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A million dollars a year in textbooks

Just received this request for a donation to Williams:

Dear Diana,

Did you know that Williams provides a book grant to cover all required texts and course materials for students receiving financial aid?

Prior to 2010, financial aid students would queue up before dawn with the hopes of borrowing textbooks from the 1914 Library. For decades, the 1914 provided financial aid students access to textbooks without having to purchase them outright. […] All of that changed in the spring of 2010: no more standing in line, no more choosing courses or majors based on the availability of textbooks. Since 2010, the Alumni Fund has made it possible for the college to help purchase approximately $7.5 million in textbooks for financial aid students. […]

Perhaps you’d like your Alumni Fund gift to buy the books for students taking “MATH 150: Multivariable Calculus” this semester. (You can read more about the course here.)

Thank you so much for all you do for Williams!

Lisa Russell-Mina ‘79
Co-Chair, Alumni Fund


  • It’s 2018, and 50% of Williams students (so, about 1000 per year) receive financial aid. By my calculations, that means Williams is spending about $1000 per student per year on textbooks. Wow! That seems like a lot.
  • I appreciate their suggestion to check out Math 150, since I was the one teaching it three semesters ago. In fact, I wrote my own materials and printed them out for the students for free. I wish more people would do the same.
  • Knowing that my hundred dollars might go towards half of a $200 textbook actually makes me less likely to send a hundred dollars to Williams. Financial aid, wholeheartedly yes! Textbooks, hard no.

Some problems I wrote about Mount Greylock, the Mountain Day T-shirt, Cricket Creek farm, and the Williams Outing Club are below the break. The whole textbook is here.

Read more


Archive Spending

Why spend money on this?

Today, the National Trust for Historic Preservation announced that Chesterwood, a National Trust Historic Site, will transfer its archival collections to the Chapin Library at Williams College for preservation, digitization and access by faculty, students and scholars worldwide. America’s foremost twentieth-century public sculptor, Daniel Chester French,1850-1931, lived at Chesterwood, his Stockbridge, Massachusetts country home, studio and gardens, for over thirty years, during which time he documented the creation of iconic pieces that included Minute Man (1875) and Abraham Lincoln (1922) for the Lincoln Memorial. The library will rehouse the Chesterwood Archives effective this month.

1) How much will Williams spend on this?

2) Does that money come out of the Williams general budget or out of an endowment that is dedicated to spending by Chapin? If the latter then, obviously, there is much less to worry about. If the folks in charge at Chapin want to spend money on this, then more power to them.

3) If this money is coming out of the general budget, then it is a bad idea. Until Williams is offering financial aid packages at least as generous as peer schools like Swarthmore and Amherst, we should cut other secondary spending as much as possible.


Afford To Retire

An anonymous professor (call him Professor X) writes:

Just saw you want to hack into my salary, Dave. One aspect of the situation you may or may not have thought of (no one mentions it in comments that I saw): what hit the endowment also of course hit retirement funds of faculty members, so the question arises of when (if ever) a possibly quite significant number of faculty now in their 50s and 60s will be able to afford to retire. I’m thinking, for me, never, especially if I’m flatlining or worse on my salary, and I know others in this age bracket who are thinking the same thing. Is it good for Williams if lots of us hang on into our 70s? Our 80s? Our 90s? With no new faculty slots for youngsters, because we aren’t giving ours up? As one colleague put it, “Well, they can freeze my salary forever, and I won’t be able to retire, and they can start cutting my salary, and I won’t be able to retire….” The demographics could get ugly.


1) X is not the same anonymous professor who described visiting professor hiring procedures. EphBlog’s sources are legion.

2) Previous discussions of faculty salary here and here. And, yes, I have been writing on this topic for more than 5 years.

3) I have worried for years, as have other higher ed watchers, about the intersection of tenure and the end of mandatory retirement ages for faculty. Assume that you are, say (pdf), Lawrence Kaplan ($223,184) or Stephen Sheppard ($220,610) or Jay Pasachoff ($212,472). (Annual salary/benefits in parentheses.) Just what incentive do you have to retire? Sure, it might be nice to have some more free time, to not have to teach all those classes. But, if your savings are down, it sure is tempting to stay for another year or two or ten. After all, once you retire, you can’t come back. You lose the option of earning that fat salary.

4) When I have investigated this issue in the past, I have been told that Williams has never had a problem with faculty not retiring when they “should.” The College, by offering various incentives, has been able to get professors to retire when it wants them to. I just worry that this won’t always be true and, moreover, that it could become a big problem very fast. Right now, if a professor tries to stay on, Williams can point out (correctly!) that this just isn’t done. It isn’t the Williams way. Everyone before him retired at the appropriate time and so should he. But, as soon as one or two professors refuse to go, this sort of moral suasion via community standards disappears.

5) What should be done? First, end life-time tenure. Going forward, an award of tenure should be for an explicit time period: 25 years or however many years until age 65 or whatever. This, obviously, won’t solve the problem in the near term, but trustees like Greg Avis should always be thinking about positioning Williams 50 years from now. Second, bribe current faculty members into, voluntarily, swapping their current life-time tenure for the same fixed period contract. An extra $5,000 or $10,000 per year now (along with the (mostly) built-in raises to come) is probably more attractive to the typical associate professor than some hypothetical keep-teaching-even-though-Williams-doesn’t-want-me option to be used decades in the future.

