We are committed to vibrant liberal arts education. We must commit to policies that allow for the flexible allocation of resources to allow faculty to provide the best possible education consistent with the health and safety of students, staff and faculty.
We cannot abandon the values we demonstrate in good times because these are now more expensive. Over the course of more than two centuries, Middlebury College has been a vital contributor to the higher education community as well as the state of Vermont. We must maintain our commitments to excellent teaching and scholarship and to responsible citizenship.
Once-a-century public health crises demand once-a-century policies, including, but not limited to, expanding and prioritizing endowment draws. To do less than this would be to ask the current generation of students, staff and faculty to bear the brunt of the burden.
Recognize the “five percent rule” for what it is, a rule that, at best, privileges future cohorts over ours and, at worst, facilitates endowment hoarding.
“Deficits” should not be defined relative to the five percent rule: don’t weaponize financial terms or use them to rationalize future cuts.
Don’t engage in financial opportunism: the pandemic should not be exploited to impose future cuts in compensation, or to redeem the sins of previous administrations.
Don’t use budget proposals to divide and conquer. The financial interests of students, staff and faculty do not coincide, but proposals that ask us to trade off compensation against student aid, or faculty compensation against staff compensation, serve only to stoke resentments and stifle creative approaches to extraordinary situations. In the absence of the maximum sustainable endowment draw, such proposals do not reflect the “ethical and social qualities” we expect to develop in our own students. Instead, we seek the sort of vibrant debate that is at the heart of a liberal education.
Traditional performance metrics must be adapted to reflect current circumstances.
Prioritize people before buildings and debt retirement. It is people, not capital assets, that define the Middlebury community, and funds otherwise set aside for infrastructure or accelerated debt repayment should be diverted in a crisis.
Financial policies should be evidence-based, whenever possible, with reduced reliance on “informed speculation,” and reflect a commitment to increased transparency and engagement with affected communities.
Fundraising must adapt to our new circumstances, including an increased emphasis on unrestricted gifts, the possible use of “bridge contracts” to “unrestrict” previous gifts, and the establishment of direct contact between the Advancement Office and elected faculty committees to uphold the future of any at-risk core academic departments and programs.
Don’t recommend even short-term cuts without an evaluation of their long-term consequences: how will the loss of pension contributions affect eventual retirement decisions, for example?
If cuts are proposed …
… the first option must be deferment.
… the burdens must be progressive, with substantial “marginal tax rates” on the institution’s highest earners.
… there must be specific and credible commitments to their restoration.
… these should recognize the extraordinary efforts of faculty and staff to maintain our mission during the spring, the cuts implicit in the otherwise unpaid summer work, and the real wage reductions embedded in the College’s “baseline” budget.
… these should ensure benefit continuity.