University News

Simmons wary of fiscal woes to come

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The University will have to seek new sources of revenue this year after the summer’s economic downturn, President Ruth Simmons said at Tuesday’s faculty meeting. Simmons said the summer’s events — which included stock market plunges and the debt ceiling debate — increased the likelihood that donors will cut back funding and the University’s endowment will shrink.

The meeting, the first of the academic year, also included reports from the Faculty Executive Committee chair, provost and dean of the faculty. Each report outlined goals and initiatives the offices and committee have planned for the upcoming year.

The University must begin the year with the assumption that the “long nightmare” of the economy is ongoing, Simmons said.

Provost Mark Schlissel P’15, who joined the University July 1, also said the “period of economic uncertainty” will influence the University’s approach to expansion. The University must prioritize developing what it already has while also considering new ideas, he said, emphasizing the importance of maintaining “momentum” on projects like the Humanities Initiative, the School of Engineering and a potential future school of public health.

The University will resume discussions this year on reinstating the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and on the recommendations made in last April’s Athletics Review Committee report, Simmons said. Both reports will be made public “soon,” and Simmons said she will make her personal recommendations regarding ROTC and athletics in time for the October Corporation meeting.

The University has submitted a report to the Corporation about the possibility of contributing money to address the city of Providence’s budget shortfall, a proposal Simmons said Corporation members are “very cautiously” considering. Under a 2003 agreement, the University contributes payments in lieu of property taxes to Providence, but Mayor Angel Taveras has recently called on the University to increase its share.

Schlissel, along with new FEC Chair and Professor of Medical Science Peter Shank and new Dean of the Faculty Kevin McLaughlin P’12, said it will be a priority this year to implement the new tenure and promotion procedures approved last year.

Though the majority of tenure procedure has been decided, Shank said he imagines further discussions will determine how faculty members are promoted from associate professors to full professorship.

McLaughlin said he will hold faculty forums to discuss tenure procedure and “collaborate closely” with the FEC to develop documents about best tenure and promotion practices.

He also announced a plan to use the existing meetings with divisional chairs to identify “strong areas of research that cut across disciplines,” with the idea that such discussions could then influence spring hiring. McLaughlin also emphasized “restarting the process” of the Humanities Initiative. The University received an anonymous $3 million donation in October 2010 to hire six internationally prominent scholars and host interdisciplinary research symposia.

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