Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
Office of the President

President’s Blog

  • Report from the February Board of Trustees meeting

    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 […]

    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

  • Wheaton's preliminary budget options

    To the campus community, The month of January is traditionally when the college develops its budget projections. The Board of Trustees reviews and approves the preliminary budget option in February when it sets the comprehensive fee for the following year. As you might imagine, given the economic downturn, budget planning this year is particularly difficult […]

    To the campus community,

    The month of January is traditionally when the college develops its budget projections. The Board of Trustees reviews and approves the preliminary budget option in February when it sets the comprehensive fee for the following year. As you might imagine, given the economic downturn, budget planning this year is particularly difficult because Wheaton is not immune to the current global recession.

    Earlier today, the Budget Advisory Committee reviewed preliminary budget options for FY'10, and I want to share the major outlines of those projections with the entire community. My hope is that this information informs our discussions during the open office hours I will hold next week.

    I am eager to hear your thoughts on the challenges we face, your perspective on the implications of the cost reduction strategies under consideration, and your ideas about how to move forward. Wheaton's success in weathering this economic turbulence will depend upon the strength of our community and our ability to work together.

    Indeed, it is important to celebrate the strengths that will sustain our community. One measure of our continuing strength is reflected in the more than 3,200 students who have applied to Wheaton for the Class of 2013. Although our applications numbers have declined this year when compared to last (as they have at nearly every private selective liberal arts college this year), Wheaton continues to hold strong appeal among high school students. This appeal arises directly from the personal nature of the education that the college offers, and it testifies to the talents of faculty, staff and students.

    The importance of preserving Wheaton's academic quality cannot be overestimated. Even as the college will look to reduce costs, we must invest strategically in initiatives that will maintain and enhance our strengths. The science center project remains an important objective. We will complete construction documents for the building by the end of March. At present, the finance office is preparing the documentation necessary to secure the required debt financing for this project, although we continue to wait for its availability at reasonable rates. The college received initial approval for our science center plans from the Health & Educational Facilities Authority (HEFA) last month. We are acting on other opportunities to improve campus life, such as enhancements to Balfour-Hood Café and to many residence hall common spaces this semester.

    Short and long-term challenges
    Still, Wheaton faces significant short-term and long-term challenges. The next eighteen months will be difficult because we must reduce the college's operating costs substantially. Wheaton's operates on a relatively lean budget and depends upon tuition revenue, so reducing costs will require great creativity, flexibility and patience from the entire community.

    No one can predict how long this recession will last. But it is clear that Wheaton must achieve substantial cost savings over several successive fiscal years For example, the loss in Wheaton's endowment value during the first six months of this fiscal year, which I reported to you last week, will impact endowment revenue for as much as five years.

    During February, we must focus on the immediate challenges of the coming fiscal year: reducing operating expenditures, allocating more funds for financial aid to preserve students' access to Wheaton and taking every step to safeguard faculty and staff positions. This will not be an easy task.

    Financial aid and comprehensive fee
    Our preliminary FY'10 budget options include a further increase in the financial aid spending rate, which would result in allocating $1 million more for student support next year. This would provide critical support amid the economic difficulties besetting so many college students and their families.

    The preliminary budget options, which the Board of Trustees will consider, include three different alternatives for setting the comprehensive fee for the 2009-2010 academic year-ranging from a 2.3 percent tuition increase to no increase. Ultimately, the trustees will decide which course to take in setting the comprehensive fee. However, all three options assume a freeze on faculty and staff salaries, and a hiring freeze.

    Cost containment measures
    I am well aware that a salary and hiring freeze may present difficulties for many employees and departments, but I am committed to avoiding employee layoffs wherever possible. I cannot make any guarantees at this point, but I would much prefer to maintain current staff and faculty to ensure the strength of our community and the quality of our programs.

    Operating budget reductions
    A freeze on salary increases and hiring is necessary, but not sufficient, to balance our FY'10 budget. The college may need to reduce operations expenditures by as much as five percent, for the fiscal year starting on July 1. While the exact amount of these spending reductions remains to be determined, substantial budget cuts will be necessary. This is a sobering reality.

    However, as we weigh options for budget reductions, I am committed to the three priorities that I outlined in the fall: sustaining academic quality, increasing resources for financial aid to maintain students' access to a Wheaton education and strengthening the community and our ability to collaborate effectively.

