Second Presidential address on economic impact on Cornell

“Our commitment to our students will not waver, but we will need the continuing support of the full range of our alumni and friends to sustain that commitment,” said President Les Garner in a message addressed to the Cornell community.

Garner posits that the new economic reality facing the country will have lasting impact, on Cornell and on the nation. Working within that framework will take the support of alumni, friends, faculty, and staff alike. The message also addresses the specific changes Cornell will take in order to meet these pressing challenges.

Message to the Cornell Community
March 2009

Several months ago I wrote to you about the college’s well-being in these challenging times. It is clear that we are facing a recession unlike any we have encountered in decades. In this letter I report on the continuing impact of the downturn on the institution and the steps we are taking to ensure the viability of the college.

Like every other institution of higher learning, Cornell is facing a new economic reality. Our endowment declined by 30 percent during 2008, and current giving to the annual fund is, to date, lower than expected. Together, endowment income and annual giving account for 24 percent of our 2008-09 operating budget.

Applications for next year are strong, and student retention appears to be on a par with recent years. However, even if we meet our enrollment goals, we expect that our operating revenue will be no greater than in the current year. We have announced an increase of tuition and fees of 5.75 percent, which, with a modest increase in enrollment, is only enough to make up for the loss in endowment income and for needed increases in financial assistance. To accommodate other increases in costs, many of which are beyond our control, we anticipate making reductions in the range of 3-5 percent in most areas of the budget.

As we make these difficult choices, our commitment to the quality of teaching and learning on campus remains strong. The education of our students will always be our first priority. To the extent that we are able to strengthen the quality of teaching, for example in the addition of two new members of the full-time faculty, we are doing so by making reductions in other areas.

I am encouraged by the fact that the Extraordinary Opportunities Campaign continues to make progress toward its goal of $92 million. The pace of that progress has slowed in recent months. We now have $87 million in commitments and believe that we can reach our goal by the target date of December 2009. Many of the gifts to the endowment have been pledged to be paid in future years, giving us the opportunity to benefit from the recovery in the financial markets.

We continue to make progress on major facility projects funded through the campaign. Students moved into a renovated Pfeiffer Hall in January, and work is under way on the renovation of Rood House. Additions and renovations to The Commons will not be undertaken until we have pledges to cover the costs of the project and sufficient cash in hand to minimize the impact on the operating budget of any interim financing.

I believe that the financial plans we are developing in concert with the Board of Trustees will allow us to emerge from this crisis as a strong institution. Our commitment to our students will not waver, but we will need the continuing support of the full range of our alumni and friends to sustain that commitment. Thank you for all that you do for this wonderful institution.

Les Garner

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