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April 8, 2002

Open letter


To Emory faculty and staff members:

During the past two months, this campus community has engaged in a wide-ranging, intense and important discussion about employee benefits. We have talked about our resources, our values, our reward system and the ways we invest in people and keep their trust. We have had this discussion because of an economic reality now constraining all of American higher education. That reality is quite different from what the 1980s and 1990s gave us. For some time, we have confronted increasing pressures on the budget, even as we have sought to continue nurturing the extraordinary growth Emory has experienced for 20 years.

I begin this message to you by telling you that the University is not in a crisis. But the realities with which we are wrestling are serious. They call for us to take deliberate and thoughtful actions.

The fiscal concerns that Emory and other institutions are experiencing are complex; many factors are involved. The most important of them are external to the institution and have to do with, among other things, the uneasiness of this country’s financial markets, the mess in which American health care finds itself, and the Balanced Budget Amend-ment and the federal government’s reduction of Medicare payments. In short, our current difficulties have not arisen suddenly, and they will not be amenable to simple solutions. Even if the recession soon comes to an end, our problems will not go away. It is not a matter of riding out a brief storm.

Even the most optimistic economic analysts predict that certain unfortunate trends—in rising health care costs and sluggish stock market growth, for instance—will persist for several years. At the same time, we must be committed, along with you, to building upon the excellence already well established at Emory. Maintaining this mission will require, from all of us, the most intelligent analysis of our needs and priorities.

Until recently, in a period of unprecedented growth in national wealth, we have not had to work as hard at this job as we have had to think about the best ways to grow as an institution. What we have done for more than a decade is to strengthen the University—in people and buildings. We have marshaled the wealth of our endowment to form an Emory that is stronger and more eminent than it was just a few years ago. But the endowment has done all it can to help us for now; its force is being employed to the maximum.

A number of thoughtful, well-researched and objective proposals about employee benefits have come forward in our discussions—from the excellent work of the University Senate Fringe Benefits Committee, to statements by individual faculty and staff members. I thank all of you who have clung to civility and clear, hard thinking during this process, as well as those who have continued to hold before us the moral and emotional dimensions of the subject—the investment people make in an institution, which requires, in turn, an investment in them as people. You have kept the conversation on course and, thanks to you and your contributions, we have adjusted our various initial proposals.

We are now refining what will go to the trustees this month. Those proposals will be different and, I believe, less sweeping than those first outlined in town hall meetings a month ago. The differences will have come about as the result of the past two months of conversation with you.

Although the matter of benefits must be settled finally, our campus discourse must continue in a better fashion. I am aware that we have not yet brought to the campus a sufficient understanding of the endowment, its management, our fund raising successes, the nature of the health care environment and a range of other factors that annually affect our thinking about the University’s financial health. In the April 15 issue of Emory Report, I will outline some of these things, so that the budgetary process can become more transparent.

In the meantime, keep these considerations in mind:

• We are a well-endowed institution, but our resources are nonetheless limited.

• We cannot take too much from the present, because we would thereby hurt the future.

• We are not complete masters of our destiny, because factors beyond our control hold us in their grip.

I welcome continued serious engagement with you about employee benefits and other matters. I believe we all want the same thing—namely, a strong and healthy university that carries out its mission and cares for its people.

William M. Chace