Budget, long-term planning take center stage this weekend

By and
Friday, February 20, 2009

With an economic crisis throwing a wrench in the University’s ambitious spending plans, the Corporation will have some major decisions to make when it convenes for a meeting this weekend.

Chancellor Thomas Tisch ’76, who arrived in Providence Wednesday evening, said the Corporation plans to “review an extraordinary amount of information” this weekend. “It’s a pretty full schedule,” he said.

One month after the University revealed it has likely lost roughly 30 percent of its endowment in less than a year, sacrifice may have become the name of the game for the final years of President Ruth Simmons’ signature capital campaign. Though several major projects – including a new fitness center and a huge brain sciences building – remain on Brown’s to-do list, administrators have acknowledged that, even if no new building is scrapped, timelines will need to be pushed back.

Some ambitious academic initiatives – with tighter budgets ahead – also appear likely to suffer from a decreased availability of funds, though the University has repeatedly expressed its commitment to the goals of the Plan for Academic Enrichment, Simmons’ wide-ranging blueprint to improve the school’s academic standing. The University’s desire to expand the Graduate School to keep up with the growing size of faculty, for example, is likely to go unmet.

The Corporation, which gathers three times annually – in February, May and October – will use this meeting to approve a budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Simmons is expected to present a balanced budget to the University’s highest governing body – a departure from the last several years, in which the Corporation has approved the spending of reserve funds to finance the goals of the Plan for Academic Enrichment.

The proposed $551 million budget, which administrators discussed at a meeting of the Brown University Community Council earlier this month, would represent a $4.5 million decline from the current year’s budget, and a stark $21 million reduction from the figure the Corporation had sketched out for the year last May. The University has said it needs to cut $60 million in previously projected spending for the next five years, beginning with the next budget.

Given the tough choices facing it, the Corporation will focus on adjustments the University needs to make in the face of “market upheaval,” Tisch said.

Still, he said there was “a very clear sense of a plan and a sense of direction” to move certain objectives forward, and that the Corporation hopes to support Simmons’ goals.

Dealing with the economic crisis will be the “overriding theme” of the meeting, said Russell Carey ’91 MA’06, senior vice president for Corporation affairs and University governance.

The Corporation, which formed an ad hoc committee at its last meeting in October to assess the economy’s impact, will be dealing with “ongoing uncertainty” as it considers the next budget, he added.

Tisch said Brown was relatively well-positioned compared to some wealthier peer schools, and that the University has “great strengths” in times of economic decline. Brown is “lucky” that its revenue relies more on tuition, and less on endowment funds, than schools like Harvard, Yale and Princeton, he said.

Tisch also said the University was fortunate to be able to postpone capital projects, and to have no major construction projects currently in progress.

“We have no big shovels in the ground,” he said.

Some programmatic cuts may also be on the table this weekend. Reductions in student services can be expected, Margaret Klawunn, vice president for campus life and student services, said earlier this week. Reductions in the budgets of academic departments might also be discussed.

Among other business matters, the Corporation is also expected to review the University’s policy regarding conflicts of interest in research. The policy is being revised to be more transparent and more in line with federal regulations, Vice President for Research Clyde Briant said during a faculty meeting in December.