Advancing Our Vision: Q & A

Q: What was the purpose of “Advancing Our Vision?”

A: We engaged campus leaders and invited the entire university community to consider how to best apply financial resources to support our vision of being a preeminent Catholic research university for the 21st century. Fr. Jenkins then established the Strategic Funding Committee to identify how best to reallocate 2% to 4% of current budget dollars to areas of high priority. They identified $30 million in potential savings, or roughly 3% of the budget.

Q: What instigated this project?

A: Since assuming the presidency nearly seven years ago, Father Jenkins and the University’s leadership have worked to define the University vision and direct our energies toward realizing our future. This has influenced such decisions as whom we’ve hired, the building construction we’ve undertaken and the types of students we’ve recruited. This project examined how we use our resources in support of our strategic plan, and how we can do that in a sustainable way.

Q: Will you be doing something like this again next year? And the year after?

A: The Strategic Funding Committee will meet periodically for updates on implementation. While there are no plans for another round of reallocations, we hope that the spirit of efficiency and making the most of our resources continues to guide our decisions in the future.

Q: When will these changes be implemented?

A: Some already have been implemented—such as changes to TravelND—and are proving to be effective in helping us redirect dollars to our highest priorities. Other changes will be phased in over the coming months.

Q: Was this a Board of Trustees mandate?

A: No. This is a leadership initiative of Father Jenkins, with the support of John Affleck-Graves and Tom Burish.

Q: How many jobs have been lost?

A: No employee has lost a job. Instead, voluntary early retirements and natural attrition have enabled us to consolidate various job responsibilities and, subsequently, reallocate funds to other priorities.

Q: Does this project mandate budget cuts?

A: This is not a project to cut the budget. The Fiscal Year 2012 budget is slightly higher than the FY 2011 budget of more than $1 billion. The committee’s charge is to outline creative uses of existing dollars, with a goal of identifying between 2% and 4% of dollars from current departmental budgets that could applied toward the initiatives that will advance the University’s vision.

Q: How will this impact raises for next year?

A: We continue our commitment to allocating available dollars for raises in a way that supports our performance management program, rewards excellence, and maintains our market competitive position. This project does not impact that commitment.

Q: If the endowment is up, why do we need this initiative?

A: The endowment has improved, though in recent weeks there has been considerable market volatility. But the endowment is only one source of income, and 75% of it is restricted by donor agreements for specific priorities. With the uncertainty of the national and global economy, we face the following challenges to new revenue:

  • Our donor giving has not recovered to pre-recession levels.
  • Families cannot afford tuition increases; thus we have held them quite low.
  • The economy has left parents and students in greater need of tuition assistance, an obligation we meet.
  • The higher education community is bracing for an overall reduction in research dollars as the country grapples with the federal budget deficit.

Q: Would we have undertaken this project if we hadn’t been facing hard economic times?

A: Successive years of a poor economy have left many of us thinking only of “making ends meet.” With so many challenges to revenues, we are still facing difficult times. But this initiative pushes the discussion beyond maintenance to how we move forward in the face of declining resources. We believe that can be done by reallocating existing funds.

Q: Has the University undertaken this kind of step before?

A: There are two noteworthy decisions in recent history that made the University more secure in the face of an economic downturn. We adopted a conservative spending formula for endowment income that protects the University against wild swings of the market and the economy. And we determined that we would not undertake a building construction project unless 100% of its cost was pledged and 75% was in hand.

In recent history, we also adopted a policy to assure undergraduates of need-based tuition assistance. The step was a key move in bringing socio-economic and ethnic diversity to the student body. In the face of a difficulty economy, with parents facing layoffs and lost income, we have been called upon to meet increased tuition assistance needs. Regardless of the cost, we remain committed to tuition assistance.

Q: What’s the difference between making cuts and allocating funds?

A: Cuts imply a reduction in the total amount spent. In this case, it’s not that the budget will decline, but that a greater portion of it will be allocated to initiatives that serve our core purpose-–teaching and research in the context of our Catholic faith.

Q: Didn’t we just go through an exercise in reallocating funds?

A: For the FY2010 budget, business managers were asked to proactively identify 2% across-the-board savings in their area, should the economic downturn force cuts. Those savings then were allocated to initiatives core to our mission. While the committee is executing a similar allocation process, it is undertaking the exercise from a broader, all-University perspective.

Q: Have other higher education institutions undergone this process?

A: Many institutions, including the most highly ranked, have undergone a process like this. Several have outlined the process and its results on webpages. Visit budget.dartmouth.edu for one example.

Q: How were individual faculty and staff involved in the process?

A: There were more than 250 recommendations submitted to the Advancing Our Vision website.

Last year, the Executive Vice President’s office initiated an open suggestion box called Bright Ideas. Over the past six months, Bright Ideas was dedicated toward collecting insights about allocations. These resources allowed individuals to submit ideas anonymously. 

Q: Were any faculty and staff ideas used and, if so, which ones?

A: Yes. There were several recommendations in areas such as improving procurement processes, improving video teleconferencing, and moving to managed print services. Other recommendations submitted to the AOV website included offering early retirement and instituting a limited cell phone policy.

What is a wellness center and what more can you tell us about it?

Notre Dame will break ground this fall on a new facility that will offer convenient, quality health care through an on-site medical facility and pharmacy. It will also offer services ranging from physical therapy to flu shots and health screenings. It will be located at the corner of Wilson Drive and Bulla Road on the northeast corner of the campus and is scheduled to open in the spring of 2012. The wellness center will be operated by Take Care Health Systems, a Walgreens Health and Wellness Company that operates workplace wellness facilities in 380 locations across 44 states. The center will be open to full-time Notre Dame faculty and staff and their dependents Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon. More information is available at http://hr.nd.edu/benefits/the‐notre‐dame‐wellness‐center.

Q: Since staff positions will not be filled on a one-to-one basis anymore, do you expect employees to work longer and harder to make up for the difference?

A: It’s true that we are reducing and consolidating administrative functions in order to shift funds to high priority areas such as faculty hiring and student aid. It will be incumbent on managers who lose staff positions to prioritize and organize their departments so that employees are able to work smarter and more efficiently.

Q: Are you saving money by taking money away from employees through reducing cell phone subsidies and eliminating football ticket discounts?

A: Notre Dame has been far more generous than most organizations in the use of cell phones. Most others have required employees to pay for at least a portion of their company cell phone, and that is the model we will now use. As for the 20% discount on football tickets, that was a benefit unique to Notre Dame that we have decided to discontinue. Unlike the general public, employees will continue to have the opportunity to purchase football and other tickets and to do so without a minimum contribution, but this will be a choice not an obligation.