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Shocked

Most depressing comment on EphBlog this month? This one from Jeff.

In his Record farewell article, Morty mentions — and this shocked me — that a few varsity sports may have to be cut if the economy fails to improve in a few years.

You were “shocked” by this? Don’t you read EphBlog? Williams is in huge, huge trouble. How many times do I need to say that? Here is the quote from Morty.

He predicted that if the recession continues for several years, the College will reduce its budget in ways similar to other colleges, perhaps by eliminating a couple of the 32 varsity sports teams, forcing staff to take unpaid furloughs and reducing the amount of financial aid offered to international students. “If the recession ends, we’ll never see these things,” Schapiro said. “But if things don’t recover, there will be years of financial difficulty. We’re going to hold to our principles, but we’re going to sacrifice.”

Although I do not think that the Trustees are doing enough, they still plan on spending $8.5 million less from the endowment in 2010-2011 then they will this coming year. Look around at the Williams budget. Think it is easy to find $8 million to cut, especially after all the cuts that have already been made? It isn’t.

One of the reasons that I have been so adamant about cutting the budget now is because, once you have spent money this year, it isn’t coming back. That money is gone forever.

Middlebury just cut spending on crew. Williams is a richer school than Middlebury but not that much richer.

The trade-offs are fairly obvious. Williams spends about $200,000 per year on the Bolin Fellowships. I think that this money is pretty much wasted. (During flush times, I would have preferred to spend that money on Williams professors.) But, even if you think that the spending is valuable, you need to compare it to other things that the College provides, because the recession means that something is being cut.

Once you add in coaching salaries and other expenses, crew probably costs somewhere around $200,000 per year. By keeping Bolin for at least one or two more years, we are jeopardizing a year of crew.

You can have Bolin or you can have crew. You can’t have both. Choose.

UPDATE: Further discussion here

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#1 Comment By rory On May 27, 2009 @ 8:50 am

and so the merry go round of ephblog goes ’round and ’round again!

http://icanhascheezburger.files.wordpress.com/2007/10/128347239915312500therehasbeeng.jpg

#2 Comment By David On May 27, 2009 @ 8:53 am

Rory: Many thanks for another valuable contribution to the discussion at EphBlog.

#3 Comment By frank uible On May 27, 2009 @ 9:17 am

And, of course, both can be cut.

#4 Comment By rory On May 27, 2009 @ 9:24 am

umm…you’re welcome?

#5 Comment By Ben Fleming On May 27, 2009 @ 9:39 am

This post is sooooooooo unfair to the crew team and the Bolin Fellows. Both programs are unique and beautiful snowflakes whose value to Williams precludes all attempts at description or quantification. By suggesting either should be cut, you are offending anyone who has ever rowed. And all the fellows out there.

[Not in the “Guys and Dolls” sense, though — I’m not saying every dude reading should take offense. Every hobbit, maybe.]

#6 Comment By JeffZ On May 27, 2009 @ 9:56 am

Sorry to have depressed you, DK.

#7 Comment By Larry George On May 27, 2009 @ 10:07 am

(As an aside, pick another sport next time. Crew was not a good comparison point. The programs have long been very different at Midd and Williams. It’s like comparing vegetables and fruits.)

But it still remains that the choice may not be what you think it is. We have discussed this before, but is the Bolin program endowed or partially endowed? The program appears on this 2007 or 2008 development wish list for being endowed or achieving a higher level of endowment (http://www.williams.edu/admin/cfr/funding.php) but I don’t now if funds were given/added. It could be that, when frank Oakley founded the program in 1985, it had, say, 50th reunion money from the Class of 1935, but that was a pre-digital age so I don’t have a way to retrieve those press releases (subsequent digital releases about fellows being named are silent about funding levels or sources). If it is/to the extent it is endowed, cutting the program saves Williams nothing or very little unless the documents setting up an endowed source allow the funds to revert to the college for another purpose.

And why pick on the Bolin program anyway? Beating on it again and again gets very old and suggests that you have another agenda. Why not compare hiring (or retaining) a faculty member, at whatever level the numbers match, with eliminating X microscopes or shuttering the telescopes or cutting back Y hours of operation at the museum or killing off Z major concerts?

