strategy to other vacancies as well. This will result in a vacancy elsewhere on campus which may in turn be left vacant. Through these efforts, we hope to save approximately $900,000.

Faculty positions: Eight tenure-track positions were approved last year, with the expectation that they would be filled for 2009/10. We have postponed three of these searches for at least a year. In addition, we will reduce faculty leave replacements and reduce or eliminate some adjunct or visiting faculty contracts that expire. We hope to save at least $750,000 from these steps. The Dean of the Faculty is working with departments and multi-disciplinary programs to manage the effect of these reductions on the curriculum, but average class sizes will increase next year.

Overtime: We will reduce overtime expenditures across the campus and ask all areas of the college to reduce activities that generate demand for overtime.

Capital expenditures: We are significantly revising plans for capital spending over the next several years, while continuing to address safety, code compliance, and preservation of building integrity. The process of reviewing priorities is ongoing, and will include senior officers, Buildings and Grounds, key committees such as Priorities and Planning and Campus Master Planning, and the Board of Trustees.

Suggestions: We welcome cost-control suggestions from the community. You may send such suggestions, either signed or anonymous, to the President’s Office, Box 1. You may also contribute ideas electronically at, which will be directed to the President’s Office.

We will continue to share information as we move forward in putting together a responsible plan responding to the current economic situation. Thank you for your cooperation in these efforts. Working together, we will sustain Vassar’s excellence through a difficult period for the economy.

— Catharine Hill, President

Posted by Office of Communications Friday, November 14, 2008