November 6, 2008

Skorton Hosts Forum About Economic Plan

Print More

Yesterday afternoon, President David Skorton spoke to faculty, staff and students in Bailey Hall about the effect of the current economic crisis on the University.
“After looking at the situation, I still can not be exactly sure of what the downturn in the economy is going to do to Cornell,” he said. Still, he stressed that “we need to approach this calmly.”[img_assist|nid=33350|title=Looking ahead|desc=President David Skorton speaks about C.U.’s response to financial troubles and fielded questions from the audience.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
To begin, Skorton detailed what the University knows will happen as a result of the economic crisis. Because “an important part of revenue for New York State comes from Wall Street, New York is in a difficult situation,” he said. As a result, there will be a significant cut in funding on State University New York campuses and at Cornell. According to The Ithaca Journal, the state will force the SUNYs to absorb an estimated $70 to $96.3 million of the losses in order to reduce the state deficit.
In addition, the earnings and growth of Cornell’s long-term endowment will decrease, resulting in a substantial “cut in the University’s ability to spend money.”
Skorton also addressed the issue of tuition, saying that since people are suffering financially because of the economic downturn, the Universities’ ability to raise tuition must be moderated by Cornell’s commitment to economic diversity. “We can not turn our back on the economic diversity that makes the campus what it is.” Cornell is the fourth most socio-economically diverse campus in the nation.
Skorton emphasized the importance of transparency the University’s response. “The University will be operating under conditions of uncertainty for a while now,” he said, promising to release information as developments progress.
Skorton emphasized that the actions laid out in the plan the University released last Thursday were to protect the University in the short-term. Initial actions included initiating a temporary pause in hiring of non-professorial staff from outside the University and a pause in the construction on campus.
As part of Skorton’s longer-term plan of action, the University will continue to “aggressively protect [its] human capital, make every decision with that in mind and will minimize layoffs by making smart decisions,” he said.
Skorton conceded that while he “will not be able to protect all people in the non- faculty employee rings, [he] is going to take enormous efforts to protect these people.”
Commenting on Tuesday night’s emotional election and the ensuing need for the splintered nation to unite as one, Skorton emphasized that, like the nation, Cornell must pull together.
“We are going to re-examine everything we are doing by thinking as a single institution and acting as one university.” Admitting that no one knows the answers to this financial crisis, Skorton pleaded his audience for their own input.
Skorton also hopes to increase the University’s “organized efficiency.” Nothing will be changed unless there is a reason to change it or if it can be made more efficient. He emphasized that the University must “admit we have inefficiencies and things [that] we can do better.”
In order to “grow our way out of this dilemma,” Skorton plans to be more effective in convincing potential benefactors, the state and the federal government of the wisdom in investing in Cornell. Also, he said, “the faculty needs to be given the tools and support to get more research dollars.”
Skorton also confirmed that he and the University’s senior leadership will “maintain the trajectory towards more diversity of the student body by requiring robust financial aid.”
When asked, by an engineering professor why the University cannot simply dig deeper into their pockets instead of eliminating low-level employees, Skorton responded that the University does not plan on eliminating employees to cut costs.
While some layoffs may occur due to lack of funding, the idea is to “utilize the size and strength of the University to absorb these people on the other side of the campus that is not subject to state cuts.”
Instead of layoffs and using long-term endowment funds, the University aims to first increase efficiency, re-evaluate the condition, and then make decisions. “I want to take this quarter to get back into equilibrium. We cannot spend more money than we have and justify it by saying that we will make up for it in future growth,” Skorton said.
To conclude, Skorton urged his audience to talk to people in their local area. “Different colleges will have different solutions to what is going on,” he said.
He affirmed that the University would maintain lines of communication between employees and students through student leader meetings, an electronic input box, the Cornell Chronicle and an electronic bulletin board on the University’s website. “I want morale on campus to remain high,” he said.
Yesterday’s meeting was open to all members of the community, though few students attended. It was part of the University’s effort to engage the community by providing a forum for discussion and in which members can give feedback. A second meeting is scheduled for today at 4 p.m. in Statler auditorium.