6) If this professor really wants to protect his salary, then I would urge him to take the realities of the budget crisis much more seriously. The reason that Williams does not have enough money to pay him what he wants (and deserves!) is because it is wasting so much money on other stuff. Start here.

I would Cancel the Bolin Fellowships (200k) Close the Boston Investment Office (1 million), End all one or two year positions (1 million), Cancel Questbridge (200k), End Green Spending (2 million), Close the Office of Campus Life (200k), Stop Giving to Local Charity, (750k), Make Significant Cuts in High Salaries (2.5 million), Cut the Budget for WCMA (1.4 million), Cut Visiting Professors (500k) and Cut Faculty Benefits (200k). Total savings of about $10 million.

The best way to avoid cuts in faculty salaries is to push for cuts in other areas. As it is, all (?) that the Administration and Trustees hear from the faculty is a demand to not cut anything. The sooner you and your colleagues cancel the Bolin, for starters, the sooner they will take your opinions more seriously.

7) If I were a Williams professor, I would never retire. I would love teaching so much that they would have to drag my cold dead body out of the classroom.

8) I thank Professor X for sharing his views with us. The more that these important issues are discussed throughout the Williams community, the better.


RIP, Lobster Dinner

Banned from WilliamsOne of the most anticipated days of the year at Williams is the annual harvest dinner, where they served, among other things, lobster. This seems to have come to an end. A comment left by an ’09 on Speak Up led me to WSO:

Show Me The Lobster

…tomorrow night, harvest dinner.

Whatever happened to tradition? To honor?! To liberty?!?!?!

A look at the Dining Services website confirms it. Lobster is off the menu:

Locally produced cheddar cheese and crackers
Green River fresh apple cider
Pickled vegetables from Peace Valley Farm
Peace Valley greens with balsamic vinegar
New Englad clam chowder
Peace Valley green bean salad
Mystic haddock fresh baked with lemon garnishing
Hudson Valley chicken
Sea Vegetable Stew made from Peace Valley and local farm crops
Fresh and locally grown corn on the cob
Peace Valley harvested fingerling potatoes
Williams College freshly baked rolls
Williams Bake Shop fresh apple crisp made with Apple Barn apples
Williams College homemade vanilla Gelato

Now, I have never really cared for lobster, considering it an icky bottom dwelling sea bug. But non-lobster eaters such as myself always had the option of a strip steak instead, which left more lobster for our lobster eating brethren. However, the steak has also disappeared from the menu. The only proteins on there seem to be chicken and baked haddock. Baked haddock?! You might as well cancel Harvest Dinner altogether at this point.

This is the most serious casualty of the cost-cutting, by far.

UPDATE: Hey Dining Services – lobster’s a bargain right now. Prices are down by almost 50% from two years ago.

(thanks to hwc for the image. Original here.)


Cost Cutting Elsewhere

From Time:

A funky roommate named recession is settling in on campuses this fall as colleges and universities slash budgets for virtually everything from salad bars to ski teams. U.S. colleges and universities suffered, on average, a 23% endowment drop in the second half of last year, according to a study by a group of campus business officers. That reduction in funding has set off a scramble to freeze hiring, cut hours and hunker down until the economy improves.

WISCONSIN LUTHERAN COLLEGE Lost its political-science major.

GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY Told faculty and staff to take as many as eight days of unpaid leave.

BRYN MAWR COLLEGE Saved $900 when its women’s swim team held a virtual meet against nearby Dickinson; each team’s swimmers raced in their home pool, and then they compared times to declare winners.

HARVARD UNIVERSITY Got rid of weekday hot breakfasts at undergrad dorms, saving $900,000.

Here’s the rest. Williams has instituted some of the other items already.


Corrin in Portland, Oregon …


Lisa Corrin, the Class of 1956 Director of the Williiams College Museum of Art came to The Portland Art Museum the evening of 30 July, 2009 (full disclosure – I am a member of that great class).

The event , very well organized by Dan Root ‘87, was a reception for Ms Corrin and a talk by her: “The Art in the Williams Liberal Arts Education”.

Well, who could stay away? I was one of about 10 Art History majors out of a class of 250. And we were, in those senior level classes, the private tutees of the Trinity. So in spite of the heat, I pulled on a pair of khakis longees, buttoned my way into a seersucker shirt, tied on a pair of Jack Purcells, and drove in the I-84 60 miles from Hood River to the heart of Portland.

The reception featured great hors’ dourves and a bar (G&T, ice and a slice). Ms Corrin is absolutely charming, warm, and wonderful! She was accompanied by her husband Williams Professor Peter Erickson. More on the couple at the bottom of the article.

Lisa Corrin has impeccable credentials and a long list of accomplishments including the Serpentine Museum in London, where each spring features a new lunch pavilion by an artist/architect much enjoyed by me and various combinations of grandkids.

She was warmly introduced by Peter Ferriso, the Director of the Portland Art Museum, which helped set the tone for her talk: Art, The Williams Art Mafia, and the fact that in the rarified air of museum curators, every one knows every one else!

