Carol T. Christ, Smith Alumnae Quarterly, Winter 2003–04
With the opening of the Campus Center this fall, we have completed an important and celebratory year in Smith's history. Last fall, the classroom and studio wing of the Brown Fine Arts Center opened; in the spring we celebrated the re-opening of the art museum and the expansion of the Lyman Plant House. Many new programs are thriving: Praxis, the Center for Women and Financial Independence, the Kahn Institute for the Liberal Arts, the Poetry Center. And in the spring of 2004, we will graduate our first class of engineers, the first class of engineers ever to graduate from a women's college.
We have been able to achieve all of this because of the generosity of our alumnae at a time of great prosperity in our country. Our country is now facing economic difficulties, and Smith, like many colleges and universities, is experiencing some fiscal challenges. They result from several factors. The value of our endowment has declined because of instability in the financial markets. Because we calculate our draw from the endowment on the basis of a rolling twelve-quarter average, the bad quarters we have experienced will affect our income for some time. The financial need of our students has increased significantly. Smith has a relatively high proportion of students on aid—61 percent—and their need has been growing. In addition, while overall philanthropic support has never been higher and the percentage of those giving has increased (an important measure of alumnae satisfaction), we experienced a decline last year in dollars received for unrestricted purposes, no doubt a result of the economy. Finally, health insurance costs for employees have risen sharply.
To meet these budgetary challenges, we are looking carefully at every aspect of our operation, seeking to determine where we might achieve savings. In order to protect the academic program and financial aid, we are giving particular attention to administrative and service areas. Through voluntary separation plans for selected groups of employees, the banking of vacant positions, and policies fostering internal mobility, we are trying to minimize job loss.
As many of you know and appreciate, Smith has an open and democratic culture. We debate proposed actions vigorously, and controversy from these discussions sometimes spills into the alumnae community, particularly when we talk about some area of cherished tradition, like dining. I have said frequently to the campus community that we cannot be afraid to ask questions about cost or consider alternatives in reviewing our budget. We may not choose to pursue them, but, to use a mixed dining metaphor, we cannot take our sacred cows off the table without a clear understanding of the effect on the rest of the menu.
I take very seriously the problem of rising college costs. When we project annual comprehensive fees over $40,000 in not very many years, we all have to ask ourselves hard questions about our operations. Even if we were not facing budgetary challenges, I feel it is appropriate to give our expenditures strict scrutiny. Every dollar we spend comes from the pocket of a student, her family, a donor, or an alumna. We owe it to all of them to ask ourselves how we spend our income and to make changes when appropriate.
I believe that times of financial challenge offer particularly fruitful opportunities for strategic planning. Another planning project on which we have just embarked is a year-long review of the shape of the faculty with a goal to identify the particular strengths in Smith's academic program, and the opportunities offered by the directions in which fields of study are moving. Because of the age profile of our faculty, we will experience a significant number of retirements in the next several years. We are therefore asking ourselves what the shape of the Smith faculty a decade from now should be—how we can maintain our traditional strengths while developing new ones.
We are therefore at an exciting point of transition for Smith. We are celebrating the successful completion of a number of projects, and we are also looking forward, engaged in a thoughtful and vigorous discussion of what the next decade will hold. Just as your generosity has enabled us to realize the exciting events of the past year, you can help us realize the new projects that will take shape from the planning process on which we have embarked.