Verbum Ultimum: Tightening Our Belts

by THE DARTMOUTH EDITORIAL BOARD | 11/14/08 8:19am

The Dartmouth administration yesterday outlined changes to the College's budget in response to the recent plunge in the endowment and overall economic downturn ("College to cut budget by 40 mil.," p. 1). Though the endowment has outperformed the market and the endowments of several peer institutions, the College is correctly exercising caution in budgetary measures. We commend the College on its transparency in this matter and agree with many of the stipulations and priorities set forth in Provost Barry Scherr's e-mail to the campus.

While the staff hiring freeze is certainly unfortunate, it may promote staff mobility by filling staffing needs from an in-house candidate pool. But the hiring of faculty should remain untouched for as long as possible; we trust the College, already struggling with faculty retention, to resort to cuts in this area only as a last resort. Education is, after all, the point of this institution -- it must remain the ultimate priority.

We thus support the College's commitment to protect financial aid, an assurance that a number of peer institutions have not been able to make. This resolution is particularly important at a time when the state of the economy, coupled with subsequent tuition increases, makes a college education increasingly difficult to afford.

Also laudable is the College's piecemeal approach to reconciling budget cuts with institutional development. Instead of implementing a general development freeze, the College has committed to carrying out existing projects, an approach crucial to maintaining morale and a sense of stability that half-finished construction projects would undermine.

The state of the College's finances demands changes beyond those enumerated in the McKinsey report in 2005. While many of the management structure changes recommended in the report amount to little more than an exercise in consulting braggadocio, the College should heed McKinsey's advice and "streamline" mid-level administration when making its decisions about reducing expenses.

Adam Keller, executive vice president of finance and administration, has asked all divisions and departments to prepare contingency plans for budget reductions of 5, 10 and 15 percent. Even if the plans are not fully implemented, their very creation may help the various divisions re-establish their priorities and recognize their inefficiencies.

Though this is the first time our generation has encountered this level of economic unrest, it should not be a cause for panic about the future of the College. Lest we forget, Dartmouth was named one of Booz Allen Hamilton's 10 "World's Most Enduring Institutions" in 2004. President Wright is correct in noting that Dartmouth has ridden out turbulent financial times before, and it will do so again.