Even with limited spending, staff are not expendable 

By Editorial Board

In May, we editorialized on Middlebury’s need to reaffirm its values by protecting its communities in the face of deep financial uncertainty. Four months later and back on campus again, we are making the same plea. 

For many in our community, it is hard to imagine how the gaping $18.5million hole of an operating deficit will affect Middlebury. For others, it is all too clear. Employees of the college are grappling with both a wage-freeze and a hiring-freeze — policies enacted to stop the bleeding from an anticipated $10 million in Covid-19 related losses in 2021. For many operational staff members, these compounding policies along with new Covid-19 workloads have resulted in an uncomfortable overextension: doing more work for the same — historically measly — pay.

Sabrina Templeton

Middlebury’s endowment is currently valued at about $1.15 billion. Many see this large accumulation of wealth as hoarding; especially indefensible as current austerity measures grind aspects of campus life to a halt. However, the reality of the endowment is more complex. $946 million is tied up in earmarked donations, and can’t be touched without the consent of their respective donors, and $180 million is controlled by the Board of Trustees. These two funds comprise about 97% of the endowment and can be used for a litany of things around campus, but — perhaps most importantly — about 30% is devoted to need-based scholarships for students.  

There is only so much money we can draw each year without endangering the financial health of Middlebury and its future students. Endowments are designed to fund programs forever by keeping the originally donated amounts intact and only spending returns on those investments. Dipping into the endowment eliminates the ability for those donations to fund programs in perpetuity, meaning that major one-time expenditures now could permanently deplete funding for future students.

And so we find ourselves in a predicament. If we draw more from the endowment, we may defund the scholarships that afford so many students the opportunity to achieve a Middlebury education and the programs that enrich our — and future students’ — experiences. Yet if we don’t, we continue to neglect the staff members that are the backbone of our institution — who have historically worked for low wages — and jeopardize their jobs in the event that students are sent home. 

Let’s look at how we got to this point. Through no fault of the current administration, the deficit is a direct result of years of gross financial mismanagement: nearly a decade of poor operating budgeting has left us where we are today. Bowdoin’s endowment was smaller than Middlebury’s in 2010; it is now over $600 million larger. Resultantly, Bowdoin is not increasing tuition this year and, like Middlebury, is also committed to keeping its workforce fully intact. 

Through their discretionary funds in the endowment, the vast majority of the college’s wealth lies in the hands of about 1,800 donors and 30 trustees, which, may we add, could one day include you. Those financial decisions, made by a group of individuals smaller than the number of undergrads currently on campus, reflect the values of Middlebury College. Now is the perfect opportunity for them to reaffirm the college’s lofty stated goals of inclusivity and “ethical citizenship.” These goals have not been met so far — staff have yet to be offered the security and peace of mind should students be evacuated from campus, nor the compensation associated with increased demands. 

Preparation for the next “unprecedented” event must begin now. The most vulnerable are increasingly visible during uncertain and challenging times. Internalize this awareness, and if you one day find yourself in the position of those 1,800 donors with the ability to influence the college’s allocations of wealth, remember that your donations can make an outsized difference to the most vulnerable. 

The endowment has always been a reflection of what Middlebury prioritizes; this is why Divest Middlebury was ultimately so meaningful. Decisions to invest in — or out — of certain areas display who the college and its donors view as valuable. 

We implore these donors, board members and alumni: do not continue to forget about who keeps the campuses of Middlebury humming, about those who enable such a great education to take place. Middlebury’s strength is in its people: its hardworking staff, brilliant faculty and diverse student body. Middlebury can only survive if it works — and spends — for all. 

This editorial represents the opinions of the Middlebury Campus’s editorial board.