Ms Corrin set the stage quickly. The Williams College Museum of Art is a teaching museum. The 13,000 objects are available for use by every and any department in the college.

She described how this is an active staffed program of the museum with all courses being searched for how the museum can augment and extend the materials using art especially selected and curated for the particular class. And displayed in separate rooms for individual classes. What an outreach program! Art becomes a part of a variety of other disciplines. And exposes students to connections they may never have made on their own! Some even switch majors!

And of course, the variety of classes both history and studio available to those already committed. And the import not limited to the Williams classroom but extending into the local community, other art venues, other educational venues and other communities both here and abroad. Students may become independent scholars and curators in their own right.

Corrin went on to describe working with reduced budgets and her guiding light from a business and artistic point of view: Concentrate on the Collection! I have heard that in other business situations, generally featuring some phrase from the CEO about concentrating on core competencies. Use your own collection to tell the myriad of potential stories they embody. A Teaching Museum proving its point from its own basic strength.

Of course, she also mentioned that the Art Mafia were a great help when you might need a particular piece from some one else’s collection. And on short notice. And lent with a smile! “Some day, and that day may never come… I may call upon you to do a service for me. But until that day, accept this, as a gift.”

So is the heritage of the Trinity alive and well? “Arts for Life” is a Corrin belief. And one shared by many of us who have benefitted from Art as a lifetime sport that we play everyday.

“Art in the Liberal Arts” flourishes at Williams. As Ms Corrin remarked “Art at Williams does not languish on shelves, it nourishes the next generation”.

An end note

More on Ms Corrin and Mr Erickson here


Sounds of Silence

WilliamstownJazzFestivalDue to budget-cutting at Williams, its major source of funding, the Williamstown Jazz Festival has ceased operation. The annual multi-day spring program had included music, dance, film, and an intercollegiate jazz competition, and was run as a collaboration amongst Williams, the Chamber of Commerce, MASS MoCA, and the Massachusetts Cultural Council, with additional venues provided by St. John’s Episcopal Church and the Clark. Some events had free admission; others had an admission charge, but that did not bring in nearly enough to keep the festival going once Williams ended its subsidy.

For more about the festival, go here. (A link at the top of that site opens up a sampling that includes snatches from Williams jazz and gospel choir groups and a faculty jazz group.)

This is a true loss to Williams, to music groups from many colleges, and to Williamstown and the surrounding communities. I am grateful to the people who had the vision to start the Jazz Festival and to those who made it happen every year. My heart goes out to them and to the people who had the difficult task of deciding whether to continue the funding from Williams.

May more abundant times return soon.

(Thanks to Frank for alerting us to the festival’s demise via a post in in Speak Up!)


On CC and the rest of Sunday

CC tabled at dining halls last Thursday to get information about the programs and departments they valued most. There were about 12-14 items on the sheet, which students could rank. The e-mail announcing the tabling also had a link to an electronic poll.

Also, CC has just appointed the four student members of the Neighborhood Review Committee, which will begin meeting this week. Take it to mean what you will, but most positions on committees aren’t incredibly selective, and CC had to turn down some great applicants. I hope that all students can contribute to this review, even if they, like me, did not apply.

Last, anyone who read my writ from Sunday morning can add an incredibly deep and soulful conversation that helped me discover new aspects of myself, catching up with a friend from last semester, watching several old episodes of a TV show on Hulu, attending the largest gathering of the Feast that I can remember, making cards to send to faculty members about Take Back The Night, helping out at the climbing wall, showing a piece to other musicians so that we could collaborate on performing it in two weeks, writing a song about Spring Break, and figuring out the details of a new project that I feel pretty good about. So that’s 66 hours at Williams for you.

For the letter from CC, click Read more


The Economics of Graduate Programs

This is my fifth post on interesting aspects of “A Report from Williams 2008.” Today, I want to focus on the economics of the two graduate programs that Williams maintains: the Center for Development Economics and the Graduate Program in the History of Art. The College spends $2.9 million on these programs. Given the tough economic times, should we continue to do so?


1) The College seems to provide no financial aid or other assistance for CDE students. Fees to Williams seem to be around $47,000 and there are 24 CDE students this year. Total revenue to the College would be about $1.1 million.

2) The Masters in Art History is a two year program with total fees of around $41,000 with financial aid available, including merit aid. There were 11 graduates last year, so assume 22 students at any one time. Ignoring financial aid, total revenue would equal $0.9 million.

3) Given that the primary (in my view, only) mission of Williams is to be the best undergraduate college in the world, we should shut down both programs. They cost $2.9 million but only generate $2 million (at most) in revenue. In a world of plenty, Williams can afford the extravaganza. But, in a world of limits, these programs — both valuable in-and-of themselves and, indirectly, to a small but non-zero percentage of the undergraduate population — are not worth the money. If the choice is between these programs and lay-offs or decreases in financial aid, then both programs should go.

