University Budget discussions take place over several months, with a variety of committees weighing in before the final document is approved by the Board of Trustees at its May meeting each year. Since 2008, we have tried to make much more information available to faculty, staff and student representatives. There is a budget priority committee, a compensation and benefits committee, a budget working group, and then the Finance Committee of the Board of Trustees. There are students, faculty, staff, alumni and parents on these different committees so that we can benefit from their input. The Board, mostly Wesleyan alumni with student, faculty and staff representatives, approves the final budget.
We have been discussing the budget with faculty, student, alumni and staff representatives all year — with a series of focused conversations since February. Of course, not each and every member of these groups has been personally consulted, but representatives have had access to all the data we have. These discussions have been reported on in the Argus, Wesleying, and on this blog.
There have been some folks who want to cut the arts, or athletics, or research support, or sabbaticals, or landscaping, or food quality, or the level of air conditioning. Any meaningful cuts are cuts to compensation levels or to the number of employees at the university.
There have also been folks who want to increase revenue. Come to think of it, nobody has been against increases in revenue! But there are people who are against hiking tuition even more aggressively than we have done in the past, against increasing the number of students leading to crowded classrooms, against selling buildings and land, and against the further commercialization of the university.
There are people who think we shouldn’t worry about the endowment. Rather than put money into the endowment for the future, worry about the needs today. This view has played an important role in Wesleyan’s history, but in recent years we have asked our donors to direct their gifts to the endowment even as we have reduced spending from the endowment. I think this is especially important given the significant losses our investments sustained in 2008. We have yet to recover from those losses, and we still must prepare to begin repaying the $200 million of debt on our books from the early 2000s.
Despite all of these issues, Wesleyan is in an enviable financial situation. We have a balanced budget every year, a beautiful campus and great facilities. As compared to our peer institutions, we are very lean in regard to administrative expenses, thanks to our hardworking staff. Our faculty is second to none: dedicated teachers who also advance their own fields through research and creative practice. We have many resources on which to draw, the most important of which is an extraordinarily talented group of people who care fervently about the health of the institution.
I believe we have charted a sustainable path to maintain for the long-term the highest quality educational experience for our students. This includes supporting the teacher-scholar model that has served us so well, and seeking a diverse student body whose talents, independence and work ethic will enable them as graduates to build on the transformative impact of their Wesleyan years and make a lasting contribution to the world around them.
We will continue to discuss this path, and how we can improve it, with all members of the Wesleyan family. Beginning again in the fall we will continue to meet on campus with student, staff, alumni and faculty groups to gather their best ideas, and we will integrate these into our planning. We will post information online, and we will meet with alumni groups around the country. We will be discussing more than university finances. We will be discussing how Wesleyan’s approach to liberal arts education can continue to make a positive impact on our graduates and on our society. We will be discussing how our curriculum should respond to the challenges and opportunities of today, so that our alumni are in a position to help shape the culture of the future.
I look forward to these conversations, and I expect to learn from them. After all, there is a lot at stake — not just for Wesleyan but for the future of progressive liberal arts education.