    Community consultation and process
    I am asking the community to discuss this situation in greater detail over the next few months. The Budget Advisory Committee will continue to meet weekly to analyze budget options and represent the broad interests of the campus.

    I will hold several open office hour sessions in the Presidents' House on Tuesday, Feb. 3 from 10 to 11 a.m., Wednesday, Feb. 4 from 4 to 5 p.m. and Monday, Feb. 16 from 8:30-10:00 a.m. for further discussion of these issues. I also plan to hold an open office hour specifically for students on Thursday, Feb. 5 from 3:30 to 5 p.m., as well as meet with the Student Government Association. As always, please feel free to send me email, if you have comments or suggestions.

    Following the February 21 Board meeting, I will convene a community meeting in Weber Theatre on Wednesday, March 4th, 9:30 - 11:00 a.m. to review the budget option approved by the Board, discuss the proposals under consideration and gather input for the decisions that lie ahead. I will share more details closer to the date of the meeting.

    I close with a note of thanks to the entire campus community for each person's contributions to our collective strength.

    Sincerely,
    Ron

  • A campus conversation about Wheaton and the economy

    Dear Colleagues, While the concept of spring seems terribly distant at the moment, we are well and truly on our way to warmer weather and better days. The second semester always passes quickly, and the pace of activity this year promises to pick up soon. This spring will bring many critical decision points for the […]

    Dear Colleagues,

    While the concept of spring seems terribly distant at the moment, we are well and truly on our way to warmer weather and better days. The second semester always passes quickly, and the pace of activity this year promises to pick up soon.

    This spring will bring many critical decision points for the college, all of them complicated by the national economic recession. The issues to be addressed include how to increase the financial aid dollars in our operational budget for the next academic year, the establishment of the 2009-2010 comprehensive fee and the timing of next steps for the science center building project. And that is a highly selective and incomplete list.

    We will need the assistance of the entire campus to reach wise decisions on how to enhance Wheaton's strength in this challenging environment. With help from many members of the community, the President's Council has identified numerous spending reductions for 2009-2010 which may be critical to our success. In the coming weeks, I plan to spend time talking with students, faculty and staff about these proposals and soliciting still more suggestions.

    While these are likely to be difficult and uncomfortable discussions, I am confident in our community's ability to rise to the occasion. The Wheaton tradition is one of realizing success in doing more with less and of creativity and agility in pursuit of our goals. We can take some satisfaction in Wheaton's financial stability. Our prudent management of resources, including the utilization of net tuition revenue, several years' successes in achieving enrollment targets and successes in fundraising have made significant contributions to our current fiscal strength. Add to this our minimal level of debt and wise allocation of endowed funds, we are in an overall healthy financial situation.

    Nevertheless, the ongoing recession has already affected the college and will continue to do so. Wheaton's endowment has lost about 25 percent of its value since June 30, 2008; and fundraising progress has slowed considerably. Wheaton is not unique in this regard, of course. The last month has brought announcements from many other institutions about hiring freezes, salary freezes and more. Even now, the situation remains highly fluid. For example, it will be four months before we can accurately project the full extent of the demand for financial aid among current students as well as members of the Class of 2013.

    Increasing resources for financial aid is one of our highest priorities. As the impact of this economic crisis spreads, we must prepare to allocate more of our budget to meet the increasing financial needs of our students and their families. At the same time, we are committed to investing in quality where it matters most. To me, this means recognizing that Wheaton's educational programs depend upon our faculty and staff.

    These priorities--increasing financial aid and protecting people--will serve as guidelines for us as we move forward in considering cost reduction initiatives. It is our hope that these initiatives will serve to make Wheaton stronger, not only financially but also as a community.

    Wheaton can and will weather this economic storm. Your active support and commitment will make an enormous difference, and I will be calling on all faculty, staff and students to contribute their best thinking and energy. I will be holding open office hours in the Presidents' House on Tuesday, Feb. 3 from 10 to 11 a.m., Wednesday, Feb. 4 from 4 to 5 p.m., and Monday, February 16 from 8:30-10:00 a.m. for further discussion of these issues. I also plan to attend the first Student Government Association meeting of the semester. I look forward to working with you.

