President Coleman's Statement on Bennington and the Economy

Mar 11, 2009
Because of our confidence in Bennington's capacity to weather the economic crisis without extraordinary measures, we had thought that a statement might raise more concerns than it would allay. However, given the prevalence of statements from other colleges and universities-in some cases announcing the need for freezes, across-the-board cuts, a slow down or cessation of building projects either singly or in some combination-the absence of a communication from Bennington was becoming an issue in and of itself.

For the moment, Bennington's two major sources of revenue-tuition and fundraising-remain steady. Our major donors continue to support Bennington. And we have seen no decline in applications to the College. We are particularly focused on financial aid and our first priority is to maintain the current and very high levels of support. Bennington's endowment has suffered the same fate as everyone else's, but for us it provides a relatively small portion of the College's operating revenue. Agonizing as it is to see that precious and hard-earned asset diminish, it has not had a major impact on the operating budget.

This being said, we are fully aware of the magnitude of the crisis and appreciate that the current situation can change significantly and that it is more than likely going to get worse before it gets better. In such an atmosphere of concern and uncertainty, freezes, across-the-board cuts, and a backing off of new projects are especially tempting. The problem is that they are formulaic ways of dealing with an evolving situation and necessarily sideline the role of flexibility, imagination, intelligence, and judgment. Those are Bennington's stock in trade and we are particularly loath to abandon them, most especially in times like these. It is worth remembering that Bennington began in 1932 during the Great Depression and prevailed against unspeakable odds. Given that history we are unlikely to abandon at this moment the remarkable faith of the founders in the power of ideas and the human resourcefulness such ideas unleash.

Moreover in addressing this time of national crisis, a major consideration has been the special responsibility of private educational institutions whenever and however possible to show the kind of confidence now that is absolutely critical to our country's and the world's future.

Hence, while we are asking everyone to keep routine spending at a minimum and to cut back wherever possible, we are not going to initiate freezes or across-the-board cuts at this time and we are continuing our building and renovation projects. The maintenance of our building and renovation projects has, in addition, substantial financial consequences for the surrounding community at a time when that community is under tremendous pressure.

While what has preceded necessarily focuses on Bennington, it is important to point out that our greatest responsibility as an educational institution is to use the resources of this community to understand what actually happened in this stunning collapse, to come as close as we can to understanding why it happened, and, most of all, to think hard about what would be the most compelling responses short and long term to a breakdown of such monumental proportion. I look forward to talking with faculty, staff, and students in the coming weeks to engage in that discussion.

Elizabeth Coleman
President of Bennington College