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Podcast by President James Wright

February 9, 2009

Listen to the podcast on Views from the Green


VIEWS FROM THE GREEN: Hello. I’m Rick Adams in the Dartmouth College Office of Public Affairs. Today is Monday, February 9, 2009. Dartmouth today announced a number of budget-cutting measures as a result of the ongoing world economic crisis. I’m joined today by Dartmouth College President James Wright … President Wright thanks for talking with us today. Talk with us a little bit today about the priorities that informed your decisions.

PRESIDENT JAMES WRIGHT: Dartmouth builds from a position of strength, providing here one of the strongest academic and student programs in the country, and we need to make certain that when we came through this that we were protecting those things. So guiding us through the whole process has been a sense that we need to maintain access for the students … for the very best students to come here, to the financial aid program that we have, and we need to try to protect the work of the faculty inside and outside of the classroom, because that provides the tremendous intellectual energy that makes Dartmouth the sort of community that it is.

We also wanted to protect the broader sense of community here, for everyone who works at Dartmouth, because there’s a tremendous commitment and loyalty to this institution, and we need to look for ways to signal how much we reciprocate and care about that relationship.

VIEWS: This is an incredibly difficult time for the College like all institutions like ours. How were those decisions, on what and where to reduce made, and how difficult a process was that?

WRIGHT: Well, the process was very difficult. It’s hard to cut at the magnitude that we’ve had to be cutting without it being very difficult. Dartmouth has been a well-run organization. There’s not a lot of low-hanging fruit for us to just reach out and grab. To the extent that there was, we removed that several years ago, when we went through the last round of budget cuts. And so we tried to inform people in the fall of the nature and the magnitude of the problem. We tried to inform them of what it was that we were intending to do. We informed everyone about those priorities that we’re going to protect; and we asked for input. There have been a series of meetings with staff and faculty and students about this. We’ve asked each of the vice presidents and deans and area heads to think about what it is that they might be able to do to provide projected five or 10 or 15 percent reductions in their costs. And then we spent a lot of time going through these, and we finally came up with a final set of objectives for each division, asked them to go back and prepare for us a set of cuts that they would do to meet our objectives. They did that; everyone has been incredibly cooperative. They understand the magnitude and the nature of the problem that we have. We went through them, we had a series of high-level discussions about them, we tried them out on some groups of students and faculty with whom we’ve been meeting, and we finally brought them to the Board this past weekend, and the Board has endorsed our plan going forward.

VIEWS: A part of the plan is a reduction in force, through retirements, through attrition, and unfortunately because of layoffs. How is Dartmouth assisting those who are most directly affected – those who are being laid off?

WRIGHT: We tried to minimize the amount of layoffs. We know that in an institution like Dartmouth to make cuts such as we are proposing to make – such as we are needing to make – we could not do it without a significant reduction in compensation, because it’s such a significant part of our budget. We tried to provide opportunities for retirement plans, we tried to encourage people to think about reduced hour options, we froze positions that were open in the fall in order for us to take a look at them to see which of those we might decide not to fill. And still we ended up with 50 or 60 positions that had to be reduced, and we’ve gone ahead with that process of laying off people.

It’s quite uncommon at Dartmouth – [but] it’s not unprecedented. We’ve had this two or three times in the last 20 years, but we always try to minimize it, and we try to treat the people who are laid off well. We are providing them compensation based on the number of years that they’ve worked here, we’re providing them some bridge support for their health care, we’re allowing them to continue in housing and child care, [and other] services at the College for the near term, and we’re going to try to help them by giving them an advantage in any position that opens up at the College that they might be eligible for in the future. It’s difficult. Everyone who loses their job is a universe of one, and it’s very difficult at this time. I don’t think we should ever try to minimize the impact of that, but we’re trying to do whatever we can to at least provide support for people in this difficult period.

VIEWS: You mentioned that this is an uncommon situation; it’s an uncommon time in Dartmouth’s history. There’s a lot that has been done to balance the budget, but there may be more work that needs to be done. What can the community do to continue to meet the challenge?

WRIGHT: I think that none of us know how this is going to play out. I think that what we tried to do, what we set out to do, and what have done, is certainly provide us a couple of years in which our budget should be in balance, or more or less in balance. None of us can predict the future, and I think its incumbent on all of us over the next few years to continue to look for ways in which we might accomplish some efficiencies [through] which we might become even more effective in meeting our core purpose.

A lot of people have sent in suggestions. I spent a Sunday a few weeks ago reading through them. People took great care in thinking about ways in which we might save money, and there are some very thoughtful things there that might be implemented over the next year or so. There were not many of them that could simply be announced and done at this time, but I really am pleased and gratified by the way that people who work at Dartmouth stepped up with suggestions.

VIEWS: Given the changes and the reductions … you’ve talked about the priorities of the College: how is Dartmouth positioned now, with what’s been done, to protect those priorities?

WRIGHT: I think that now, today, next year, Dartmouth will continue to provide an exceptional learning environment for the very best students and the very best faculty. Our mission, our purpose, is to truly provide here an opportunity for the best students of this generation to receive an educational experience that will enable them to become the leaders of the next generation. We will continue to do that. The core, the integrity, the basic principles of the Dartmouth Experience have been protected.

VIEWS: President Wright, thank you for talking with us.

WRIGHT: Thank you.

Last Updated: 11/4/09