Lawrence’s board of trustees responds to economic situation

Michael Schreiber and Alicia Bones

As the global economic downturn continues to unfold, the Lawrence University faculty, administration, President Jill Beck, and the board of trustees have worked together to ensure Lawrence’s continued economic and academic sustainability.Trustees and President Beck
Priscilla Weaver, a member of the Lawrence board of trustees since 1995, said, “I don’t remember the Great Depression, but … it is an interesting time to be a trustee.”
For two days four times per year, the board of trustees meets with Beck, faculty members, Provost and Dean of the Faculty David Burrows and Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Nancy Truesdell. The board itself is divided into subcommittees, each of which are responsible for an aspect of Lawrence’s management. The finance committee is responsible for approving the budget.
Weaver commented that the task of the board of trustees is to preserve the financial well-being of the university by “ensuring the long-term viability of the institution” and “protecting the academic core mission.”
Weaver also believes Lawrence has continued to be successful under the leadership of the current administration.
“President Beck and Provost Burrows [and other administrators] all have pitched in and responded in a professional and responsible way,” Weaver said.
Harry M. Jansen Kraemer Jr. ’77, chair of the board, agreed, saying, “[Beck] is doing an excellent job. She has a strong vision in where to take the college to move it from a very good institution to a great institution.”
Weaver said that the administration under Beck is charged with a similar goal, and she added that she can “speak for the board, in that they share my view,” when she says that Lawrence administrators “have consistently done a terrific job.”
“Jill and her cabinet come up with different ideas based on what they think, the faculty suggests and the student affairs committee [recommends],” said Kraemer. He commented on Beck’s leadership skills, saying that when presidents or other heads “want to be liked” they are “often not respected.”

Responses to the economy
According to Weaver, compared to other similar institutions, Lawrence has responded well to the economic situation.
“That Lawrence hasn’t had to reduce faculty [numbers] or salaries is astonishing,” said Weaver.
However, Weaver acknowledged that Lawrence has had to make a “bunch of tough decisions” with respect to the budget for next year.
For example, the decision to change the academic calendar was made more quickly than most of the board’s decision. In the decision-making process, the board decided “we ought to do this right away,” said Kraemer, adding that he was “amazed at how fast the decision got made.”
According to Kraemer, the board took into account that the six-week break, from Thanksgiving through the New Year’s holiday, could benefit students in a number of ways. First, six weeks will give students a chance to get a job. Also, the length of the break will allow students to make one, rather than two, trips home during the season. Additionally, international students will be able to go home over the break, something they were less likely to do in the shorter break. The schedule change will let the college save utility costs.
Saving money is key, said Kraemer. The budget has to be “financially solvent so the college can continue,” he added.
Another component of this problem involves the long-term financial stability of the university, taking into account Lawrence’s lowered endowment.
“This is not a minor recession, it’s more like a depression” said Kraemer, adding that it will take “at least 3-4 years to get over this.” He also noted that the school’s endowment this year is down some 30 percent.

Priorities and balance
Kraemer said that, during this difficult economic time, “balance” and the ability to “prioritize” is what keeps the college afloat.
Weaver does not immediately see what these priorities should be. “In the face of economic crisis,” said Weaver, “I don’t know what the priorities are.”
She added that it is “not fair” to “oversimplify” the university’s priorities during a time of economic stress.
In light of the difficult financial situation, Weaver said that Lawrence “is not able to launch all of the initiatives we’d like to.”
In response to the May 15 news article pertaining to faculty compensation, Weaver described the board of trustees as being “well aware of the issue of faculty compensation” despite the university’s inability to pursue all of its initiatives.
According to Weaver, the trustees do not “direct the administration as to what gets dealt with [when],” but Burrows has “kept the trustees up to date regarding this issue.”
Weaver described faculty compensation for providing individualized learning experiences as a “terrific endeavor to be pursuing,” but she said the issue has largely been dealt with by the administration due to its nature as “a financial [as well as] an academic issue.”
“Individualized education is not a new initiative,” Weaver said. “That admissions is now touting individualized learning is a result of Lawrence not receiving enough recognition. This is something that Jill [Beck] noticed when we hired her.”
Weaver was quick to explain that the administrators and trustees “didn’t wake up one morning and say, ‘let’s promote individualized learning and not pay the faculty for it.’ That is absurd.”
She said she “couldn’t say” whether anything could have been done differently for a better outcome, but she remains confident that Lawrence “still has one of the best student bodies in the country,” and she thinks that the “faculty has been extremely cooperative.”
Weaver believes “we have the right [administrative] team in place” to “come through this crisis in a very responsible and positive way,” and Weaver is “very proud to be associated with Lawrence” as part of a “terrific board of trustees [who are] very active and engaged.”
Despite the downturn, Weaver said that Lawrence has performed an “incredible amount of internal examination [such as the committee on individualized learning report], and many things have been changed for the better as a result.”
Kraemer agreed that every decision that the board has made has been in the best interest of the university and its students. Whenever the board makes a decision, Kraemer asks himself, “How do I continue to move Lawrence University forward in a positive way with positive momentum from a good college to a great college?