Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 8
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Bridges to outline economic impact

By the end of the week, Whitman College President George Bridges is expected to issue a letter to the Whitman community explaining the changes the campus will undergo due to the current economic downturn.

This letter will outline how Whitman is responding to these economic changes, and how Whitman’s response will affect students, faculty and staff, as well as highlight several new initiatives the college will see next year.

Though the economic crisis currently racking the nation will require some cutbacks on campus, the underlying message of Bridges’ letter is of assurance and stability.

“We hope that [the campus] will see that we’re responding responsibly, taking on the challenges, and that the Whitman education that we all know and value will continue,” said Whitman Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer, Peter Harvey.

“We may not be able to do as many things as we would like to do, but we’re still providing a quality educational experience with good access to quality faculty.”

Board of Trustees member, Peter van Oppen, agrees.

“We feel fortunate that Whitman has been thriving the last several years,” he said.

The economic crisis has, nevertheless, taken its toll on Whitman. The principle long-term effect has been a 30 percent decrease in the college’s endowment. Because Whitman draws 30 percent of its annual operating budget from the endowment, this decrease will lead to a notable drop in revenue.

Whitman follows a spending plan whereby the amount of available money generated from the endowment is calculated from an average value of the endowment over the prior three years. Because of this retrospective process, there is a built-in cushion for the operating budget. This means Whitman will not have to deal with the full weight of the economic decline during the ’09-’10 academic year.

Other liberal arts schools in the nation have experienced similar declines. Many campuses are anticipating a 20 to 40 percent decrease in endowment revenue for the upcoming year. In letters released by both Bowdoin College and Williams College, their presidents cite endowment investment return decreases of 20 and 30 percents, respectively. Whitman’s response to the loss is comparable to these schools.

“The long-term impact: the endowment impact: will continue for many years to come,” Harvey said.

Whitman also lost considerable short-term income outside the endowment. This includes tuition, money in the bank, short-term bonds and money market funds.

Whitman’s Board of Trustees worked closely with President Bridges and his staff on forming the budget.

In creating the budget, Bridges and the Trustees aimed to protect the interests of students, faculty and staff.

“We are trying to have the least impact on students…we’re trying to protect students and the academic core of the program as much as possible said,” Harvey.

The chair of Whitman’s Board of Trustees, James Robart, is Federal Judge to the Western District of Washington. He further explained this prerogative.

“It is the highest priority that we protect the core of the academic program. We’re not going to sacrifice the education that people get [at Whitman],” he said.

Robart continued saying that the college is also committed to providing an increase in financial aid for students with demonstrated need.

Alongside the upsurge in financial aid for students, tuition is also expected to rise.

Though the increase in tuition seems inevitable, Bridges and the Board aim to keep these increases as small as possible.

“Our goal is to reduce the level of tuition increases so they don’t go up too much in these hard times,” Harvey said.

Bridges, Harvey and other staff members developing the ’09-’10 budget recently met with faculty and staff to outline the changes the administration will encounter in the next year.

The primary issue discussed during the meeting was salary freezes for members of the faculty and staff, as well as expected salary cuts for senior administrators.

The college is hoping to approach budget cuts through attrition, without firing faculty members. The college will reduce the number of faculty members hired by halting searches to fill open positions. Several searches have already been terminated. Also, instead of filling tenure track positions, the school plans to hire adjunct or temporary professors.

“We’re reading in the papers now about massive layoffs, and that’s not a typical issue in college environments. But there are kinds of trimming, kinds of attrition that can come around the edges,” said van Oppen.

In addition to stops on hiring, the school has asked departments to cut back on general spending.

“We’ve asked all departments to reduce non-necessary spending wherever they can, targeting things like reducing travel to conferences, food served at meals, purchases that don’t need to occur…we’ve identified at least $600,000 of realized savings that will occur here, but we won’t know until the year is over,” said Harvey.

For the ’09-’10 academic year, the administration plans to expand the first-year class by ten extra students, with the hope it will help subsidize the tightening operating budget. However, because the school cannot control the number of students that accept admission, this plan is difficult to control.

“We don’t know what will happen in terms of the impact of the current economic situation on people going to college or staying in college. That is a subject that causes us to worry a lot about what our class for next year will look like,” said Robart.

While the number of incoming students next year is difficult to determine, Whitman has already seen a general rise in application. According to Robart, there have been more early decision applications, more general applications, and more visitors to campus than in previous years.

Bridges’ letter is expected to address admission’s numbers, tuition increases, the availability of financial aid and changes in faculty and staff salaries, among other issues. He will be holding open forums during the coming weeks to discuss the specific content of the letter.

“These are challenging times and there’s a substantial amount of uncertainty about the future. We’re all in this together,” said Robart.

“We’re immensely grateful for the support that we’re getting from the students, from the faculty from the administration and from the alumni in what are arguably the most challenging economic times that I’ve seen,” he said

Bridges will be making presentations and taking questions from the community on Sunday, Feb. 22 at the ASWC Senate meeting and in Maxey Auditorium on the following dates: Friday, Feb. 20 at 8:30 a.m.; Tuesday, Feb., 24 at 4 p.m. and Wednesday, Feb. 25 at 7:30 p.m.

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