Campus News

The Economy and Bowdoin: A Message from President Mills

Story posted October 26, 2008

October 26, 2008

To Members of the Bowdoin Community,

The turbulent state of the national and global economies has caused a great deal of uncertainty and heightened anxiety, and has undoubtedly prompted many of you to wonder about the state of Bowdoin's finances, how the volatility in financial markets will affect our current and future operations, and how these global financial challenges might affect you.

It is important to state at the outset that Bowdoin is positioned very well to ride out this period of economic instability. Our endowment — the principal purpose of which is to enable the College to weather situations exactly like this — has nearly doubled in value during the current decade. We have taken significant steps to improve and expand our facilities and programs, and we have done so without the burden of an unreasonable amount of debt. Our alumni, parents, and friends have shown enormous generosity, providing the resources necessary to support institutional priorities like need-based financial aid. And our finances are managed exceptionally well by talented and dedicated staff with the advice and assistance of trustees and alumni who are among the world's most capable professionals in business, investments, and economics. Bowdoin has seen national economic distress many times in its long history, but we have never been better positioned as an institution and as a community to deal effectively with the consequences.

All of this said, we are facing significant challenges in the months and years ahead that require clear thinking and prudent management of our resources. We will be guided in these efforts by a strict adherence to four fundamental principles: we will continue to provide sufficient resources to students who require financial aid; we will continue to support our academic program and our faculty; we will continue to perform major maintenance on our facilities; and we will continue to support the sense of community at Bowdoin so vital in times like these, focusing especially on our staff.

Going forward, we intend to maintain current levels of staffing but will need to carefully scrutinize any requests for new staff positions. These will be filled only in cases that are truly compelling. We will continue to support existing faculty but will hire new faculty only when we have new endowment to support them. This will likely mean a slower pace for new faculty positions in the foreseeable future. And we will continue to fund financial aid for all of our students admitted with need. If family circumstances change, we will work with families to the extent we can while also helping them identify other sources of funding for college.

Meanwhile, we must all work together to identify and produce cost savings wherever possible in the operations of the College. We are months away from the conclusion of our $250 million capital campaign and I have every expectation that we will meet our goal. At the same time, it is unlikely that our endowment will enjoy the high rates of return we have seen in recent years. As a result, we will hold the line on departmental budgets unless increases are required by inflation (e.g., fuel, food, postage costs). We will complete capital projects that are already underway (e.g., Searles, Watson Arena, the Health, Fitness and Wellness Center), but we will hold off on any additional building or renovation projects on campus. Projects already in the design phase will proceed with design only and will await funding before proceeding any further. This will prevent the College from incurring additional debt. We will also ask members of the faculty and staff to reevaluate the need for expenses associated with travel and professional development and to review contracts with outside businesses or agencies to determine whether any of the work can be done in-house. Finally, we will encourage members of our community — including our students — to come forward with ideas for additional cost savings.

Timing is everything, and as I stated initially, given all that we've accomplished in recent years, Bowdoin is very well positioned in this uncertain time. While our needs are constantly evolving and expanding with the growth of knowledge and the demands of education, our foundation today is exceptionally strong. We have spent nearly $100 million on building projects over the past several years and the campus is in excellent condition. Most importantly, we have the people and the programs in place to maintain our position among America's very best liberal arts colleges, even in a period of protracted economic distress. These people and programs will be our priority as we move forward.

As we work our way together through this challenging period, I ask that each of us remains sensitive to the pressures placed on families and individuals by mounting financial pressure, and that we do all we can as members of this community to preserve resources through discipline, ingenuity, and careful consideration. In doing so, I believe we will emerge from these circumstances with confidence, integrity, and renewed ambition to advance the mission of our College.

Sincerely yours,

Barry Mills

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