Consider some counterarguments:

1) You don’t understand the economics. The programs are actually profitable for Williams. Could be! Without better data, it is hard to know for sure. But, back-of-the-envelope, they seem like money losers, at least when considered together. Moreover, it is quite possible that the $2.9 million budget number underestimates the cost. Does that include depreciation for the CDE building? What about a pro rata share of the money that the College spends on libraries, security and so on?

2) Even if you cancel the programs, you won’t save money because the primary cost is faculty and you can’t fire them. Perhaps. And certainly that is true for tenured faculty. But Williams does not need to renew the contracts for lecturers. We can get by with fewer visitors.

3) These programs are a big part about what makes Williams Williams. No, they are not. They are add-ons, appendages slapped on by ambitious faculty members. More than 95% of undergraduates aren’t even aware of them and would not notice if they were gone.


Budget Comparison

Larry George suggests:

I would add another methodology that might prove helpful: go back five or ten years until one finds an operating budget that is significantly below the target level of expenditure. Adjust for inflation and then use that model as the platform upon which to build a new realistic budget. If we go back to, say, 2000 levels of expenditures (making adjustments where they obviously have to be made) in the face of an economic crisis, we may not like it, but we can probably live with it, remembering that the college was a strong, wonderful institution in 2000.

Indeed. Consider the College’s spending (pdf) from 1999 to 2002. Click for a clear picture.


Compare that spending with the last 4 years.



1) For now, I am still keeping with the Morty/Trustee position that there are no plans for lay-offs or decreases in financial aid. So, if you want to cut, the main categories above are where you need to start.

2) Although Morty is fine fellow and excellent president, there is little doubt that some of his popularity derives from his spending habits. My friends in the drunken sailor community would be appalled at this profligacy. Consider some of the increases (in millions) over the decade from 1999 to 2008:

Athletics: $3.5 to $6.3 (up 80%)
Libraries: $3.6 to $6.2 (up 72%)
Museum:    $1.4 to $2.6 (up 86%)

Inflation between 1999 and 2008 is about 28%. You can be sure that the incremental spending above that rate made the various constituencies very happy. No wonder Morty is so popular!

No doubt much of this money has been well spent. But, alas, Williams can no longer afford some of these luxuries. We need to dial back the budget. (See my previous comments on cutting the budgets for athletics and WCMA.) Looking to the budget in 1999, as Larry George suggests, is a good place to start.


ABCP Summary

Thanks to all for participating in our ACBP discussion. Again, this was a listing of all the items that could be cut from the Williams budget which a) Did not involve lay-offs, b) Did not touch financial aid and c) Resulted in at least a $200,000 annual savings to the operating budget. We reviewed 14 items over the last two weeks. I am unaware of any other items that meet these criteria. Cost-cutting is hard. Let us know if we left anything out.

Below are some minor updates, along with my recommendations.
Read more


12: Cut Visiting Professors

Two mea culpas: First, I forgot to include this in our original list and then left it out between items 11 and 13. Second, in our previous discussion about visiting professors, I overestimated the salary for visitors, especially junior professors. I just used the average total compensation for Williams faculty ($135,000) and then rounded down to estimate $700,000 saved by not hiring 7 visitors. I assumed that the mix of visitors was not that different, in terms of seniority, than the faculty as a whole and that Williams, being an egalitarian place, would pay equal wages for equal work. But I was wrong! Williams pays junior visiting professors much less than tenure-track visitors. Professor Sam Crane was kind enough to mention that my estimate was wrong but not patient enough to provide a better one. (That whole thread represents either the best or worse of EphBlog discussions, depending on your point of view. Highly recommended!)

Anyway, Williams hires lots of visiting professors each year. Nothing wrong with that practice when we were rich. But now we are less rich, so we need to save that money. No more visitors. (I count 9 scheduled for next year.) Some of these are paid for out of dedicated funds. Fortunately, money is fungible and most dedicated endowments provide some wiggle room, thereby the College can move that money elsewhere. Total savings? Maybe $500,000 per year.

Might the College still have one or two visitors in special situations? Sure, at least in theory. The problem is that as soon as you tell Department A that, because of their special situation, they can have a visitor, then Department B will claim (often reasonably!) that they are in the same situation as A. Best to just enforce a standard rule. A side benefit is that such a policy will help to shock the faculty into realizing how serious the situation is.


15: To start, Open the books

  Hire a firm to do the analysis. Spend the money necessary to do a complete economic audit of the college.

  What is missing in these threads are the facts. What has been done here on Ephblog is to take a series of often poor assumptions about the numbers and non quantitative analysis and then blog about a decision based on poor assumptions and no real data.  

  David often asks “if not this, then what?”  That is an impossible question to answer given that Ephblog has no real data.

  Williams should hire an outside firm to do a complete analysis of its position and do a report on the financial health of the college with a projection for the future considering a variety of possible changes in our economy. The school should then look at the numbers to survive/ thrive given a possible future of X, Y, Z… then make a decision first on how conservative the school wants to be, and then get into the meat of what could be cut to produce outcome for projected X,Y,Z. 

  Then Willaims needs the firm to do a quantitative analysis of the programs being considered for cuts and what would really be saved by cutting the programs suggested.  That would allow for an in depth discussion about the monetary, academic and social impact- giving the ability to have an informed vote. The school could then begin to make cuts based on informed decisions in regards to both the financial and academic health of the institution. Until something like this is done… Williams will never understand the numbers or possible effects of their cuts.



