Over the last week of semester I’ve been meeting with different groups about our plans to deal with the impact of the economic crisis. (see: http://www.wesleyan.edu/administration/securingthefuture/ )
When I returned from California I had a long discussion with the Wesleyan Student Assembly. They had many good questions concerning the proposal I brought to the Board on how we would balance the budget over the next several years while continuing to protect and cultivate the core educational experience we offer. Although we talked about a variety of issues, the students returned frequently to whether we could successfully integrate an additional 30 students a year for four years. How much pressure would this put on our housing and dining facilities? How would it affect class access and the admissions process? These are all important questions, and we are drawing up plans in each of these areas to determine how we can temporarily accommodate an increase of about 4% to our student body.
Some commentators among trustees, students and faculty are reminded of the very rapid enrollment growth at Wesleyan in the 1970s, when the school more than doubled in size. I should make clear that we are studying a measured increase of only 4%, and we have no plans to go beyond that.
In the beginning of the week I met with faculty representatives and then with the faculty as whole. While I was traveling, there was considerable discussion online about the proposed salary freeze, the enrollment increase, and on whether there has been adequate consultation. Our face-to-face meetings turned out to be very productive. I underscored that the scenario I outlined to the board was a draft that we are open to revising – as long as we meet our budget obligations. There has been and will continue to be detailed consultation. The faculty members are clearly invested in working together to find a solution that will provide for the long-term health of the institution. Our professors take their responsibility to guide the university very seriously, and they are willing to join in making sacrifices as long as these will contribute to setting Wesleyan on a path to greater academic and economic strength. There are difficult trade-offs ahead of us, but I was reminded of how fortunate we are to have a faculty so devoted to our community.
At the end of the week I met with the senior administrative staff, to present these institutional leaders a sense of the economic challenges ahead. They, too, asked questions about potential enrollment increases, and about the possibility of a salary freeze. We are agreed on the importance of protecting jobs even as we become more efficient across the variety of departments. I made it clear that a potential salary freeze would start at the top – with me and with my Cabinet. But it is also important to recognize that those with the most modest pay are those likely to feel these changes most acutely. It’s for that reason we are exploring ways to mitigate the effects of any salary freeze on our most vulnerable employees.
While I meet with various stakeholders about the budget, most of the people around me are preparing for finals or grading them. Many students are putting the finishing touches on papers, performances and experiments, while others are up late cramming for those big exams. There is plenty of pressure, but we all know the holiday break is fast approaching.
While our students and teachers are finishing their work for this semester, lots of high school seniors are opening envelopes telling them that they will be starting their undergraduate education in Middletown next fall. The first round of Early Decision is complete, and our Admissions Office reports that the great surge in applications (over 35%) also resulted in an extremely talented pool. I very much look forward to welcoming these first members of the class of ‘13 into the Wesleyan family!
Good luck with the final push, and HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!