Those interested in comparing Morty’s letter with those from other college/universities can see below for the ones from Duke and UPenn. If you have received a similar letter from a different institution of higher education, please add it in the comments. I would especially like to read the letters (if any) from direct competitors like Amherst, Swarthmore, Middlebury, et al.

Dear Members of the Duke Community,

The continuing news about the economy has made this a time of uncertainty and painful prospects for virtually every family in America. I want you to know how these developments are affecting Duke.

We enter this challenging period with a strong financial foundation. The university’s economic situation is stable and secure thanks to a long period of positive investment returns, record support from alumni and friends, continued growth in research support, and prudent and creative management of our resources.

Duke’s endowment has been one of the most successful among all U.S. universities. For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2008, the endowment recorded a 6.2 percent increase in market value – this at a time when many comparable funds actually declined in value. Indeed, though the past few months’ results have not been positive, over the past ten years the Duke University endowment has grown at an average annual rate of 15.6 percent, which places it among the top performers of all university endowments.

In real terms, that growth has created significant new resources for strategic investments in financial aid, faculty, programs, and facilities, all of which have fueled Duke’s continued momentum.

The performance of the endowment is due in large part to smart and prudent stewardship by DUMAC, the university’s investment office, which has put together a diversified portfolio that limits our exposure to wild gyrations in the market. In addition, the university’s policy of spending a fixed percentage of the value of the endowment, averaged out over several years, ensures that noticeable drops (or increases) in the value of the endowment will not lead to dramatic, year-to-year changes in the amount of money available for operations and investments in strategic priorities.

First among these priorities is ensuring that a Duke education is affordable for all students, regardless of their ability to pay. Duke’s longstanding commitment to need-blind admissions, and to meeting the full demonstrated financial need of all students admitted and enrolled, remains unchanged. Indeed, it is in times of financial stress that this promise is most important. The imminent completion of the $300 million Financial Aid Initiative is tangible proof of our dedication to this promise. Likewise, we will continue to work closely with our current and future students to address sudden changes in their financial circumstances that might threaten their ability to be at Duke.

Duke has always been a place of outrageous ambitions, and we must sustain our forward movement, even in what we hope will be a temporary dislocation in the global economy. Given the uncertainty of this time, we will continue to carefully monitor the flow of revenues and expenses and make needed adjustments, and we will move cautiously on long-term facilities commitments. At the same time, by using the university’s resources wisely, we will be able to make continued progress toward our most crucial goals. Our recently completed strategic plan will help us identify the highest priority areas for building and maintaining the university’s excellence.

At times like this, it can be useful to have a sense of history. Duke University was born on the eve of the Great Depression and began its rise in the midst of this country’s deepest economic crisis. Through recessions, wars, and other times of challenge, Duke has continued its mission of teaching, learning, research, and service. And by making wise choices in both good times and hard times, this university has reached a position of national and global leadership beyond what its founders could ever have imagined.

The strength of the Duke community will help us meet these current challenges and continue to advance Duke toward its highest goals.


Richard H. Brodhead

[From University of Pennsylvania]

Dear Members of Our University Community:

Over the last few weeks the world has seen the American capital and credit markets experience their worst turmoil in three generations. It is no wonder that the state of the economy is on everyone’s mind, even as we go about our day-to-day work of studying, teaching, conducting research, volunteering in our communities and supporting the mission of this great university.

I would like to take this opportunity to communicate with you about how we at Penn are being affected and how, together, we will weather this challenging time in our nation’s history.

To begin with the good news and the most important fact about Penn today: by every major measure, we are stronger than ever before in our history. We set new records in fundraising in 2008, and by a wide margin. We raised $608 million, including $476 million in cash, and our fundraising for this year-to-date is ahead of target. As important, the many generous donors to Penn have resonated to our highest priorities and therefore have geared their gifts to financial aid, faculty support (including interdisciplinary programs, institutes and centers) and facilities. We completed the acquisition of the postal lands and we laid the groundwork for carrying out the award-winning Penn Connects master plan of our expanded campus.

We initiated a groundbreaking no-loan initiative in undergraduate financial aid. We significantly improved graduate student stipends, which are also now the best in Penn’s history. We remain firmly committed to making a Penn education affordable for students from all economic backgrounds.

In addition to moving ahead on our strategic priorities, the leadership team at Penn also has been working proactively to mitigate financial risk and protect our financial base. For example, over the last year, the University’s Investment and Treasurer’s offices smartly diversified our short-term investments, reducing our investment in the CommonFund (a short term investment fund for nearly 900 colleges and universities) from $250 million to only $100,000 at the time the CommonFund’s trustee placed restrictions on the withdrawal of funds. Some of our peers were not so fortunate. With respect to the endowment, over the past year, the University has undertaken several operational enhancements including suspension of its securities lending program in order to protect our cash position.

Our spending rule on endowment reflects the best practice of “smoothing” spending over time, so that when our returns soared in 2007, our spending did not increase at the same rate. Likewise, our decline in 2008 will not result in a reduction in spendable income in 2010.

We do need to manage our resources all the more prudently and we therefore have redoubled all of our efforts at fiscal discipline and high productivity, two hallmarks of Penn’s operating philosophy. Perhaps more than any other eminent institution of higher education, we at Penn know how to do more with less.

All this said, however, it also bears emphasizing that we are not immune to the declines in the markets, the rising cost of and declining access to debt and the potential impact on philanthropy, three areas of great importance to us.

The key to Penn’s ongoing success, and essential to maintaining our momentum during this period of uncertainty in the markets, will be maintaining a keen focus on our strategic priorities. Penn’s central administration, schools and resource centers will continue to work together to analyze the impact of an evolving economic situation on our current budget and future budgets. We will adjust budgets prudently and proactively, always with a mind toward protecting our gains and ensuring ongoing pursuit of our highest priorities. Entering the current budget year, many of our schools and centers had
already factored tighter economic conditions into their budgets.

I am asking all members of the Penn community to work closely with colleagues and managers in their areas of responsibility to assess their spending and to manage their resources in protection and pursuit
of Penn’s highest priorities.

The premium on prioritizing wisely and judiciously is even greater in times such as these, when we face not only challenges, but opportunities as well. The problems in the financial markets will take time to be resolved. Volatility in the markets is likely to continue for some time. Penn is very well positioned to weather this uncertainty. We will continue to protect and pursue our highest priorities. We will carry out the responsibilities that have been entrusted to us, and we will thereby sustain our great momentum in moving from excellence to eminence.

If there are specific concerns or questions that I can answer, please email me at Should the impact of the economic situation on the University change significantly, I will continue to update you.


Amy Gutmann

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