President's Speeches and Remarks

February 3, 2003

The State of the College

I am very pleased and honored to stand before you today as the President of Bowdoin College to speak with you and answer your questions about the state of the College.  
Bowdoin College is, as it has been throughout its history, committed to the liberal education of our students and to supporting the research, scholarship and artistic work of its faculty.  We are also committed to all of our staff who in many cases spend their entire careers at Bowdoin working hard to support the core missions of the College.  No employer could ask for a more talented and devoted group.

The College, by all objective measures, is very, very strong.  We receive nearly 4500 applications for only 450 spots.  We are able to admit only approximately 23% of the applicants.  Bowdoin students come to Brunswick from around the country and the world, but even as Bowdoin has grown into a national and international college, we still maintain our long commitment to the students of the state of Maine who, year in and year out, represent between 10-15% of each entering class.

Nearly 40% of Bowdoin students receive financial aid from the College, with the average grant being approximately $20,000.  I know from speaking to many students in Maine that they and their parents believe we are just too expensive⎯that they can’t afford a Bowdoin education.  But, for those who qualify for financial aid, it is not unusual for students to find that our aid packages can make Bowdoin less expensive to attend than the University of Maine.

Now I know that some consider us to be the rich kid on the hill.  I must say that it doesn’t feel like that from where I sit.  Operating a college like Bowdoin is enormously expensive and competitive.  We are a preeminent liberal arts institution.  We are proud and I hope Brunswick is proud that we are considered to be among the very, very best liberal arts colleges in the world.  I believe that this can be and is a great source of civic pride that has very real value for the people and businesses of Brunswick.  Given our place as a preeminent college⎯we compete for students and faculty and are compared with very, very wealthy colleges and universities with many more financial resources than Bowdoin.  Accordingly, Bowdoin must set its priorities and be true to its principles, confident that in doing so we will maintain our value as an educational institution and moreover, enhance the education of our students and the intellectual life of our faculty and campus.  This is a very tough challenge.

At Bowdoin we are dedicated to the core principles I have articulated since arriving on campus nearly 18 months ago.

First, we are committed to maintaining and enhancing our academic program, because first and foremost, we are a place for serious learning and scholarship.

Second, we are committed to ensuring that our students come through the same door.  That means that we must have the resources and the commitment to provide financial aid so that the best and brightest may study at Bowdoin regardless of financial means.

Third, we are committed to our community⎯to the preservation and enhancement of a respectful and dynamic campus community intensely engaged in the life of our college.

Timing is everything, and I know that this group understands the economic challenges facing all of us.  You have doubtless read in the papers about Bowdoin eliminating the full-time equivalent of between 25 and 30 administrative and support staff positions, either through layoffs or vacancies.  Although it is never easy to ask people to leave their jobs at the College⎯and I am very, very troubled by this turn of events⎯it is important for you and the community you represent to understand that Bowdoin is not in financial distress or dire straits.  We are forced to balance our checkbook like every household in America, and to do what’s necessary to maintain our priorities.  Everything we do at Bowdoin we do well and with quality.  It is difficult to make choices, but we must do so.

Like most colleges and universities across America, we have fewer financial resources to work with than we expected we would.  Our endowment earned superb returns relatively⎯we have been up 1% over the recent past.  Public reports suggest that colleges have lost 6% on their endowments and everyone in this room can look to their own retirement accounts for benchmarks.  I am sure that many of you would be very happy to be even in investment return.  So we are very pleased with our endowment’s performance and the maintenance of its value.  The problem is that you can’t take relative performance to the Shop & Save.  We built college operations on the assumption that endowment growth would be in the range of 7%, a reasonable assumption over the long term, but it hasn’t been reality for a few years.

So, given that tuition and charges to our students only cover about 60% of our expenses, we needed to reset what we can do and not do.  We are in the process of making these choices with a focus on our priorities.  It is important for our budget to be guided by our principles rather than our principles established by our budgets.

We will be presenting to our trustees when they arrive on campus this week an optimistic budget for the College. This budget ensures that we can continue to enhance the academic program of the College and to provide financial aid resources, while we also continue to provide opportunity and a stable and secure future to our community.

Let me say that we rely entirely on the good wishes and commitment of our alums, parents, friends and foundations for much of what we do at the College.  We aren’t a business that generates revenue, we rely on the generosity of others to build our endowment.  That generosity is strong⎯with nearly 58% of Bowdoin alumni contributing every year to the College.  We are grateful for this generosity, but never take it for granted.  We must continue to be excellent in order to earn this support.

The Town of Brunswick was incorporated in 1739 and Bowdoin came to Brunswick in 1794.  So we have a long and important relationship that is synergistic, cooperative and mutually supportive.  Bowdoin is a proud member of the Brunswick community.  The beauty, and vitality of this community is essential to Bowdoin. Our location in Brunswick is one of our great competitive advantages and something we showcase in our publications and on our Web site. We appreciate all that you do to make Brunswick what it is today and we support your efforts to keep a watchful eye on the future.

We also believe that the College is integral to the life of Brunswick.  Although there will always be ways to improve and enhance our cooperation, I am very, very proud of the Bowdoin students who spend many, many hours in the Brunswick schools as teaching assistants, tutors, mentors and coaches.  I am proud of the contributions of our faculty and staff, many of whom are active participants in local schools and civic organizations. And I am also proud of the public lectures, artistic performances, sporting events, and the community service projects that Bowdoin people organize and participate in to strengthen this community.  Bowdoin is a better place because of the Brunswick, and I am confident that Brunswick is a more vibrant community because of Bowdoin College.

On a personal note, Karen and William, Henry, George and I moved to Brunswick in July of 2001.  We are delighted to be here.  We have made friends in Brunswick, many of whom are connected with Bowdoin and many of whom are not.  You will find us on the sidelines of sporting events⎯basketball at the Rec facility, or on the lacrosse field with the Rec league team or at the Bowdoin swimming pool with the Brunswick team.  Our boys go to the public schools here in town and this community very pleased with the quality of its schools.  We feel welcomed by this community and, for people from away, we are very happy to be residents of this wonderful town.

I would be happy to answer questions.