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A Conversation with President James Wright

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President Wright recorded a "Views from the Green" podcast about the College budget on Feb. 8, following the February meeting in which the Board of Trustees approved the administration's budget-reconciliation plan. The following is an edited transcript of the conversation. To listen in, click here.

VIEWS FROM THE GREEN: Talk with us about the priorities that informed your decisions.

wrightPresident James Wright (Photo by Joseph Mehling 69)
PRESIDENT JAMES WRIGHT: Dartmouth builds from a position of strength, providing one of the strongest academic and student programs in the country, and we needed to make certain that when we came through this that we were protecting those things. Guiding us through the whole process has been a sense that we need to maintain access for the very best students to come here, to the financial aid program that we have, and we need 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 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 the decisions about reductions made?

WRIGHT: Well, the process was very difficult. It's hard to cut at the magnitude that we've had to 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 informed 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 asked each of the vice presidents and deans and area heads to think about what they might be able to do to provide projected 5, 10, and 15 percent cost reductions. They did that; everyone has been incredibly cooperative. We went through the projected reductions, we had a series of 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 [of Trustees], which has endorsed our plan going forward.

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

WRIGHT: We tried to minimize the amount of layoffs. We know that to make cuts such as we are needing to make that we could not do it without a significant reduction in compensation, because it's such a significant part of our budget. We provided opportunities for retirement plans, we encouraged people to think about reduced hour options, we froze positions that were open in the fall to see which of those we might decide not to fill. And still we ended up with 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. We're going to give them an advantage in any position that opens up at the College that they might be eligible for. 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: A lot 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 set out to do, and what we have done, is certainly provide us a couple of years in which our budget should be in balance, or more or less in balance. I think it's incumbent on all of us over the next few years to continue to look for 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 that might be implemented over the next year or so. I really am pleased and gratified by the way that people who work at Dartmouth stepped up with suggestions.



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Last Updated: 2/13/09