What is Williams’s operating budget? How about we start with that number?


14: Eliminate Football

It is almost inconceivable that Williams would ever cut football. But, in keeping with our goal to list all the major programs that cost more than $200,000, we need to include it, both because football is expensive in terms of equipment and coaching but also because a football programs makes (?) the Weston Field project necessary. Also, if Swarthmore can live without football then we can to. Colorado College recently ended football (along with two other sports.) Of course, if your goal is to cut football, then the best method is to raise admissions standards enough that the football team starts losing all its games. (Without tips, it is not clear that a Williams team could play evenly against any of its current opponents.) Once that happens, support for keeping a team will fall.

Williams itself does not seem to publish much useful data on athletic spending. But the US Department of Education does! See here for Williams. Looks like total expenses for football were $312,260.

Now, there is a lot that might be wrong with this number. First, Williams reports $107,472 in revenue from football. (I assume that this is ticket sales.) So, the net cost of football is only $205,000. Second, it is not clear how all the costs associated with football are allocated, costs that might still be with us even without a football program. For example, several head coaches from other men’s teams are assistant coaches for football. Are their salaries included in the $312,260? Even without a football program, Williams would still want to have (and pay) coaches for baseball and men’s lacrosse. Second, I may be misunderstanding the presentation. There is also a line for “operating expenses” for football of $55,665. I assume that this is a subpart of the $312,260. Perhaps just travel expenses?

One might argue that, instead of football, we should cut squash or skiing or soccer. Perhaps. It would be good to get a sense of where the Athletic Department’s $6 million budget goes. One weird aspect of the Department of Education data is that it only adds up to $4,217,896 in total spending. The material the College sends to alumni talks about $6 million in spending. Where is the extra $2 million? Perhaps that is capital spending allocated over time?

But, as best I can tell, no other individual sport spends $200,000 per year. So, football is the only one to make our listing.


13: Cut Faculty Benefits

Thanks to an anon for this point.

What if the conference funds for every faculty member took at $500 cut? That would save at least 100K right there and would not significantly degrade the quality of the either the educational experience the college offers or the opportunities its faculty enjoy.

Again, we are looking for cuts of at least $200,000 per year, cuts that can be maintained for the foreseeable future. How much in conference funds do faculty get? What other similar benefits might be cut? Note that not all faculty use all (?) their funding each year, so $100,000 is an over-estimate, I think.

I have already highlighted two faculty boondoggles (the Sabbatical Grant Program and the Professional Development Fund) that should be ended, but I don’t get the sense that there are big dollar savings here.

I think that the College provides substantial subsidies to faculty housing. I have no idea what the magnitude of these benefits are, but there is no reason for the College to be in the housing business for faculty/staff, any more than for it to grow apples or design clothing. Yet, by being in the housing business, the College can transfer some/lots of resources to the faculty.

The same applies to the Children’s Center. Why should the College be in the business of supplying day care? Why not also start an apple orchard? After all, it would make excellent faculty more likely to come to Williams if they knew that they could get great apples at below-market rates.

Rule #1 about successful non-profits is that the insiders think that they do a great job and should be rewarded more generously. But it can be tough just to raise salaries since it is so easy to compare salaries against outside benchmarks. So, to avoid scrutiny, insiders sometimes steer resources toward themselves and their friends via non-salary mechanisms.

Want to really piss off the faculty? Cut (or, at least, trim) the tuition benefit for faculty children. Normal professionals (like you and I, dear reader) save their own money over time to send their children to college. Not Williams faculty! I believe that Williams will pay half the cost [of tuition] for a faculty child to attend anywhere and all the cost if the student goes to Williams. (Does anyone know the details?)

Trim/cut some combination of the above and we could get to more than $200,000 per year savings.

Chances of that happening? Zero.


11: End NCAA Play-Off Participation

Again, we are looking for discrete categories of programs that the College spends more than $200,000 on per year and which could be selectively cut. I think that NCAA play-offs fall in this category. Someone reported that the NCAA actually pays for play-off expenses, or at least hotel and a per diem for food. True? Does this apply for other sports? Also, where does the NCAA get the money for this expense? Division III, unlike Division I, does not generate meaningful (any?) cash flow, so this money would need to come either from the dues that schools like Williams pay (how big are those dues?) or from money generated from Division I activities. Anyway, it could be that ending play-off participation wouldn’t save any money. Does anyone know the facts?

Needless to say, as a big fan of Eph athletics (I watched women’s soccer and volleyball in the NCAA play-offs via the wonder of D3cast), I would hate to make this cut. Nor do I think that the College will do so. But, honestly, I am running out of ideas that do not involve lay-offs or changes in financial aid.


10: Close Williams-In-Oxford

Not an April’s Fool joke, alas.

I don’t want this to be closed, but it is a big ticket item that could, in theory, be shuttered relatively easily. The College could even just mothball the property for a few years while retaining the option of opening it up again. How much does the College spend on Williams-in-Oxford? I don’t know. We own (?) the building, so the major cost is not in the budget. There was some data on this in the controversy over Williams in New York but not much. Main info is an obscure reference to a $2,330 subsidy per student, per semester.

