Update About Planning for Academic Year 20-21
This academic year has ended much differently than any of us expected. Our seminary and our world have been transformed overnight by the effects of the pandemic. We are missing the celebrations and gatherings that bind our community together and normally close our academic year. Yet even as we grieve the disruptions, disappointments, and pain that this health crisis has unleashed, we claim the gospel hope that Christ is always reforming our lives, our seminary, and our world, even and especially through this challenging time. I am tremendously grateful for the resiliency and faithfulness of our entire community in this season. The quick and creative work of students, faculty, and staff have ensured the continuity of our academic program and, most importantly, the enduring connection of our community, even as we must be physically distant.
We now turn toward the future, realizing that the effects of this crisis will be significant and long-lasting. It will call upon our continued creativity as we contemplate life in its wake. As we continue to make very difficult decisions in the weeks ahead, we will always prioritize our mission of theological education and, specifically, (1) the health of our community, (2) the learning experience of our students, (3) keeping our entire workforce employed, and (4) aspiring to deepen community life. While we will all need to make sacrifices in the months ahead, we will not lose sight of our mission and vision.
We will continue to move forward as a learning community, and much planning for the upcoming year is already underway. I encourage you to read this message closely and in its entirety for important information about our evolving plans for the coming academic year.
The residential experience is at the heart of our mission, and we will make every effort to return to residential learning as quickly as it is safe to do so. We are preparing to be back on campus for the fall semester, though we will be prepared for a variety of scenarios. Dr. Shane Berg, executive vice president, is leading a team of administrators and faculty to plan for the next academic year, and we will announce those plans by the middle of June.
In addition to grave threats to life and health, the pandemic is causing severe economic disruption, and the Seminary is not immune from these effects. There are both short-term and long-term financial consequences from the global uncertainty. This semester we have faced unanticipated costs related to moving instruction online, closing campus dormitories, and cancelling conferences, events, and guest lodging. In the coming year, we face new costs and additional potential loss of revenue, an anticipated shortfall of more than $3.5 million. In addition, the Seminary’s endowment has lost significant value in recent weeks due to the volatility of the financial markets, and this has long-term consequences for our budget. Simply put, as we face increased costs from this crisis, we will have less funds available from the endowment to meet our needs.
The Seminary is fortunate to be in a strong financial position, and we will weather this crisis. However, we must make significant changes to our spending in order to do so in a responsible and sustainable way. Robust budget reductions are necessary to allow us to prioritize the student learning experience and keep all of our current workforce employed. Accordingly, we are putting in place a series of cost-saving measures, including:
- We are suspending all hiring for staff, administrative, and faculty positions effective immediately, including searches that are already underway, with exceptions only for positions that are critical to essential operations. We will use this opportunity to evaluate our needs for new positions moving forward.
- A salary freeze will be in effect for the entire fiscal year. There will be no cost of living increases, except for employees making less than $50,000.
- Employee contributions to health care plans will increase by 1%, beginning July 1.
- A freeze on new construction will be in effect. The projects that are currently underway in Miller Chapel, Stuart Hall, and Brown Hall will be completed, but no new projects will begin in the coming fiscal year.
- We will scale back our dining services program and change some of our offerings. This will include the operation of the Brick Café and basic weekday lunch service in Mackay, with very limited campus catering.
- Catering budgets will be greatly reduced and will be managed from a centralized budget line, rather than department budgets.
- Travel budgets will be greatly reduced and will be managed from a centralized budget line, rather than department budgets.
- We will freeze consultant expenses wherever possible.
- All budget managers will be asked to review their department budgets for additional savings.
These measures may seem drastic, but they are necessary so that we can ensure the strength of our educational mission, not only for next year, but for generations to come.
People often ask me why we cannot simply spend more of our endowment in times of emergency in order to avoid budget cuts. The answer is that the endowment is not a savings account or a cash reserve. Rather, it is designed to support the Seminary’s mission in an ongoing way for the entire life of the school. If we spend too much of the endowment in the present, we rob future generations of support. This is especially true for the Seminary because, unlike most colleges and universities, tuition is not a significant part of our annual revenue, and nearly 80% of our annual budget comes from the endowment. The Seminary must operate on the income from our endowment draw, which makes us particularly sensitive to changes in the endowment’s value. Most schools with endowments have other significant income streams, including tuition revenue, competitive grants, and a deep base of philanthropic support. Yet these are a very small percentage of our total annual budget, due to the nature of our particular mission. Because we have only one main source of income, we cannot spend beyond what the endowment generates without jeopardizing the existence of the school. We would quickly find ourselves unable to fund essential components that propel our mission, including financial aid, faculty salaries, and the academic resources that facilitate teaching and research. In the midst of a crisis it is tempting to focus on immediate needs, but as faithful stewards of the gifts entrusted to us, we have to extend the horizon of our focus to those who in the future will be impacted by the decisions we make today. It is our responsibility to consider not only ourselves but those who will come after us as we manage our finances.
Given the ongoing reality of the public health crisis and its consequences, there will be adjustments to campus life next fall, and we will be sharing more information about this in the months to come. We have already announced changes to student housing for next year. All residence hall dormitories will be closed in the fall of 2020, and we will only be offering student housing in campus apartments at CRW, Witherspoon, and Tennent-Roberts, in order to best provide for the safety of residents. We will be prepared to continue social distancing practices and want to ensure that students have personal space for restrooms and kitchens.
We will also be changing our dining offerings next year. Because the residence halls will be closed, there will be no student board plan offered, and the dining room in Mackay will be open only for lunch on weekdays. The Brick Café will operate as normal. We are using this opportunity to develop a dining services program that better aligns with our mission. Food is central to the formation of community, and we value eating together as an act of Christian fellowship. The new dining program will help us to do this with more flexibility and creativity, and we will share more information about this in the coming months.
I am confident that we will meet the present challenges with faithfulness and resilience because we confess faith in the God who continues the work of creating, redeeming, and sustaining the world that Christ died to save. God’s grace is sufficient for us, and so we are a people who can be filled with hope, confident that God’s mercy is enough for us and offers to us and to all creation a future full of abundant blessing.