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Jenkins addresses economic crisis in letter

Aaron Steiner | Tuesday, December 2, 2008

On the day when government officials announced that the country has been in a recession since December of 2007, University President Fr. John Jenkins wrote to faculty and staff about the current economic downturn and its potential effect on the University.

Notre Dame Assistant Vice President for News and Information Dennis Brown told The Observer the letter was not sent in response to specific concerns, but he said Notre Dame is aware of potential concerns and issues.

“We’re not oblivious to the economic conditions that are facing the university community,” he said. Brown said discussions about how to address the University’s situation with regard to the recession have been ongoing during the past two or three weeks, stating that such discussion are simply “prudent planning.”

In the e-mail message, dated Dec. 1, Jenkins said the University is “well positioned to weather the current storm,” but also wrote that economic pressures would force the University to “do more with existing resources in order to reduce expenditures.”

“While responsible stewardship of the University’s resources is necessary at all times, it is critical in these grave economic conditions,” he said, stating he has asked academic and administrative leaders to identify possible savings and reduce costs where possible.

Jenkins also wrote that he asked the University budget office to develop contingency plans “in the event that economic conditions worsen.”

Jenkins said Notre Dame would remain committed to the core mission of the University, noting commitments to financial aid, research, graduate student support, library funding, construction projects, and faculty and staff salaries.

University Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves confirmed that current construction projects will continue to function, telling The Observer on Nov. 20, “All of the construction projects we have on campus are fully funded, and we are not going to stop construction.”

Affleck-Graves said construction does not begin until 100 percent of the funding is pledged, and 75 percent is received.

Joseph Russo, director of Student Financial Strategies in the Office of Student Financial Services, told The Observer on Nov. 14 that the University remains committed to making a Notre Dame education affordable and accessible, confirming Jenkins’ remarks.

Jenkins’ letter specifically addressed possible concerns about employment.

“It is a priority for the University that our current employees remain part of the Notre Dame community. While we cannot guarantee that there will be no changes to our workforce, our current assessment of the economic situation … does not lead us to anticipate any such changes,” he said.

Jenkins’ letter addressed the University’s “most significant financial asset,” its endowment, which amounted to $7 billion by the close of the fiscal year ending June 30, 2008.

Scott Malpass, University vice president and chief investment officer, told The Observer in September that a “tough year” lies ahead.

But Malpass said at the time he was “downplaying expectations” for next June’s return.

“I don’t know how it will end up, but I think it will be a tough year. If we are positive again this year, I think it will be a minor miracle,” he said.

Jenkins mentioned that administrators are “very much aware that economic pressures on some of our dedicated benefactors may limit their current ability to support our efforts.”

Jenkins thanked University staff and faculty for their work in the letter.

“Without your presence, dedication, and contributions, Notre Dame’s traditions would not be carried forward and its potential as a preeminent research University would not be realized,” he said.