Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
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Report from the February Board of Trustees meeting

Posted on February 26, 2009

To the campus community,

During their deliberations, the Trustees approved a comprehensive fee of $49,440 for the 2009-2010 academic year. The new comprehensive fee, which represents a 3 percent increase over last year, was recommended by the administration as the most responsible course of action to sustain the quality of a Wheaton education in spite of the significant financial pressures confronting all colleges.

The new tuition, room and board rates--which represent the lowest increase in ten years--will be combined with more than $2 million in cost reduction measures to maintain academic quality and fiscal stability. The financial turmoil of the past six months has reduced the market value of Wheaton's endowment by 25 percent. In addition, annual giving to the college has decreased as well; yearly gifts are currently down 15 percent from last year. Given these declines, spending reductions will be unavoidable over the next few years.

While reducing the college's budget will require that we make tough decisions, I am confident in our ability as a community to be creative and flexible. To lead the way, the college vice presidents and I will be taking a voluntary pay cut - 7.5 percent for myself and 3.75 percent for the vice presidents. Of course, this step merely begins the process.

It is clear that we must freeze staff and faculty salaries, and stop all new hires, except where necessary for reasons of safety, for example. In addition, we will be required to accomplish our work more efficiently. I would like to avoid layoffs if at all possible, but layoffs may be inevitable. The majority of the college's budget is allocated to personnel expenses. Nevertheless, I continue to be guided by the three principles I outlined in the fall: sustaining academic quality, enhancing student financial aid and preserving the strength of the college community.

The importance of preserving quality cannot be overstated. Even as the college looks to reduce costs, we must invest strategically in initiatives that will maintain and enhance our academic strength. The most significant investment that the college will make in sustaining quality will be in student scholarship support. We plan to increase resources allocated for financial aid by 10 percent. These enhancements are critical on several levels. Financial aid ensures access to Wheaton for many families, a fact that will only grow as we struggle through this recession. It also is an issue of quality. A strong financial aid program benefits all students by sustaining the diversity and quality of the campus community, enriching class discussion as well as life on campus.

On a related note, the Board of Trustees, the Budget Advisory Committee and the President's Council participated in a plenary discussion about how best to respond to the long-term financial challenges that all colleges must confront in the years ahead. Stephen H. Brooks, Ph.D. of S.H. Brooks Co, an economist who has worked with Wheaton as a consultant on enrollment management and financial aid issues, presented student recruitment and financial aid trends, highlighting the difficulties that the rising costs of a college education pose for all institutions. The plenary session started a conversation about institutional change that must continue here on campus in the months ahead.

The Board's Campaign Steering Committee also reached an important decision during its meeting. In light of the current economic climate and the Board's commitment to the college's strategic plan, members of the steering committee decided to extend the nucleus fund phase of the campaign. Hence, there will not be a public announcement of the campaign in July.

The Board of Trustees took action on a number of other issues during the weekend, including:

  • granting tenure and promoting to the rank of associate professor the following three faculty members: Stephanie Burlington Daniels, theatre; Rolf Nelson, psychology; and Russell Williams, economics
  • approving the awarding of honorary degrees to Donna Hurd Drohan '69, Sandra Ohrn Moose '63, Anne J. Neilson '49 and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. (Gov. Patrick will be our commencement speaker.)
  • moving the Board’s fall meeting to Oct. 2-3 to coincide with the celebration of Wheaton's 175th anniversary and the 200th birthday of Eliza Baylies Wheaton, who played a significant role in the founding of the country’s first higher education institution for women.

With the challenges the college must confront, the importance of maintaining a strong and collaborative community has never been greater. I remain committed to working with the entire campus to develop the most effective plan for sustaining Wheaton in these difficult times.

I will convene a community meeting in Weber Theatre on Wednesday, March 4th, 9:30 to 11:00 a.m. to share the information that we have about addressing the financial problems ahead and to gather input for the decisions still to be made this spring.

Best wishes,

Ron

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