As a rough guess, assume that the total costs that might be saved include tuition for 25 or so students ($38,500 x 25) plus the subsidy ($2,330 x 25 x 2 semesters). You don’t save board since Williams needs to feed those students anyway. Room is mixed since, with more students on campus, you will eventually need to work on the housing stock but, in the short term, you can just create more doubles. (Sorry sophomores!) Theoretically, the College should offer more classes and hire more professors but, in the short term, it can just stick these students into the classes it already offers.

Rough guess: Canceling Williams-in-Oxford saves us about a million dollars a year.

Until now, I have been comfortable with most of the cuts on the list. Many of the items (Bolin, local charity) are items that I have always been against. (Not that they are evil but that the College should spend that money elsewhere.) Other items (Boston Investment Office, Campus Life) are things that I never liked and have grown less fond of over time. Others (WCMA (or at least half its budget), Questbridge, 1-2 year positions) are spending that I think is most excellent, but which I can imagine giving up because of the depth of the crisis.

But even all those cuts only add up to a few (5?) million dollars per year, at best. And that’s not enough!

If the Trustees do not insist on those cuts (or similarly sized ones), they are not doing their job. But, at this stage, we are starting to cut muscle. Does Williams need to make this cut now? I don’t know.

Yet all those who are aghast at this idea should provide specifics as to where they would cut $1 million from the operating budget.


11: Eat the poor

Although our suggestions for cost-cutting at Williams have been, on the whole, reasonable and well thought-out, I am afraid that they don’t go far enough. Are we really going to solve the structural problems plaguing colleges like Williams with a little nip here, a tuck there? I am afraid that if we are to be really serious about finding a way out of this economic crisis, something a little more drastic is called for. It’s all well and good to cut off support to the local hospital and to stop actively recruiting poorer students. But, in spite of our best efforts to keep them out or to ensure that they die of alcohol poisoning, some poorer students will undoubtedly remain at Williams, and supporting such students with financial aid is very expensive.

Therefore, I would propose that we at least seriously consider serving poor students for dinner. Converting these “human resources” into “food” has tremendous long-term synergies. It would be a huge cost savings for Dining Services, would alleviate pressures on the financial aid budget, and free up some extra rooms to house truly deserving students – those who are paying full-fare. Such food would also be locally-sourced and would reduce Williams’ overall carbon footprint, so the environmentalists should be on board. I have been assured by an economist of my acquaintance, that a young healthy freshman at 18 years old is a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that he/she will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout. We could also expand the program to include poorer town residents, which would reduce our need to fund local charities.

Now I know this is not going to be a “popular” idea, especially with the PC-niks who frequent this site, but sometimes the best ideas aren’t popular, and sometimes we have to face the hard, unpleasant truth: we must eat the poor, or we will have to close down the college. Those are the ONLY two options available. There are no other alternatives.

Now, I want you to note that I am not actually advocating for cannibalism per se, merely throwing this out there for contemplation – I hope that we can discuss this in a serious, respectful manner, without ad hominem attacks. If you disagree, please suggest an alternative course of action that would be equally effective and delicious.


10: Close down the Chapin library

Williams College is honored to maintain, on permanent display, original printings of five founding documents of the United States. The Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Federalist are all available in the Chapin Library. The National Archives possesses the only other originals. On July 4 every year actors with the Williamstown Theater Festival come to Chapin Library to read the Declaration to the community.

There is no need for the Chapin Library. Shut it down and sell the Declaration of Independence.


9: Close Williams College Museum of Art

Can Williams afford an art museum of its own? Perhaps not. The advantages of closing WCMA is that doing so would save a lot of money. I think that the annual budget is over $2.5 million. Other liberal arts colleges manage perfectly fine without their own art museums. Can’t Williams? Brandeis caused a ruckus by proposing to close its art museum, but the real problem in that case was the now-cancelled plan to sell the art from the museum, art that was donated, presumably, for public viewing rather than private collections. Williams could either donate the WCMA works to local institutions like MASSMocA or the Clark, or it could send them out on long-term loan to other museums. Or we could just put the art in storage.


8: Make Significant Cuts in High Salaries

There are a non-trivial number of people at Williams who make more than $100,000 per year. Add all their salaries together, and the total number is in the millions. Why not cut their salaries? The senior administrators at other schools have already taken “voluntary” pay cuts, so there is some precedence. It certainly seems more just to ask Morty to take a $50,000 pay cut then to ask a janitor to lose out on $5,000. Williams is allegedly, an Obama-friendly kind of place and President Obama has certainly suggested that the richest among us ought to take a fair share of the burdens caused by the economic crisis.

The best way to make this work in practice would be to ask for a fixed percentage cut in every salary above X. Call it 50% above $100,000. (Feel free to suggest your own numbers.) So, a professor making $102,000 would only lose $1,000 (50% of the $2,000 excess over the $100,000 cut-off) while Morty would (assuming a salary of $400,000) drop to $250,000. Such a scheme is nice because it is a sliding scale and preserves the rank ordering of salaries. All it does is to compress the top.

