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10 (+) Questions with Fred Rogers

March 2, 2009 at 1:37 pm
By Margaret Taylor '10

What is a typical work day like for you?

I don’t really think I have a typical work day, because there’s a lot of difference, but what I would say I spend a lot of time on three or four main things.  One of them is working with the various people who are a part of our division and organization line, how things are going, helping to identify issues, helping to solve problems, managing our areas of responsibility.  I spend a lot of time meeting with other people in the administration on issues of coordination and planning and strategies, whether it’s residence halls, or the Arts Union, or budgets, or fundraising, or things like that.  I spend some amount of time doing just analysis.  Working on developing data, working with data, trying to produce a presentation and understand issues, reading material, sometimes reading The Chronicle of Higher Education or things like that, staying informed.

And I spend some time talking to people outside the campus.  I go to events, talk to them by phone or by e-mail, I just try to stay in touch with what’s going on.  All that comes in different amounts in different days, so there isn’t really a standard day.

What project are you working on currently?

The biggest projects are, we’re working on managing construction for the residence hall.  We’re trying to design and redesign a project for the Arts Union, so we could do something smaller than the original project to get it started earlier.  I spent a lot of time in the last six months on budget issues, planning the budget and working through all these financial issues as they’ve affected the college.  Just last week the Board of Trustees approved the budget, so that was kind of an end to a long process of getting that over.

Speaking of the budget, I’ve heard that Carleton’s endowment has declined by about 8% since last June.  How is that going to affect Carleton’s budget in the future?

Actually, and unfortunately, it’s declined more than that.  It was down about 20% by the end of December.  Since December, I think the markets were down another 10 or 15%.  We’re probably not down that much; we’re probably down another 5 to 8%.  It’s affecting us significantly.  It means that next year the endowment income will not increase, whereas it normally would increase, and the year after that it will begin to decrease.  It’ll probably stay below the level where it is this year for three or four years or more, currently, as we project it.  That will be a huge impact on our ability to fund things and to provide resources for the college going forward.

What might Carleton have to do differently?

Well, we’ve spent a lot of time in the budget planning, we’re looking at ways of reducing budgets, we’re looking at ways of reorganizing and consolidating where we can.  We’ve announced reductions in compensation programs for next year.  The thing we’re trying to not do differently is the way we recruit students and award financial aid, so that is unchanged, but essentially everything else in the budget’s up for discussion.

What’s Carleton’s strategy for meeting its Campaign for Carleton goals?

I think the development team is working very hard at meeting our goals.  We’re close to that, we’re two hundred and – I don’t know the exact number today – two hundred plus million dollars.  We have another year and a half, it ends in June of 2010.  They’re at work every day on continuing to develop conversations, work with the donors we’ve identified, meet that goal.

What sort of issues do students come to you with during the Fridays with Fred meetings?

It’s all kinds of issues.  People have come to me with smaller issues about personal situations, a parking ticket.  People come to me with larger issues about food and the policies of the way the dining program runs, people have come to me with proposals; that they’d like to initiate a new program or a new activity.  Students have come with questions about the endowment, or finances, or career issues.  So I’d say a variety of discussions.  I don’t always have a perfect answer, but we have a great conversation every time, and I hope it’s a helpful conversation for them as well as for me.

One of the big concerns among students is how rapidly tuition costs are going up.  Why are the costs going up so fast?

Costs of the college are driven by two primary issues.  There are the underlying costs of the various components of the budget, utilities, and salaries, and expenses, and the availability of other revenue to support the college.  The total expenses of the college are about 60% salaries and benefits.  The biggest single thing we do is pay faculty and staff, and staff the college operations.  The second biggest item is financial aid, which is going up very rapidly, at the rate of increase of the fee.  Those two sort of go together.

It’s primarily about the cost of the college, and about the never-ending struggle to find a way to make the college better, more appropriate to students, more relevant for the careers people are going to have.  The education that we seek to offer is a broad liberal arts education, which requires diversity in lots of different things, not just a few things.  It’s really that constant effort.  I think there’s great awareness that the cost is an issue for people, and to try to manage that.  At the same time, there’s ever pressure to make sure that Carleton remains as excellent and as strong as it possibly can, which is why everyone comes here, and frankly, it benefits alumni in the sense that as the college continues to be strong, each of them finds that their degree and their status is enhanced by that.

What needs to happen before construction of the Arts Union can go forward?

Well, we’re working on that.  The original plan was for a very large Phase 1, which the board and the president elected not to pursue because it was so large, and we weren’t able to identify the funding for that right now.  What we’re working on now is something called a Phase 1a, which would be like a smaller version of that.  How could we start?  Planning is underway fairly intensively for that, and I hope that by May, we will have both a plan identified and a source of funding for our smaller, beginning project.  We could start something even this calendar year.

What would you say to prospective students who see Carleton’s high sticker price?

I would say, you should not think about that until you’ve decided that this is the right school for you, and until you’ve applied for financial aid.  Our financial aid program supports more than half the student body, so there’s every reason to believe that you’ll be able to come here if you decide it’s the right school and you’re admitted.

How can students get involved in Carleton’s budget matters?

Well, we have students on the budget committee.  CSA appoints both the treasurer of CSA and another student who will serve on the budget committee.  They meet with faculty and staff and myself and the dean regularly throughout the year to discuss and develop the budget, and they vote on the budget.  We come to both CSA and the College Council and report on those meetings.  Again, there are students in both of those forums.

And Fridays with Fred meetings.

And you’re always welcome to come and talk with me at Fridays with Fred, exactly.

What’s the strangest budget request you’ve ever gotten?

I think, probably the one I had the least ability to respond to was the person whose office was cold because the window leaked, and they wanted me to spend $2 million to replace all the windows in their building.  I said, well, “Good idea, but that’s probably not going to work in a budget request.”  We’re working on issues like that, and working on trying to identify where we need to replace windows and do other repairs to buildings, but it was odd that it came through as my budget request.

Anything else?

Just that both as a Carleton grad and working here, I find it extremely rewarding every day to be a part of the community, and to feel the vibrancy that is Carleton, and to know that even in difficult times, that continues with high energy and high prospects.  I’m very positive about that.