January 20, 2010
As we welcome our students back to campus for the start of the Spring Semester, I write to provide an update on important institutional issues.
In the past week, we have all been affected by the tragic news emerging from Haiti where millions are struggling after a powerful earthquake caused untold devastation. There are many in our community with ties to Haiti, and some who are anxiously awaiting news of family and friends. To you, we offer our sincere support and prayers. The Colleges’ history and support for Haiti is a proud one: the first recipient of the Elizabeth Blackwell Award 50 years ago was Gwendolyn Grant Mellon, a medical missionary and founder of Hôpital Albert Schweitzer in Haiti. Located about 40 miles northwest of Port-au-Prince, the hospital survived the earthquake and is now delivering critical care to the many injured.
The needs of the people of Haiti have inspired our students who have organized a series of ‘Hope for Haiti’ events during the first week of classes to include a residence hall fundraising effort, tabling in Scandling and a dance gathering on Saturday, January 23 – all designed to collect money and supplies for the relief effort. In addition, as part of our programming for Martin Luther King, Jr. Week, all members of the Colleges community are encouraged to take part in community service projects on January 23 to benefit Haiti. More information on how you can get involved is available on the Colleges’ Daily Update. I know that these efforts and engagement with the community will make a difference in the lives of many Haitians.
We open the semester with four days of celebration honoring the legacy of Dr. King and his vision of peace. The events are organized to observe Dr. King’s commitment to nonviolence and his writings about peace. I encourage all members of the community to take part in these events including the fundraising efforts for Haiti which have been incorporated into the observance. For more information on all of the week’s activities, please consult the Daily Update.
On Monday, January 25, I invite everyone to join me for the semester’s first President’s Forum Series lecture featuring award-winning journalist David Oliver Relin, co-author of the bestselling book, "Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Time." I have invited Relin to campus and have joined with the Geneva city school district, Geneva Public Library, The Finger Lakes Times and many clubs and organizations to create a shared community read of his thoughtful book. Relin will bring his vast experience and insight into Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Forum. I believe the community engagement around this book will foster interesting conversations and useful dialogue. Relin will speak at the Smith Opera House on January 25 at 7:30pm.
As you know from past communications, we have been working hard to address the budget issues we face as a result of the economic recession. The effects of the recession have been felt in the loss in our endowment (20%) and philanthropic support. Combined with a greater demand on our financial aid budget than we anticipated ($1.8 million more than was planned), we face a $1.5 million deficit for the current fiscal year. Last year we made significant progress to reduce that year’s deficit and we must commit ourselves to the fiscal responsibility required to close out the year as near to a balanced budget as possible.
We are not alone in this situation; all of higher education is feeling the burden of competing priorities and limited resources in the face of a fluctuating economic climate. Nevertheless, it is imperative for us to take the necessary steps to reach financial equilibrium for the long term. As I have stated previously, when we model similar fiscal scenarios as the current year into the future, we project deficits from $5 to $7 million. Clearly, this is not sustainable and we must take steps – both in the short-term and the long-term – for revenue enhancement and expense reduction.
The Budget Advisory Task Force has been meeting regularly in December and January to review possible deficit reduction scenarios. I will provide a preliminary report to the Board of Trustees at the Winter Meeting at the end of January and submit a final budget recommendation for the Spring Meeting in April. The Task Force has been asked to provide counsel to me for the steps to be taken in the near term – 12 to 18 months. I am grateful for their engagement and the considerable time investment required.
I am encouraged by the professionalism and thoughtfulness of the entire campus community, and by the work we have already accomplished. I ask for your continued good ideas for cost cutting measures and revenue sources. As in the past, you can submit a suggestion anonymously via the budget Web site Submit a Suggestion form or by e-mailing Martha Bond, Director of Grants and Staff Director of the Advisory Task Force, directly at email@example.com.
In addition, I have also tasked Martha Bond, Fred Damiano, Chief Information Officer, and Mike Paparo, Controller, to examine our procurement and purchasing policies and make recommendations to me on how we can leverage our collective buying power to achieve improved efficiencies.
I will use all of this information to craft a balanced budget to present to the Board of Trustees in April.
Long-term revenue enhancements and the creation of broad institutional objectives are part of the Colleges’ overall strategic plan – HWS 2015. We will formally kick off this effort during the Winter Board meeting at the end of the month. HWS 2015 is organized around three main themes: the academic program, student life and resources. The expectation is that seven to 10 interdisciplinary and cross-functional teams will be chartered to look at specific topics that fall within one of the main themes. Last semester, we sent out a call for volunteers to serve on these teams and we will have our first meeting next week with a plenary session with the Board.
We are in the midst of a complex period in our nation’s and higher education’s history. We must balance the market conditions with our own ability to attract and retain talented students and philanthropic support. Despite these challenges, I am bolstered by the knowledge that the Colleges have successfully persevered and, indeed, thrived in the face of past economic and societal changes. I have no doubt that our collective creativity and commitment will allow us to navigate the current times.
I look forward to working with you in the coming months and trust you will not hesitate to contact me regarding these matters.
With every best wish, I am
Mark D. Gearan