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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

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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.
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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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Student Feedback Solicited by ACBP

The student members of the Ad Hoc Advisory Committee on Budget Priorities (ACBP) are soliciting for student feedback on what at Williams is important to the student body. I’m withholding the e-mail address because the message was sent specifically to students, but feel free to sound off in the comments (especially you ’08 alums.) For the e-mail, click Read more

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