    Thanks for all that you have done, and will do, to sustain Wheaton's distinctive and transformative teaching and learning community.

    Best,
    Ron

  • Priorities during the financial downturn

    To the campus community, The past week has brought daily announcements of hiring freezes, construction postponements and other cost-saving measures at colleges and universities throughout New England and across the country. As you know, Wheaton has taken similar steps in seeking cost containment strategies and in examining employee hiring plans carefully. Uncertainty remains over how […]

    To the campus community,

    The past week has brought daily announcements of hiring freezes, construction postponements and other cost-saving measures at colleges and universities throughout New England and across the country. As you know, Wheaton has taken similar steps in seeking cost containment strategies and in examining employee hiring plans carefully.

    Uncertainty remains over how long and severe this financial downturn will be for colleges as well as individuals. In this environment, Wheaton’s plans will continue to take shape as the true impact of the economic slump becomes clearer. The college’s response, however, will be shaped by our priorities. They are:

    ** Increasing resources for financial aid. As the impact of this economic crisis spreads, we must prepare to allocate more of our budget to meet the increasing financial needs of our students and their families.

    ** Supporting the academic mission of the college. This must begin with the recognition that the college’s quality education depends upon the faculty and staff, who deliver our programs.

    ** Strengthening our community. Wheaton’s vitality depends upon our ability to work together creatively with limited resources and with flexibility to respond to changing and challenging circumstances.

    I have been heartened by the constructive response of the community to the financial difficulties that we face. I met with the college’s senior department managers several weeks ago, and I received more than 60 suggestions for controlling costs. All of these ideas will be considered closely, and I welcome more proposals as they occur to you.

    Wheaton’s success depends upon how well we work together toward common goals. Open communication and transparent decision-making are vital to the collaboration that will be required from each of us. To that end, I will write to you again with updates on our progress, as more information becomes available.

    I would also like to invite you to come to the Presidents’ House on next Monday, November 24, at 3:30 to 5:00 P.M. for further discussion of these issues and any other matters that concern you.

    I appreciate all that you do to endow Wheaton with its distinctive and powerful teaching and learning community.

    Thanks,
    Ron

  • Sound financial management for turbulent times

    To the Wheaton community, The ongoing global financial crisis has caused turmoil throughout much of the U.S. economy and it has provoked uneasiness on many college campuses. In the past week, members of the Wheaton community have asked me whether and how Wheaton has been affected by the recent downturn in world financial markets. Happily, […]

    To the Wheaton community,

    The ongoing global financial crisis has caused turmoil throughout much of the U.S. economy and it has provoked uneasiness on many college campuses. In the past week, members of the Wheaton community have asked me whether and how Wheaton has been affected by the recent downturn in world financial markets.

    Happily, I can report that the college’s financial situation remains strong, thanks to sound budget control and the institution’s extremely low reliance on debt financing. Nevertheless, Wheaton needs to take steps now to prepare for potential future impacts. Given the depth of the financial problems besetting our economy, we should anticipate the possibility of a substantial increase in demand on the college’s financial aid budget this spring and next year. To help our students and families, the college must prepare to allocate more resources now for scholarship support.

    Beginning today, I am directing college officers and department heads to conduct a careful review before filling open staff positions. My intention is not to institute a hiring freeze, but to ensure that hiring decisions are evaluated carefully, given the drastically changed environment. I will expect a report from the appropriate college officer before authorizing personnel searches for new or open positions.

    In addition, every department should scrutinize non-essential spending for cost-saving potential. For example, entertainment expenditures, such as catering expenses, should be eliminated or scaled back. I have already directed my own staff to reduce expenses for events that my office typically hosts, including those at the Presidents’ House. I would welcome your suggestions about other areas in which the college might realize cost savings.

    Additional cost-saving measures may be required, but acting immediately to contain spending will help to alleviate potential problems that may arise over the next year. The Board of Trustees will discuss the financial crisis and its potential affect on Wheaton at its meeting later this week, though no particular action by the Trustees is anticipated.

    In closing, I want to emphasize Wheaton’s robust financial health. We are taking action now to maintain the college’s financial stability and to ensure our students’ access to a Wheaton education in this time of ongoing economic challenge. I appreciate your support on behalf of our students and the college.

    Sincerely,
    Ron