Trustees grapple with economic downturn

By Daniel Kerwin

The board of trustees meeting, held in conjunction with the Step Forward campaign in San Francisco on Jan. 8 and 9, was dominated by dialogue about the effects of the current global economic crisis on Macalester. The two main points of discussion were the future of the college in regards to the current recession, and the plans for the upcoming Fine Arts Center reconstruction project. The finance, investment, capital campaign and trustees committees also held separate meetings.

The two official actions taken by the board during the meetings were the routine matters of approving both last year’s audit and the comprehensive student fees for the upcoming year. A comprehensive fee increase of 4.4 percent was approved, which was less than last year’s increase of 6.8 percent. While the fees continue to increase every year, the percentage increase has been dropping since the 2000-2001 academic year.

Further discussion focused on updating the board on the important issues facing Macalester since the last board meeting in October.

“A lot’s happened since October,” Vice President for Administration and Finance David Wheaton said. “Financial matters seem to occupy a lot of people’s attention these days.”

Among the effects of the recent economic downturn, the college has seen its endowment shrink from an all time high of $700 million in late 2007 to around $535 million. A drop due, in large part, to Macalester stock market investments. However, because the college draws from the endowment based on averages of the previous 16 financial quarters, the hit on the endowment will gradually take effect according to Wheaton. No specific policies to confront the financial crisis were reached during the meeting.

“Everyone’s feeling crunched,” said Franz Meyer ’09, student liaison to the Board. “It’s a long term issue, we’re going to be working on it for a long time. We don’t want to jump into it too fast, but we’ll take advantage of the situation while we still can.”

The second session of the meeting focused on the Fine Arts Center project where no specific details were finalized. The Fine Arts Center will be the third construction project on the current capital campaign following the construction of the Leonard Center and the Institute for Global Citizenship building (IGC).

Although the fundraising target is similar to the one achieved with the Leonard Center, the current economic downturn has led to complications in the fundraising process. Right now the primary aim of the project is to find a way to continue attracting donors.

“There’s going to be no formal action from the board for a while,” Wheaton said. “This one’s more complicated than the Leonard Center.”

The next board meeting will be held in March, with Founder’s Day festivities set to coincide with the meeting. The agenda has yet to be set, but potential topics include discussion about the almost complete IGC, the chiller plant and student assessment.