UPDATE: Longtime readers will recall our discussions of Morty’s salary. Classic posts in that series include here, here, here, here (one of my all time favorites) and here. The last is by (d)avid who also adds a comment below.


7: Stop Giving to Local Charity

The College gives about $500,000 each year to local charity. There was never a plausible reason to do so when we were rich. There is no money left to spend now that we are poor.

UPDATE: Apologies for not including more details on this.

1) I don’t know of any place that the College spells out this giving in detail. Here is a citation for the $500,000 number. At some point, Director of Public Affairs Jim Kolesar ’74 kindly sent me a list of the donations and I thought I published it on EphBlog, but now I can’t find it. I will reach out to Jim again.

2) The annual spending may or may not include the major capital gifts that the College makes to local non-profits. (The details, like most aspects of the Williams budget, are totally opaque to outsiders.) Classic examples from the past include: $250,000 to Mount Greylock High School (a classic of early EphBlog snark), $2 million to MASS MoCA and $1 million to North Adams Regional Hospital.

3) A very small amount of giving (like $16,000 per year to the ambulance service) isn’t giving so much as it is a fee for service. No one complains about those items, but a) other than the ambulance service I can’t think of other examples and b) they make up a tiny percentage of the $500,000 as a whole.

UDPATE II: Recall that the Presidential Search Prospectus tells us:

A recent study showed that over the previous ten years Williams had made annual financial contributions in the community that averaged more than $500,000 and additional one-time contributions of $5 million.

That would suggest annual spending of $750,000. This should be cut by 80% or more.


6: Close the Office of Campus Life

Williams survived for years without OCL. Its collective salaries are probably quite modest, but its budget is not. Although reasonable Ephs disagreed a decade ago whether or not Williams needed an OCL, there can be no doubt that we have given the idea a fair shot and that, at best, it has not improved campus life. (Many of us think it has made things worse than they otherwise would have been.) Close the office while allowing permanent staff to work elsewhere at Williams. Cancel 80% of the budget and give the remainder to ACE and/or College Council.


5: End Green Spending

If the College can insulate building X at a cost of $100,000 and, thereby, save $50,000 per year in heating costs, then, by all means, spend that money. Any investment that pays off after two years is worth doing.

But the College spends a lot (around a million a year) on goo-goo green sustainability type projects, things that don’t save money but do reduce carbon emissions and the like. Wisely, the College decided to skip much/most of that spending this year because of the crisis. (Morty and Greg Avis ’80 discussed the topic a bit at the Boston alumni meeting.) We should cancel all such spending for the foreseeable future. The College is too poor to worry about the global environment.


4: Cancel Questbridge

The Questbridge program does not cost more than $200,000 directly. (I am unsure of the exact cost to Williams but think that it is something like $5,000 per student enrolled. ) But the Questbridge students themselves, many of whom would never have applied to Williams were it not for the Questbridge connection, are very expensive, almost by definition. Cancelling Questbridge would cause fewer poor students to apply to Williams. Some of those students would be replaced by other poor students. But others would be replaced by non-poor students. Williams can stiff officially (and honestly) claim to be need-blind even if it no longer pays extra money to steer more poor applicants in our direction. (A similar effect could come from guiding admissions officers to spend more time at rich schools (especially internationally) and less time at poor schools and/or with poor students. But, since there is no specific program that one can point to on that regard, I’ll leave it aside for now.


3: End all one or two year positions

The College employs a variety of Ephs in temporary positions. These include assistant coaches, community life coordinators, interns at the Admissions Office, Alumni/Development and OCC, and junior staff at the Investment Office. Although there is no need to fire anyone who holds those jobs today, we should stop filling them. All these folks do fine work and add value to the College. We just can’t afford them anymore. Permanent staff will take over their duties. None of these Ephs were excessively paid, and I don’t have a good sense of how many there are (at least 10, maybe as many as 30), but they all need to go. A nice aspect of this cut is that it is “neutral” in appearance. We aren’t asking Admissions to cut more than, say, the Registrar. We are just ending a category of position. Departments that use such positions a lot (mainly athletics) will suffer more, but not because we are singling out those departments per se.


2: Close the Boston Investment Office

Williams survived for 200 years without an investment office in Boston. We don’t need one. No other college that I am aware of has an investment office located in a different city. Rent and salaries are probably in the neighborhood of a million dollars a year. Close the office and allow those staff who want to move to Williamstown to do so. Although there is a theoretical case that having an office in Boston gives Williams certain advantages, this is probably not true and, moreover, not true enough to justify the expense.


1: Cancel the Bolin Fellowships

I predict that this program is at the top of the list of cuts. There are six fellows and they receive a stipend of around $35,000 per year plus (I think) benefits. Throw in auxiliary expenses, and the total bill is over $200,000.

UPDATE: Thanks to Jeff for providing a link to the program and to JG for the suggestion on numbering. I have created a new category for this discussion: ABCP Items. Previous discussions on the Bolin Fellowships here and here. In the old days, I was against the Bolin because I would rather see the money spent on 1 or two additional permanent members of the faculty. Now, I am against the Bolin because something must be cut.