#8 Comment By ’10 On May 27, 2009 @ 10:24 am

Middlebury’s crew program is a much less successful club program, and the Williams team is beyond comparison. Williams usually races 8 person boats, and put together a 4 person boat with second-string athletes that beat Middlebury’s 4 person boat, even though it is not Williams main event and Midd had its top athletes training for the event all season. The Williams women are closing in on their 4th national championship, and although men’s crew is not an NCAA sport, the Williams men pulled out a big win this spring and beat Trinity for the first time in a decade.

The coaches seem to work really hard to cut costs. The teams lean on alumni and parents whenever traveling, rarely staying in hotels. The rowers also do a lot of fundraising on their own, with weekends doing odd jobs and a big indoor rowing marathon.

#9 Comment By JG On May 27, 2009 @ 10:24 am

Larry – he doesn’t suggest cutting those things because he thinks they have value. As he said, he thinks Bolin fellows are essentially worthless.

David Kane:

I think that this money is pretty much wasted.

It doesn’t matter what any of us say – evidence be damned! He wants the program cut no matter where the funding comes from (although in magical Kane land dedicated funding and directed endowments are apparently quaint ideas that can be ignored at will). The fact that many students report positive experiences and have/see more role models and diversity in academia doesn’t matter. The fact that some faculty have written on this blog to say they find it valuable obviously doesn’t matter. David Kane wants it cut, therefore just about ever possible post (seriously, including one about athletics?) becomes about Bolin Fellows.

BTW – if you ever wanted to know what I mean by KaneBlog, this is it. I think Sam might have a different but related one.

And sorry, one last thing, why do you need to start off a post implying that a regular poster/blogger here is somehow deficient for not having your exact perspective on things? He didn’t say he was shocked Williams is concerned about finances, he said he was surprised athletics might be cut. One is basic economic reality, the other is budget priorities.

And Rory, I actually do thank you for that contribution. This post is basically snark and repeats…my guess is the comments will say the same exact thing as the other 17 posts on the same topic…although I think this time crew subs in for football or study abroad or somesuch.

#10 Comment By Whitney Wilson ’90 On May 27, 2009 @ 10:24 am

Perhaps David is “picking” on the Bolin Fellowships because he really thinks there are more valuable ways to spend the money. I suppose that is an “agenda,” but its not nefarious. From my perspective, if I were setting up the Bolin program against another way to “save” $200,000, I might prefer to eliminate $200,000 in grants from financial aid packages and replace that money with loans. Others might prefer to eliminate a couple of faculty positions, or administration positions, or something else.

The bottom line is that, if David is correct about the medium-term strength of the endowment, some fairly sacred cows are going to be cut, whether its by layoffs, changes in financial aid, elimination of sports teams, raises in tuition, layoffs/salary freezes/salary cuts, etc.

#11 Comment By David On May 27, 2009 @ 10:44 am

1) If folks would rather use another example of a possible cut besides Bolin, feel free to do so. I listed every example that I could think of here.

LG writes:

Why not compare hiring (or retaining) a faculty member, at whatever level the numbers match, with eliminating X microscopes or shuttering the telescopes or cutting back Y hours of operation at the museum or killing off Z major concerts?

Microscopes? How many times do we need to go though this? It is a pleasing fantasy to think that all we need are some minor cuts on the margin, that all we need to is trim some unnecessary spending — similar to the perennial Republican fantasy of cutting “waste, fraud and abuse” in order to balance the federal budget. Alas, that is a fantasy. To the extent that there was fat to cut, it has been cut. Now, it is just a question of which widely popular programs to ax.

I am perfectly comfortable with some arguing that, instead of cutting Bolin, we should add back in loans or decrease international admissions or go from 32 varsity sports to 24. I disagree with those choices but at least this mythical opponent is grappling with the reality of Williams finances.

The trustees will force the College to spend $8.5 million less from the endowment in 2010-2011 then this year. Where is that money going to come from? Note that this is not just me arguing that the College should spend less. This is what the Trustees have promised.

LG asks:

We have discussed this before, but is the Bolin program endowed or partially endowed?

There is no evidence that the Bolin is endowed. Now, I guess that it could be, but I would bet a lot of money that a regular reader would have told us if it were.

Various insiders have reported to me, not for attribution, that the extent of endowed-for-specific-purposes money is too small and/or too-can’t-avoid-spending (like financial aid) for this issue to play any meaningful role in the discussion. If you want to cut X, then 99 times out of 100, you can cut X.

#12 Comment By rory On May 27, 2009 @ 10:58 am

i’d refer back to previous comments about cutting an entire program vs. shrinking it, but this ride is boring, so i’ll opt off instead and watch Mayda’s performance again.

