October 28, 2008

To the Campus Community:

Mindful of how economic conditions have changed for us all, the Amherst trustees spent much of their meeting this past weekend discussing the potential effects of the current economic downturn on the College and how we should respond. Preserving the outstanding quality of the education we provide and the well-being of our campus community of students, faculty and staff are our top priorities.
College and university endowments across the country have been significantly affected by market volatility in recent weeks, and Amherst’s is no exception. Even with our relatively strong investment management, the endowment has lost roughly a quarter of its value since June 30. While these recent developments certainly demand our attention, the College has benefitted from several years of strong endowment performance and has been prudent with its spending during that time.  This puts the College in a strong condition relative to many of our peers.

We have—and stand ready to use—our resources to support our core mission of educating men and women of exceptional potential from all backgrounds regardless of their financial circumstances. We are as committed as ever to providing education of the highest quality and to need-blind financial aid, even as we anticipate that our students’ needs will increase as families are caught up in the global economic downturn.

As always, the College has a fiduciary responsibility to exercise fiscal restraint, to monitor external economic conditions and to take the measures necessary to maintain our core values and principles over the long term. One such measure is to proceed with a comprehensive fund-raising campaign, launched this weekend. We need the support of our alumni now more than ever, in whatever time frame and ways that they can assist, including contributions of student mentoring, internships and networking opportunities for students and alumni.  The College will also postpone one major non-core investment:  the renovation and expansion of the Lord Jeffery Inn. The Board of Trustees will continue to review the inn investment as part of the normal capital budgeting process at future board meetings, and we expect to revisit this decision by June 2009. Other ongoing planning vital to the academic mission of the College, such as that related to Merrill Science Center and Frost Library, will continue in depth.

Conscious of the current state of the economy, we will make some adjustments to our spending, while ensuring that we can maintain our core commitments. In the weeks ahead, I will be asking all departments—academic and administrative—to review their expenditures and to propose ways to enhance the efficient use of our resources. Though we are not considering a hiring freeze, the College will review with greater stringency all requests for replacement or additional positions. Undertaking this task with diligence and purpose is essential, and it may forestall more difficult and painful choices later on.

Throughout its history, and especially during periods of financial turbulence, the entire Amherst community—alumni, students, faculty and staff – have demonstrated extraordinary generosity and creativity that have enabled the College to sustain and enhance the good work that we do. I am confident that we will weather these uncertain times and that the College will emerge stronger than ever before. I have no doubt that by working together, we will ensure that Amherst will continue to fulfill its mission for many generations to come.