I do not think that the Bolin is funded via a directed endowment of some sort. (I have certainly never seen a reference to such a gift.) The College could cut the whole thing if it wanted. In previous years (check the documents), awards were made in early March. Have any been made this year?


ACBP Items

Wish that the Ad Hoc Committee on College Budget Priorities would be more transparent in its deliberations? Me too! So, let’s pretend that we are on the Committee and come up with a listing of all the big budget cuts that Williams might plausibly make. Without access to more details, it is impossible for us to make exact recommendations, but reasonable guesses as to cost savings are not difficult. I offer my own thoughts on each item and encourage readers to do the same. I want to list all the big budget items from the College’s operating budget (leaving aside capital projects like Stetson/Sawyer and Weston).

Let’s focus on things which cost at least $200,000 per year. For now, I want to take the Administration at its word and assume that no lay-offs or cuts in financial aid are under consideration. Each day for the next two weeks, I will post a new item at noon. (Thanks to several readers in previous threads for some of these suggestions.) As a preview, here is the full list: end all one or two year positions, close the Williams College Museum of Art, cancel the Bolin Fellowships, close the Boston investment office, close Williams-in-Oxford, cancel Questbridge, eliminate football, end NCAA play-off participation, close the Office of Campus Life, no more green spending, stop giving to local charity, and significant cuts in high salaries.

Because it is spring break, I may not have the time to add all the background information and links that I should. Apologies! Readers are invited to do so in the comments. Please save your comments on the merits of the items listed above until the appropriate day. Please add as a comment to this post any major item that you think I have left out.

UPDATE: Just to be clear, this is a list of “all the big budget cuts that Williams might plausibly make,” not just a list of all the budget cuts that I would make. Please indicate in the comments if you have any additions.


Cost Cutting Compendium

There have been a lot of cost-cutting ideas tossed around in comment sections and posts here, so I thought it would be useful to compile them all into one place.  I separate them into three categories: (1) the low hanging fruit that there is a general consensus on, (2) the more controversial ideas that would result in some real pain, would be difficult to carry out, and/or drew strenuous objections from other Ephbloggers (likely, Williams will have to adopt some, but not all, of these), and finally (3) the modest proposal ideas that are either purely humorous, were vociferously shouted down here, and/or would only have to be considered if things get considerably worse before they get better.  I am sure I am forgetting a slew, so if you want to remind me of other ideas — whether previously articulated or not –or object to my categorization of ideas on this list, make a note in the comments, and I will re-post an edited list in a week.

Low-hanging Fruit:
(1) Eliminate Williams in New York for time being (done)
(2) Postpone campus construction / major renovation projects (done)
(3) Salary and hiring freeze (done, although depends on definition of hiring freeze)
(4) Eliminate some administrative staff through attrition / retirements, especially new positions created during the flush times (aka don’t replace non-faculty personnel unless position is truly essential) (to be implemented, I believe)
(5) Cut the budget / staffing of OCL
(6) Cut athletic budget via:
(a) elimination of some assistant coach positions in heavily staffed sports
(b) cutting of teams’ off-season foreign trips (NESCAC-wide initiative)
(c) reducing in-season travel costs by pairing winter sports teams on travel weekends (NESCAC-wide initiative)
(d) eliminating P.E. requirement and reallocating resources to assistant / J.V. coaching slots
(e) reducing travel budget for athletic administrators to watch contests live
(7) Sell / donate Paresky TV’s (or, although this would not save costs in short run, utilize them as dorm T.V.’s)
(8) Fewer expensive speakers / pricey campus events
(9) Cutting non instruction-related departmental budgets / discretionary funds
(10) Move investment office to Williamstown
Tougher to Swallow (aka, David Kane specials):
(1) Cut assistant coaching positions to the bone (aka, no full time paid assistants for basketball, softball)
(2) Cut Bolin fellows
(3) Sell Mount Hope Farm (not so much controversial as likely not doable)
(4) Increase teaching loads to where they were five years ago (aka, add one additional class, one semester per year)
(5) Eliminate all but absolutely essential visiting professors
(6) Increase tuition revenue via a small (3-6 percent) increase in incoming class sizes
(7) Eliminate need-blind aid for internationals
(8) Reinstate student loans as a component of financial aid
(9) Postpone expensive environmental initiatives
(10) Reduce size of tenure track faculty (perhaps closer to levels of five years ago)
(11) A few more “development admits” each year
(12) Reduce or eliminate payments to local community (funding of local schools, etc.)
(13) Eliminate sabbatical grant program / temporary moratorium on sabbaticals
(14) Cut top administrator salaries
Modest Proposals (aka, Armageddon time):
(1) Sell naming rights to a building to the highest corporate bidder (or for that matter, individual bidder — perhaps a devious Amherst alum who insists on the Lord Jeffrey Amherst or Zephenia Swift Moore North Academic building)
(2) Eliminate the football team
(3) Eliminate the Economics department (gotta blame someone …)
(4) Means-based tuition (aka, super high tuition for those who can afford it)
(5) Eliminate need-blind admissions for domestic students
(6) Eliminate the CDE
(7) Eliminate Winter Study
(8) Eliminate Williams-Mystic
(9) Sell campus real estate / property

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