April 2, 2020 — College Finances and Looking Ahead to the Fall

To Bowdoin faculty, staff, and students,

I am writing to discuss two important issues that stem from the novel coronavirus pandemic—our financial situation and the prospects for a return to campus in the fall—and the work underway to address each issue. The concerns are serious and will require of us unwanted choices and sacrifice. As we do this work and make the necessary changes, it may be helpful to bear in mind that every college and university in the nation, if not the world, is also wrestling with these questions. We are fortunate in difficult times to have financial strength, but we are even more fortunate to be part of a remarkable community, one filled with amazing, gifted, kind, and giving individuals.

Our Financial Situation

As I discussed in my message last Friday, we are examining the financial implications of the significant decline in financial markets and the possibility that for some period of time economic growth will be slow, unemployment will remain high, and market returns will be modest. I very much hope that none of this comes to pass, but we must craft a budget for next year that reflects the reality of the situation, with an eye to a future where additional action may be necessary if things do not improve or get worse.  

As I wrote last Friday, Bowdoin has weathered financial crises and bad economic times before, and we will weather this too. As we do, we will continue to provide an amazing education and experience for our students, and we will continue to be a great place for faculty and staff to work. 

For now, the required changes to the budget will result in some difficult choices, including forgoing exciting opportunities and reducing or eliminating programs or services that we value. It will also mean sacrifice by each of us individually, as was true during the financial crisis that began in 2008. It is too early to know exactly what, when, or to what extent things will be affected. But, as I said last week, preserving jobs will be a top priority. 

As we do this work, we will seek insight and advice from the board of trustees, in particular from the Resources and Investment Committees, as well as from a group of faculty, staff, and students that I have asked to come together for this purpose. This Budget Review Group will engage with Matt Orlando and his team and with me, and will offer questions, advice, and suggestions as we build the budgets for the upcoming academic year and beyond. Chaired by Professor of Economics Ta Herrera, it will also include the following individuals:

Connie Chiang, professor of history and environmental studies
Marjorie Hassen, director, Bowdoin College Library
Will Hausmann ’22
Kelly Irving, administrative coordinator, safety and security; chair, Support Staff Advocacy Committee (SSAC)
Amy Kerr, senior director, project management, information technology
Aaron Kitch, associate professor of English
Caitlin Loi ’20
Nancy Milam, director of gift planning, development and alumni relations 
Thomas Pietraho, associate professor of mathematics
Mike Ranen, associate dean of student affairs and director of residential and student life
Collin Roesler, professor of earth and oceanographic science
Alice Wiercinski, associate director of athletics

Returning to Campus

Each of us has an overwhelming desire to have everyone back on campus in the fall and to resume something that resembles “normal” Bowdoin life. At the same time, we each understand the serious risks presented by the virus, risks that require both personal responsibility and a collective responsibility to the communities in which we live. All of the available medical and scientific information and advice we have received is that the creation, production, and wide administration of a vaccine for COVID-19 is twelve to eighteen months away. Until then, we will remain at risk and will need to account for the virus in everything we do. 

We do not know if it will be possible to bring everyone back to campus for the fall semester, but I want us to carefully examine if it can be done (and if so, how) in a manner that accounts for the presence of the virus and would be safe for our community. That said, we should be mindful that we may conclude that it is not possible, and it may also be that events take the decision out of our hands. With this in mind, I have asked a group of faculty, staff, and students to work together until mid-June to provide me with an analysis of the issues that need to be addressed in order to have all our students back on campus for the fall and still be able to safely carry out the semester. The group will also issue a set of recommendations for necessary changes, actions we will need to take, and alterations in behavior that would be required in order to successfully open the fall semester back on campus. This work will require both a clear-eyed view of the facts and realities of the situation and a creative approach to problem-solving. For example, it will include an examination of how and where students are housed, protocols for dining, social distancing rules in the classroom and in laboratories, and implications for music, theater, and dance, for athletics, for the many student activities and campus events, and for how we engage socially. I will make available to the group the resources necessary to take on this work, and I expect that they will engage not only with our community but also with outside experts. When their report is submitted to me by June 15, it will be reviewed with the Committee on Governance and Faculty Affairs (GFA) and with the board of trustees, and we will also make it available to the community.

As we reach the end of the semester, we will also create a faculty-led group to develop plans for a robust remote learning model—benefiting from the preparation time we did not have in the current situation and lessons we have learned—should we be unable to bring students back to campus in the fall or face a significant outbreak if we are back in residence.

The Return to Campus Group will be chaired by Jennifer Scanlon, our William R. Kenan Professor of the Humanities in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies. The other members are:  

Ericka Albaugh, associate professor of government
Jim Caton, assistant athletic director for communications, communications and public affairs
Eric Chown, Sarah and James Bowdoin Professor of Digital and Computational Studies
Tori Clark ’20
Allison Crosscup, director of corporate and foundation relations, development and alumni relations
Tim Hanson, associate director for security operations
Stephen Houser, senior director of academic technology and consulting
Jacob Kassama ’22
Mary McAteer Kennedy, associate vice president and executive director of campus services, dining, and Bowdoin stores
Abigail Killeen, associate professor of theater
Barry Logan, professor of biology 
Claudia Marroquin ’06, director of admissions
Ann Ostwald, director of academic budget and operations, academic affairs
Stephen Perkinson, professor of art history and associate dean for academic affairs
Melissa Quinby ’91, associate dean of students and dean of first-year students
Tim Ryan ’98, Ashmead White Director of Athletics
Sean Xie ’21

I am very grateful to Jen and Ta for their leadership and to our community members serving on each group for devoting their time and wisdom to these two critical issues. I also very much appreciate the insights from GFA with respect to the work and committee composition.

If you have thoughts to share with the Budget Review Group, please contact Ta at gherrera@bowdoin.edu. For the Return to Campus Review Group, please contact Jen at jscanlon@bowdoin.edu.

Please continue to stay safe and to think of others. 

All the best,

Clayton