President Hill's letter on Vassar and the economy

December 18, 2008

This is my third letter to the community regarding the national economic and financial crisis and the steps we are taking to address the implications for Vassar. Currently we predict that the endowment will end the fiscal year $200 million or more below the June 30, 2008 value of $845 million. As a result our goal for 2009/10 is to restrict the dollar amount we spend from the endowment to the same level as this year, approximately $50 million. To meet this goal, we will need to cut approximately $7 million from our original plans for 2009/10 and hold the college’s operating expenditures at this year’s level. The budget for 2009/10 that we will present to the Board of Trustees in February must conform to this goal.

Even under this plan we will be spending approximately 7.7% (1/13th) of our endowment next year, rather than the 5% (1/20th) generally considered sustainable in the long run. Clearly the plan for 2009/10 is not a sustainable rate of spending, although it starts the adjustments necessary in response to the decline in our endowment. In light of what we know, the steps we are taking for 2009/10 represent a responsible course of action, both in the timing and the level of change in expenditures. Over the next few months we will focus our planning on the 2010/11 budget year and the additional adjustments that we expect will be needed. Given the uncertainty of the financial markets, we will of course continually monitor our financial situation and adjust accordingly. But, to be clear, we fully expect to need these adjustments in the budgets for 2009/10 and 2010/11.

Let me report some of the steps we have taken since I last wrote to you to respond to this budget challenge. These are steps already underway:

Reductions in positions in the administration and staff: We have frozen eight positions made vacant through turnover in the library, accounting services, telecommunications, development, college relations, and buildings and grounds. These unfilled positions require managers and remaining staff to adjust their priorities. We are grateful to all of those who are responding to the need to reduce staffing in this way. Four other vacant positions have been authorized for hiring only from within the college staff, thus creating vacancies elsewhere. Ultimately, we anticipate four additional staff vacancies from this process. In addition, starting in March, staff from Buildings and Grounds Services and the Office of the Dean of Planning and Academic Affairs will assume duties formerly provided by a separate Faculty Housing Office under River Management, thus reducing the equivalent of an administrative position. We are still examining ways to accomplish additional savings in the non-faculty salary budget.

Reductions in faculty positions: We have asked departments and programs to decrease teaching faculty in 2009/10 by the equivalent of 15 full time positions, or approximately 75 sections from this year’s level, effective July 1, 2009. We continue to work with departments and programs on alternative ways of accomplishing the essential savings, while preserving a strong and diverse curriculum.

Capital expenditures for 2009/10: We have reduced the list of capital projects for 2009/10 by about 75%, retaining only essential repairs to buildings and a gift-funded renewal of Wimpfheimer, planned for many years.

Student employment: All departments are currently reviewing student jobs to be sure they involve essential work. The college will continue to budget for employment for all students who fulfill part of their financial aid package through campus employment. In addition the college currently employs about 500 students who are not on financial aid. Some of these students bring specialized skills to jobs that are necessary. However, we believe that some reductions in student employment are possible.

We have recently received several comments and suggestions sent to or anonymously to Box 1. Please continue to use these opportunities to contribute ideas.

Many of these suggestions concern energy use at the college. B&G Services at Vassar has a long history, beginning in the 1980’s, of reducing energy consumption through changes in equipment, infrastructure, and building renovations. In the last decade, the College Committee on Sustainability has worked closely with B&G Services to assess current energy use and to implement plans for maximizing energy efficiency while minimizing as best we can our impact on the environment. The Energy Management Program is already making a difference; our energy consumption in 2007/08 was nearly 11% lower than in 2006/07, and while some of that may have been due to a warmer-than-average winter, it is important to note that energy use has declined in every fiscal year since 2004/05. Last spring’s Dorm Energy Challenge helped raise student awareness about campus energy use and conservation, and with the recent addition of individual building meters on most campus buildings, we anticipate expanding the Energy Challenge to include academic buildings this year.

Looking forward, the Sustainability Committee and B&G Services will be working closely to develop additional policies and plans that will continue to produce energy efficiency in cost-effective ways. We can all help by eliminating non-essential dorm and office equipment that use electricity, by turning off lights when leaving a room or passing a lighted empty room, and by turning off our computers at the end of the day. These simple measures will have a significant impact.

I am asking everyone to continue to control spending this year, as well as in next year’s budget plans. I am very grateful for the hard work that the community has devoted to this effort. Our ability to work together cooperatively and to show good will and thoughtfulness in the way we adjust to this new reality is a measure of our strength.

We will continue to keep everyone informed as our planning progresses. Please feel free to contact me or others on campus if you have any questions or concerns. And, please continue to send ideas to or to Box 1. I hope everyone enjoys the upcoming holidays with family and friends.

— Catharine Hill, President

Posted by Office of Communications Thursday, December 18, 2008