Carter addresses college budget, safety concerns

By Timothy Bearden

In light of a memo sent out on Oct. 15 from Columbia President Warrick L. Carter, the College Council invited Carter to speak at its end-of-semester meeting on Dec. 5.

Carter and Allen Turner, chairman for the board of trustees, addressed concerns from the memo such as Columbia’s financial situation, student affordability and the construction of the new Media Production Center at the meeting. Carter’s memo cited budget cuts, such as reduction of newly hired full-time faculty or staff; curbing of construction projects, except for the MPC, 916 S. Wabash Ave. and 1000 S. Wabash Ave.; and a freeze on non-course-related travel expenses.

The president said the college will save approximately $10 million from various extra expenses such as construction and travel. Carter also said the school spends approximately $1.5 million on catering, which is an expense he’s also looking to reduce from the college.

Carter announced at the meeting that the college’s endowment is down approximately 35 percent. Earlier this semester it was down 42 percent.

“We are going through an extremely frightening financial time,” Carter said to the council. “The good news for us is that it’s not as bad as others.”

Carter said the height of the college’s endowment was $115 million and is now down to $74 million as a result of the recent economic downturn. He said the endowment has seen a great improvement from the time his administration took over, when it was only at $45 million.

“We are still ahead from when we started some eight years ago,” Carter said. “So if there’s sort of positive news, it’s that we’re doing somewhat OK.”

Carter also noted the $10 million placed in the college’s long-term investment portfolio from the budget surplus in August 2007 was gone as of this past August. He said this year the college “punted” and didn’t place $14 million into the investment portfolio. Instead, the college placed it back into Northern Trust, the financial institution that handles the operating budget, which he said was better than losing the money altogether.

Columbia, however, isn’t struggling as much as some of the other institutions in the Chicago area, Carter said. The college didn’t place any money into Wachovia Bank, whereas institutions that have are in “dire straits.”Turner said the college has no intention of using any of the money out of its long-term investment portfolio, and the institutions that have been are struggling. Turner also announced the college must raise tuition next year in order to combat rising costs at the college.

“We’re currently having a discussion about tuition,” he said. “By the bylaws, the board of trustees must approve the tuition increases.”

Turner said the two main issues, not only on campus but also across the country, are affordability and accessibility for students.

“All around us, tuition is being raised,” Turner said. “Last year, we were very close to [a] 5 percent [increase] and that was low. This year we think state schools will be 9 or 10 percent, [and] other private colleges will be materially higher. So, we’re trying to keep that down.”

He said the official increase will be announced around January and will not be “outlandish” or “frighten students away.”

Carter said the college is also working on creating more scholarship dollars for students in conjunction with the tuition and the increase will be “significant.”

“It’s premature to talk about numbers or percentages at this time,” Carter said. “[The scholarship proposal] is something the staff is quite excited about and we think that once it’s approved by the board everybody else will be, too. But it doesn’t exist until the board approves it.”

Turner said although the meeting to discuss scholarships is the week of Dec. 8, they’re waiting until the end of winter break to announce it.

Carter also mentioned the MPC in his address to the council. He said the college will break ground at a ceremony on Dec. 10 at 5 p.m. More than 1,200 people have been invited to the event, including donors, the board of trustees, 2nd Ward Alderman Robert Fioretti, presidents of student organizations and the president’s council.

The money to build the MPC was allocated through a capital campaign that has raised approximately $11.5 million so far, Carter said. But only half of that will go toward the MPC-which is only one-quarter of the $20 million needed to complete the project. The other half raised will go toward specific programs, the endowment or scholarships.

“We can move ahead, or we can hold everything,” he said. “I’m a guy that moves ahead. I have full confidence that we will receive the balance of that money. There’s no issue of that between now and [2010].”

Alicia Berg, vice president of Campus Environment, said the campus is doing everything in its power to increase security, as well. On Sept. 26, Michael Underwood, a member from the Columbia Alumni Association Network, was attacked about three blocks from the location of the MPC at 14th Street and Wabash Avenue and was in critical condition.

Joshua Culley-Foster, director of the Alumni Association, said Underwood was released from the hospital the week of Nov. 10 after an induced coma lasting a little more than three weeks and further observation from medical staff.

Berg said the college has installed closed-circuit cameras in all campus buildings and has placed a security guard at every building at all times. Most recently, the college announced it’s looking for an associate vice president for Safety and Security.

“It’s the one new position that got approved in this fiscal year 2009 budget because of the security concerns in general,” she said. “It’s absolutely something I’m very focused on.”