Economic Dissonance and a Community in Tune

Sunday night I spent an hour with the Wesleyan Student Assembly, answering questions on the recent Board of Trustee’s retreat and on the general state of the university in this time of economic turmoil. I am always impressed by the WSA’s combination of organization, feistiness and school spirit. They are devoted to our university, and they are eager to explore ways of making it an even better place to live and learn. The student body can be proud of its elected representatives.

A concern of many of our students, faculty and staff is the effects of the contemporary economic turbulence on Wesleyan. We discussed this at length with the trustees last weekend. The university’s endowment declined almost 4% in the last fiscal year (ending 6/30/2008), and the first quarter of this year has been dismal. Wesleyan does not currently face short-term liquidity issues, but we are monitoring that situation closely. Over the next months we will be developing the budget for next year, and we will have to make some cuts to bring it into balance. My priority is to protect the core academic mission from serious budget cuts, but we will certainly have to delay some of our long planned facilities projects. In times of economic distress fund-raising is even more challenging than usual. However, our generous family of donors also understands that at a time like this their gifts are more meaningful than ever. We depend on their generosity.

While uncertainties in the economy rattle the world, many turn to the major political choices we face in the coming month. Well over 100 people gathered in the Usdan University Center last week to watch the recent Vice-Presidential debate, and the voter registration efforts on campus are in high gear. Wes students are finding their political voices as they debate the issues and ponder the future.

Even as we are part of the system affected by the recent credit crunch and market slide, there is a sense in which Wesleyan remains an oasis from these preoccupations. The culture here continues to thrive in so many interesting ways! For example, as I stroll around the campus on a weekend I am struck by the rich diversity of sound one hears. Whether it’s in the CFA’s Indian music and art festival, a jam session on Foss Hill, or in a raucous Eclectic dance party, there are dozens of people at any given time making music on this campus. Students, faculty and staff are picking up guitars and drums, horns and fiddles (and more than a few laptops!), joining together to create joyful sounds. When we make music we’re also making community, finding one another as we get in tune, and inviting others into our circles as listeners, dancers, new members of the band.

Speaking of joining musical groups, I am going to sit in with Busted Roses for a gig at Usdan on Oct 16. I posted a blog about this “geezer rock band” a few months ago, and now I will be challenged to keep up with these excellent musicians.

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3 thoughts on “Economic Dissonance and a Community in Tune

  1. Dear President Roth,
    Typically, universities’ endowments are expected to make a certain amount of interest each year based on smart investments, yet these investments certainly involve some level of risk, as we have unfortunately seen over the past several months (and which Wesleyan saw to a greater extent a couple decades ago). While those who handle our endowment are certainly good at what they do, there are no guarantees with our investments. But what if Wesleyan started making investments that WERE guaranteed?

    We know that the return on investment for, say, solar panels on campus would be around 20 years or less, depending on energy prices (which are skyrocketing) and technology (which is quickly advancing). Wesleyan is planning to be around for 20 years, I assume. Why not invest in our own campus energy revolution and produce our own, renewable energy on campus? A large initial investment now would mean not having to pay exorbitant electricity bills ever again, thus saving the university millions of dollars each year.

    Wouldn’t that be a pretty sound investment, considering we don’t know what’s going to happen to our economy over the next decade or two (though the signs aren’t looking promising)? Not to mention the other obvious benefits of such a plan: we would be carrying out your pledge to the Presidents Climate Commitment, making Wesleyan an environmental and energy leader among all universities and institutions, and reducing the impacts of global climate change. Perhaps it’s time for Wesleyan to practice what it preaches by thinking outside the box, and take a bold step like this to set an example for the rest of the country–and MAKE money in the long run, guaranteed.

  2. I like this idea. Here’s another.

    I have wondered how feasible it is to have Wesleyan employees and trustees have, as part of their retirement portfolio, the opportunity to purchase Wesleyan bond issues. I gather that we have a lot of paper on the street right now, paper that we are going to have difficulty paying off in a timely way if our donors are as skittish as everyone else’s donors, or re-financing/reselling under current market conditions. Although we are all now aware that having one’s retirement savings tied up with one’s employer is not wise, we are all diversified through TIAA-CREF and other instruments, and Wesleyan is no Enron.

    While this would only make sense for those of us who are younger than sixty and not looking at immediate retirement, it would stand out as a relatively good investment in uncertain times for many of us who are loathe to speculate with the bulk of our investments in this market. I think we know Wesleyan will be there twenty, fifty, or a hundred years from now, barring a catastrophe that would make all money irrelevant.
    And it would be a way for the Wesleyan community to pitch in and help, even if many of us are worried about giving away money at this juncture.

    Tenured (sometimes not very) Radical

  3. Nate,
    That’s a great idea. There are so many ways to mount the panels, we could probably have them on every building without much (if any) reduction to the general aesthetics that come from the buildings themselves. I mean, if we wanted to, we could just glue the panels straight to the roofs, and that would be quite a camouflage. But however it is done, I do believe that self-sufficiency is the way to go.

    Mrs. Potter, I believe you also have an excellent idea. From what I know, pretty much the safest investments you can make right now are in government bonds and the like, so having people invest like that in Wesleyan seems logical as well. While I can’t be considered very knowledgeable on this subject, an idea like that seems, at the very least, a great jump off point in our struggle to thrive in this harsh economic climate.

    Thank you both for your ideas, and now, you’ve got me thinking too.

    -Phillip

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