#13 Comment By sophmom On May 27, 2009 @ 11:26 am

I apologize for being off-topic, but I just want to say that I find Rory’s comments very valuable and that I like kitties (and puppies, to be fair and unbiased) and if you’re still bored after watching Mayda again (which I just did), go on over and catch Ronit’s link to Wainaina in the Africa thread. (Um…he’s a visiting professor so enjoy him while you can, after all.)

Sorry to interrupt…carry on.

#14 Comment By David On May 27, 2009 @ 12:51 pm

I am a fan of crew and would hate to see it cut. I am not recommending that it do so. The main reason why I wanted to see $10 million in (additional) cuts in the budget for FY 2010 is precisely because I want to avoid cuts in sports. Consider what has already happened at MIT.

High school students with dreams of competing in alpine skiing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, beware: when this academic year ends, the institute will no longer have a varsity team.

That squad and seven others — competitive pistol, golf, wrestling, and men and women’s ice hockey and gymnastics — were eliminated on Thursday by M.I.T.’s athletics department, citing the need to trim $1.5 million from its budget.

MIT is about as wealthy as Williams. If we don’t make other major cuts now, we will have no choice but to cut sports later. JG writes:

One is basic economic reality, the other is budget priorities.

At some point, reality becomes so real that it will no longer be denied.

#15 Comment By Gadfly On May 27, 2009 @ 1:18 pm

The University of Michigan has 26 varsity sports (including cheerleading); Duke has about 22. So how much sense does it make for a tiny liberal-arts college to support 32 varsity teams?

#16 Comment By JG On May 27, 2009 @ 5:11 pm

Gadfly – I think you have to consider the level at which students compete and the attendant costs. Michigan competes in Division I athletics (I think in everything?). Are you trying to argue that non-scholarship Div III athletes cost Williams as much as Michigan’s Div I? I’m fairly certain Williams could have hundreds of sports (if there were that many) for the cost of just a Division I football team, although I’m sure others (Frank & hwc most likely) will correct me if I’m off by an order of magnitude.

It certainly is worth asking whether Williams can support all of it’s teams and whether that is a priority, but you’re comparing apples and mega-farm apple orchards.

#17 Comment By Rowhard On May 27, 2009 @ 5:31 pm

Give me crew or give me death!

#18 Comment By ’10 On May 27, 2009 @ 7:37 pm

JG: my understanding is that many (most?) Div I football teams turn a profit.

#19 Comment By rory On May 27, 2009 @ 8:37 pm

football is the unique exception to the div 1 cost of having a sport, and it certainly does not generally share its revenue with other sports @ a school too much (or outside of the sports department of a school, that’s for sure).

#20 Comment By JG On May 27, 2009 @ 8:48 pm

My understanding actually is that there is a lot of fuzzy accounting in the programs where things like the cost of facilities and the HUGE subsidy of student fees are often not accounted for. Given that, I actually believe that still only the top group turn a profit. This is one of those myths that circulates…I have read articles stating as much and will do some research later to find it.

#21 Comment By Vermando On May 28, 2009 @ 12:03 am

You can have Bolin or you can have crew. You can’t have both. Choose.

Premise rejected. He hates one, loves the other, and is trying to make us choose. That’s good rhetoric but crap logic.

I will bet David $50 that in the 2011-2012 school year that Williams will have both. Don’t think we can have both? I call BS.

#22 Comment By frank uible On May 28, 2009 @ 2:24 am

JG: No, they don’t but are justified for other reasons.

#23 Comment By kevin On May 28, 2009 @ 9:41 am

For the record, in case it isn’t clear, Middlebury does not have a varsity crew program. Crew is a club sport at Middlebury.

#24 Comment By JG On May 28, 2009 @ 10:21 am

Frank: I love college football. Heck, I went to Oregon Ducks games pretty regularly as a kid and all through law school. My brother played Div III college ball. In no way am I advocating for cutting football (or really any other sports at this point although I think the school should evaluate where budgets can be trimmed EVERYWHERE, including academics, admin, athletics, etc.).

I think there is a huge educational advantage to sports. My point was more to point out the illogic of comparing Michigan’s Div I programs with the primarily Div III programs at Williams as if that is somehow a reasonable comparison.

#25 Comment By frank uible On May 28, 2009 @ 10:41 am

JG: I believe that I understood your attitude but that one of your statements was incorrect.