March 24, 2008

Dear Colleagues and Friends,

These are very difficult days in the American and Rhode Island economies. Just about every state -- and every state-funded institution of higher education -- is facing staggering budget shortfalls. Some writers argue that we are in as deep a recession as any we have had since World War II. Agencies, nonprofits, businesses and individuals are being impacted in serious ways, and all are seeking to change the way they do things in order to survive and, eventually, prosper once again. Restructuring is the word of the day, and nearly every enterprise is going through it.

While there are many indicators of this sharp economic decline across the nation, Rhode Island came into this recession with an existing deficit projected to reach at least $500M. The reductions and consolidations now being announced across a wide range of programs in Rhode Island are results of increased spending over time and a reduction in the growth of tax revenue. The University of Rhode Island will not be exempt from these challenges. We too face a budget crisis more serious than any in my tenure. We too will have to dramatically reduce our expenses and become more efficient in order to balance our budget and, equally as important, get to a better and more stable future. Indeed, the law and good practice require a balanced budget going forward. However, we are well positioned to convert this difficult challenge into an opportunity -- an opportunity to strategically reposition our university in the global higher education marketplace in a manner that enhances our competitiveness and our fiscal stability. I ask you to join me and other university leaders in our efforts to transform URI into a compelling and self-sustaining university of the future. More than ever, we need your ideas.

At URI we began this process well before the current crisis. Each year we operate with less dependency on the state for resources. Our alumni have supported the University at an unprecedented level through our Making a Difference capital campaign and other programs. Thanks to the hard work and commitment of our faculty and staff, we continue to be an attractive institution to prospective students, as evidenced by the 12% increase in our out-of-state applicant pool this year. Furthermore, we were recently recognized for our efforts to ensure a safe and productive learning and working environment for our community, and we have continued to witness the extraordinary employment success of our recent alums. While the challenges before us are substantial, we have many advantages as we move forward.

Finally, we have a history of being resourceful and entrepreneurial, often because we had no choice. Our recent branding analysis found that people often described us as "scrappy" i.e., being creative and innovative within a climate of limited resources. Indeed, we must, and will, continue in that spirit on the path of restructuring, refocusing, and repositioning our university. It will also quicken the pace towards self-sufficiency. We will look carefully again at all of our sources of revenue, invigorate our entrepreneurial efforts, and maximize our investments towards enhancing quality in teaching and research -- striving to become an even more prominent student-centered research institution.

In order to deal with the projected shortfall in FY09 (which begins on July 1, 2008), we will be moving forward with several programs to reduce expenditures to bring them in line with revenue and strategically reposition our institution:

  • We will use retirement incentives to help us reconstruct the profile of our faculty and staff and redeploy our human and intellectual resources more strategically.
  • Through a consultative process, we will develop plans for investing in new and existing programs that capitalize on future market forces, trends in contemporary student learning and success, and innovations and advances in research and scholarship. This forward focus will help prepare our students, state, and nation for leadership roles in the rapidly expanding globally based economy. These plans will be shared with the Faculty Senate and the Board of Governors as quickly as possible.
  • We will invest in our students through the more strategic and creative use of scholarships and other financial aid in order to grow the University's revenue streams necessary for self-sufficiency.
  • We will use the data that we have been collecting, coupled with the creative ideas of our community, to help us understand how to be more efficient and effective in the delivery of services to our students. These will include continuing to expand the hours of instruction to make better use of existing facilities and maximize student learning.
  • We will listen carefully to the recommendations of the University of Rhode Island Commission for Research and Innovation chaired by Justice Flanders to make changes in how we invest in the University's research and the commercialization of intellectual properties that stem from certain research programs, through our new URI Research Foundation.

This is a time where we must be more agile, better able to live with ambiguity, and more adaptive to change. We must also proceed with a generosity of spirit and an institutional perspective that puts all of us ahead of any one of us. We will work through the challenges together in order to build a stronger, more relevant, and more resilient institution. All change is painful, but we will need to live through some short-term pain to get to a better and more sustainable future. We must do so with confidence so that prospective students and their parents understand the proactive steps we are taking during these challenging times. Our students' belief that we care about their success and that we will go the extra mile for them is the best insurance of a viable future. In the end, our own commitment to learning and discovery, continued resourcefulness, pride in our work and university, and the desire to shape a vibrant future for our students, communities, nation, and world will drive our efforts. This is "our" university; let us move forward "together" to reposition it for a vibrant future.

Robert L. Carothers
The University of Rhode Island