In September, Jimmy announced at the first faculty meeting that there would be another budget shortfall. Since then we have been overtaken by campus climate/charter committee deliberations. Last Monday I called you all together to explain in more detail why there is a budget gap between our revenue and our expenses, and why that gap is sizable. As in 2009, when I held a series of meetings with faculty showing them the budget and the choices before us, I did not want you to be surprised when academic cuts to the budget were announced. The budget is complex and there are various components, of course, beyond the academic, but you have now heard about immediate needs: for upgrades in our social offerings, security, marketing; the raising of faculty and staff salaries and benefits; the need to pay for development out of the operating budget now that the campaign is over. We also need to take into account the strain on our budget due to ongoing retention issues and the losses this past year in annual fund giving. Finally, I wanted to remind everyone that we hope and expect to raise more money for financial aid and there is the ongoing issue of too much deferred maintenance, and the surprises that come when old buildings leak.
But more importantly, I wanted to call your attention to the fact that this is the third round of budget cuts in seven years, the third time we are faced with having to make cuts to the academic budget. I have done what I could to sustain the core of the academic curriculum by preserving tenure-track lines. Just to be clear: freezing searches as other colleges and universities did during the height of the recession doesn’t make permanent cuts in the budget unless the positions themselves are permanently eliminated, that is, the lines are lost altogether. My assumption has been that while faculty could tolerate postponing searches, they did not wish to lose lines permanently. I agree that to do so would permanently hurt the academic core of Trinity when we already have a very high student/faculty ratio relative to our peers. Thus this year, the 8 searches in English, Economics, Chemistry, History, Philosophy/Classics, Psychology, Political Science, and Religion will continue. These have all been deemed to be critical hires, core to these majors and to Trinity. The EPC has put out a call for next year’s proposals for new positions and I have discussed with the EPC that while at this point we have the money in the budget to cover these lines, I will be extremely cautious given our ongoing budget constraints.
In the past, I have considered it my highest priority to protect positions, and have instead chosen to cut department budgets, administrative positions, adjuncts, and enact salary freezes, rather than cut tenure-track lines. At some point I will not be able to continue to do so. It is debilitating when every other year we find ourselves in the grip of a fiscal crisis of one kind or another; it is impossible to plan long term. After three such crises in seven years, I have come to believe that the current budget model we have is not sustainable. Trinity must change the way we do what we do if we are to survive and thrive. We cannot afford to do everything we are doing now in the same way we are doing it now. The college has to change. The only question (as Paul Lauter said last Monday) is how and how much.
There are many kinds of restructuring that are going on in colleges and universities today: higher teaching loads, more students in classrooms, more adjuncts and fewer tenure track faculty; we know that funding for research is being cut back on the national level. Many students are more interested in pre-professional majors than in liberal arts ones. In many instances, the breadth of what colleges and universities offer has been diminished. How many of these kinds of changes can be made and still preserve what is best about the liberal arts delivery model? If we find ourselves every year 1 – 5m in debt, a rise in the teaching load for some of the faculty won’t achieve very much in savings unless positions are cut at the same time. Some radical rethinking needs to happen therefore. And everything needs to be on the table, as we think not only about the disciplines we offer but also the form in which we teach those disciplines. Not only what we teach, who we hire, how many we hire, and how much they teach, but how we teach needs to be examined.
Are there new sources of revenue that build on our strengths and could subsidize our core, traditional, undergraduate education? Given our urban/global mission, can we take advantage of globalizing connectivity? Might we leverage our knowledge capital and inviter leaders from around the world to study virtually or in person at the Center for Urban and Global Studies where they would come into contact with scholars and practitioners discussing similar problems and possible solutions? Will there be ways that on-line connections and consortial models can be forged among liberal arts colleges that could pool resources and share revenue from new courses? If our mission is to educate a citizenry for a democratic world, might we open our doors to more kinds of students as a way both to address greater access and as a way to preserve our traditional core curriculum? I have encouraged Bill Barnett, director of graduate studies, to think entrepreneurially and we are optimistic that the new track on health policy will bring robust enrollments as might a masters in teaching. We could consider low-residency forms of education, especially at the graduate level, knowing there is a growing demographic of men and women not of traditional college age wishing to begin or return to college. People who might pay for our counseling, career services, degrees, certificates, or new MA programs. Planning for a new world is challenging, but also exciting, an opportunity for us to be creative in the best sense.
In a few years, there will be a change in senior leadership at Trinity. The next few years is a perfect time for you, the faculty, to take an active role defining what kinds of change you would like to see, by investigating new and different models of what the college could be, so that you can be poised to help choose a president who will take the college with you in the direction you wish to go. You will need to be informed about what things cost in order to plan both practically and with a vision that builds onto what is best at Trinity.
So, in summary: I will be working with the other senior staff and the PBC, in the usual way, to balance the budget for next year. We will hold meetings over the next few months to keep you updated and ask for your input. I will also work with the Faculty Conference to think how best to set up a faculty planning committee that will carry on the charge presented in Jimmy’s white paper: to imagine a Trinity College of 2023. With money remaining from the Mellon grant, we can assess the long term viability of the student/faculty engagement experiments of this year and start to look at the whole of our curriculum, what we teach, how we teach it, with the resources we currently have. Two fundamentals I believe must be preserved: shared governance, in which the faculty control the curriculum and hence the academic reputation of the college; and two, the pedagogical spirit of the liberal arts model, one in which students are trained to become critical of received wisdom, independent thinkers, restless questioners, able to sift through and evaluate good and dubious data, unafraid of ambiguity and respectful of cultural differences. We know that the pedagogical liberal arts model works. How to protect and preserve the core of the liberal arts college and make it affordable must be the task of faculty as they take up this project over the next decade.
If these two core principles are preserved, I do not fear for the future.