Barry Mills: A Financial February Thaw

On board as president for at least five more years, Barry Mills surveys Bowdoin’s improved financial landscape.

Last Friday, I announced that I intend to spend at least another five years as president of Bowdoin. The reaction from our community has been very gratifying, and I appreciate all the support.

Many have asked me to describe my agenda for “at least the next five years.” As the one who predicted in 2001 that this last decade would not be a decade of more building for Bowdoin, I have learned from experience that it is very difficult to predict the future! But with some degree of certainty, I do suspect that the next ten years will be materially different from the recent past.

Bowdoin is in much better financial shape today than we found ourselves at the outset of the financial crises just a few years ago.

Bowdoin is in much better financial shape today than we found ourselves at the outset of the financial crises just a few years ago. Our endowment has outperformed our expectations. Alumni and the recently completed capital campaign have provided generous resources in support of our mission and operations. The difficult steps we took to freeze faculty and staff salaries and to cut our costs in anticipation of reduced resources from our endowment were very successful. As a result, we were able to announce this week that we have something of a February thaw that will allow us to make modest adjustments to compensation for this year.

This news has been received enthusiastically. The additional dollars are welcome to faculty and staff, especially as we all experience rising costs for gasoline and other household living expenses. But, more importantly, the salary adjustments also represent a tangible expression of our optimism and confidence for the near term future. The collective sigh of relief around campus is palpable.

…we are going to see adjustments to the “normal” of the last twenty years that will have a long term impact on the College and on all of us individually.

All that being said, I am quick to remind folks that we are not going back to the days of the last decade. I have read that the academic economists dislike the concept of “new normal” because our recent past is just another expression of cyclical adjustments in our economy. Maybe so, but for at least the foreseeable future, we are going to see adjustments to the “normal” of the last twenty years that will have a long term impact on the College and on all of us individually.

There are “speed bumps” out there for the College that require us to continue to be prudent and thoughtful in our ambitions. It is very unlikely that our comprehensive fee will continue to rise at the rates of the recent past. More of our students are likely to require financial aid, and the size of grants available for the “middle class” will become more important. The specter of inflation is upon us—at least currently in terms of commodity, utility, and energy costs. And the fear of wage inflation when we are limited in the rate at which we can responsibly raise the comprehensive fee is perhaps our single biggest financial risk. The fact is that we cannot bank on endowment returns we earned prior to the crash, nor do we have the capacity to borrow for new construction and renovation into the future.

…the challenge presented by these speed bumps is part of the reason I find it exciting to stay at Bowdoin for a while.

These are genuine challenges, but I am confident that we can navigate through this next period and maintain and enhance the excellence of our College. In fact, the challenge presented by these speed bumps is part of the reason I find it exciting to stay at Bowdoin for a while. My job is continually reinventing itself, and I am reinvented in the process.

I received many positive comments about my recent column, “Words Matter.” For those who know me even a little, you will understand that to me it is equally or maybe even more important to recognize that actions matter. As I look out over this next period, it will be important for us to remain ambitious and to continue to strive for sustained excellence. And so, as we think back over the past decade and the actions we have taken, I am confident that we will work together to continue our trajectory of excellence at this exceptional College.

I look forward to working with all of you for Bowdoin.

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In the coming weeks, I will continue to offer my thoughts on subjects interesting to me or of importance to the College, but I want to hear your ideas too. If there is a subject you’d like me to address, send me an e-mail at mills@bowdoin.edu

Previous Bowdoin Daily Sun columns by President Barry Mills are available on here or on the Bowdoin website.

Comments

  1. Merton G. Henry says:

    Barry:
    I am delighted about your continuing commitment to Bowdoin. There is a lot to be said for continuity in these difficult times. I am certain the College will continue to prosper under your superb leadership. Just a voice from the “Real Old Guard.”
    My very best to you and Karen always, Mert

  2. Bill Clark '76 says:

    Dear Barry,
    I am delighted that you are staying at least another five years. You are a voice of reason and keen insight. Bowdoin is so fortunate to have you as its leader. Keep doing all that you can to ensure that the college remains affordable to all.
    A voice from the “Soon to be Old Guard”
    Best,
    Bill

  3. Spencer Eusden '12 says:

    Barry,

    You are right in that we are lucky as an institution to benefit from an endowment that has historically done very well against many of our peer institutions. Bowdoin has a great record for being a sustainably-minded, transparent institution in just about every area except for endowment transparency (See Bowdoin’s 2011 College Sustainability Report Card at http://www.greenreportcard.org/report-card-2011/schools/bowdoin-college). One of my first memories as a student at Bowdoin was hearing you speak to the class of 2012 during orientation about President McKeen’s address at opening of the college during which he stated “It ought always to be remembered, that literary institutions are founded and endowed for the common good, and not for the private advantage of those who resort to them for education.” I would like to encourage you as a proud, yet concerned, student to increase the transparency of Bowdoin’s endowment.

  4. Kristen Ghodsee says:

    Dear Barry,

    Speaking as a faculty member, I am delighted to hear that you will stay on as the Captain of this ship for another five years. Not to push a woefully hackneyed metaphor, but you have taken us all through some pretty stormy seas; it is good to know that your able hands will stay at the tiller for a good while longer.

    Best,

    Kristen

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