March 2, 2004
I am writing to inform you about the college’s progress in restoring equilibrium to the college budget. At its February meeting, the Board of Trustees had a full discussion of many elements of the proposed financial plan, including the proposed changes to the dining system. Although the Board did not make a decision about the dining proposal itself, it did conclude that the dining system should absorb a share of the reductions necessary to restore balance to the college’s budget and that the cuts in the dining committee’s recommendation were of the appropriate proportion. The Board directed us to finalize a decision about dining consolidation early enough in the spring to involve students in the planning for implementation.
We have therefore decided to implement the dining consolidation plan, as proposed in the dining committee’s report. Kitchens and dining rooms will close in Baldwin, Park, and Parsons this summer. The Northrop kitchen will close this summer, but the dining room will remain open, served by the Gillett kitchen. Kitchens and dining rooms in Gardiner, Jordan, Haven/Wesley, and Talbot will close in the summer of 2005. We project that these closures will save the college $779,000 once fully implemented, a sum that represents 7 percent of the reductions proposed in the budget plan for the campus. The plan also calls for other changes, including extended hours, more menu choices, and more choices about where to eat. With these changes, Smith will continue to offer an intimate dining model unique in higher education for its number of dining halls and its small scale.
There are many complex issues involved in the implementation of both the closures and the introduction of new features. We are therefore establishing a set of working groups, each co-chaired by a student, with a number of student members, in order to plan for the fall. We plan a group on each of the following topics: menus and evaluation; traditions; access and security; community building; space use of closed dining rooms and kitchens; and communication. You will receive information from your house president about committee participation. If you have suggestions for other groups to address additional issues, we would welcome them.
I realize that many of you will be unhappy with this decision because you highly value both the community that house dining helps build and your relationships with the dining staff. We will need to work together to create other ways of sustaining community, particularly in the houses whose dining rooms will close. In addition, the college and the dining staff union have agreed to open negotiations early to determine the best ways to minimize the impact on staff.
I encourage you to think about this decision in the context of the budget challenges facing the campus. In making choices about where to assign reductions to avoid facing multi-million dollar deficits in future years, we have given priority to the academic program and to financial aid, although we have had to make changes even in these critical areas. Given the choices before us, it did not seem justifiable that dining should be protected from budget cuts. However, the dining implementation committee rejected more radical proposals that would have saved more money. We have restricted the cuts to 10% in order to maintain a dining system that, with eighteen dining rooms, remains widely distributed in comparison to that of many other colleges.
Many students have told me that they would like more opportunities to influence decisions in the critical planning process in which we are now engaged as we restore balance to the college’s budget. The Campus Climate Working Group meeting scheduled for Wednesday, March 10, at noon in the Neilson Browsing Room, will concern campus climate issues related to the planned changes in dining. We will ask for questions and suggestions to help the working groups shape their conversations. Together with members of the administration, I will also hold a series of open lunches on other topics that are of concern to students -- student jobs on campus, for example, and the curricular review currently in process. I hope to see many of you there.
Carol T. Christ