Faculty Meeting Focuses on the Colleges Finances
Issue   |   Wed, 11/06/2013 - 02:47

The second faculty meeting of the school year took place Tuesday, Nov. 5 in the red room. The meeting focused on updating the faculty concerning developing debates occurring on campus and featured a presentation by Chief Financial Officer Kevin Weinman on the College’s current financial situation.

The meeting opened with approval of the minutes of the last faculty meeting as well as an update concerning current Committee of Six discussion. The topics the Committee of Six is currently looking into range from discussions into the appropriateness of the current school mascot to the upcoming search for a new Dean of the Faculty to the possibility and feasibility of starting a mountain day tradition at the College (possibly starting as early as this spring).

These updates were quickly followed by a short interjection by Prof. Ronald Rosbottom, who thanked Gregory Call for his outstanding service as Dean of the Faculty over the last decade, which was followed by a standing ovation from the faculty and administration alike.

Once the applause had died down, President Biddy Martin offered her own thanks to Dean Call for his service before beginning her remarks. President Martin updated the faculty on the humanities center, stating that it is still under consideration by the administration and that she will be meeting with faculty in her home soon for further discussion concerning the center. President Martin also announced that the College has recently hired a new Title IX coordinator and asked faculty to thank Suzanne Coffey for her service as coordinator if they see her around campus.

Following these announcements the faculty had a memorial minute for Professor of Fine Arts, Emeritus Carl N. “Dick” Schmalz Jr., which included a tribute to him written by his colleagues as well as a tribute to his work and a moment of silence for his passing.

The faculty then approved new members for the College Council, approving Professor Maria Heim to Chair the Council, Professor Andrew Poe, who will begin work on the council immediately, and Professor Cathy Ciepiela, who will begin in spring 2014.

Following the vote, Chief Financial Officer Kevin Weinman made a presentation to the faculty concerning Amherst’s finances as the stand today, which took up the bulk of the meeting.

Weinman explained that the College is a high tuition, high financial aid institution, with a heavy reliance on the endowment to act as a subsidy for operations. Currently, the endowment covers 50 percent of the operating budget, with tuition covering another third.

Weinman explained that there are great strength to this system for the College’s budget, stressing that the College currently maintains one of the strongest endowments in higher education while maintaining a comprehensive fee that is two to three thousand dollars lower than the price leaders and is lower than many of the College’s peer institutions. Weinman also stated that the College currently offers some of the most generous financial aid packages of any school, has an active and generous donor base, currently holds AAA and AA+ credit ratings and is fairly conservative in its operation budgets.

However, Weinman also discussed some of the risks and limitations to the College’s current financial approach, highlighting the reliance by the College on its endowment. Because of this, and the College’s relative lack of diversification when it comes obtaining funds for it’s operating budget, the College may be susceptible to a hit if another economic downturn occurs. Furthermore, there is a large reliance on the continued philanthropy from a generous donor base, which could also take a hit in poor economic times. Weinman highlighted that some of these areas may have to be addressed as the College looks towards the future, especially in light of the strategic planning initiative the College is currently undertaking.

Weinman also pointed out trends that the college has undergone financially over the last 25 years, noting the while distribution of expenses hasn’t changed significantly, the College has experienced a growing reliance on the endowment for income over other sources like tuition. Weinman noted that though the endowment was had a 6.1x growth factor from 1990 to 2011 (faster than any of its peer institutions), in the future the College must look for ways to manage the colleges needs concerning the endowment while maintaining long term growth, as well as the need to continue building contingency plans in case future bad financial years lie in front of the College and the need to continue to get donors invest in the College and in the endowment. However, Weinman ensured the faculty that the College continues to make less risky investments than it’s peers when it comes to their endowment, which he explained is key due to the College’s reliance on the endowment as the main source for it’s funding.

When a question was raised concerning the possibility of decreasing tuition in the future at the College, Weinman stated that he predicts tuition increases above the inflation rate, such as the current four to five percent tuition hikes the College has undergone for the past several years, are not likely to continue indefinitely. However, he warned that, were the College to try and match its tuition increases to inflation rates, he foresees negative consequences. However, he said he understands the sentiment and agrees that some change will need to come in the future to decrease tuition hikes. Whether the changes will come voluntarily or through pressures by peer institution competition, Weinman said only time will tell.

The meeting concluded with an approval of the new courses for the upcoming spring semester.