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Trinity's Budget Woes Begin To Sink In

Boosting Institution's Endowment Seen As Helping School Recover Financial Health

April 26, 2006
By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer

The suspension of a popular program bringing together some of Trinity College's brightest sophomores for seminars and discussion groups symbolizes the painful effort to keep the school's budget out of the red.

Although many viewed the Tutorial College as a mark of distinction, it was among the budget cuts announced last week in an austerity drive at the private liberal arts college.

"I'm very sad about it," said sophomore Alissa Phillips, an international studies major from Atlanta. "I didn't think it would actually happen."

Faculty and students "really did not have a voice," Phillips said, in deciding the fate of the Tutorial College, which assigns students to the same dormitory, gives them a lengthy reading list and enrolls them in seminar courses taught by a small group of professors.

Although most on campus acknowledge that Trinity must confront its financial problem, not everyone agrees on the choices that have been made. Some critics have questioned why, for example, the college is spending money on a new community sports complex when academic programs are being squeezed out.

Although officials say they have tried to minimize damage to academics, the latest round of budget reductions includes such things as the Tutorial College, some library funds and about two dozen part-time teaching jobs.

Exactly which part-time faculty jobs will be eliminated is yet to be determined, but officials say it will mean the loss of 48 courses, about 6 percent of the roughly 800 courses offered at Trinity.

The financial squeeze will be felt across the campus.

"We've already suffered some loss" of part-time faculty, said Douglas Johnson, a professor in the music department. "Our courses in music technology have been eliminated in the past couple of years."

Trinity's math center, which offers courses and tutoring designed to bolster student math skills, lost one full-time position last year. "We're down to skin and bones," said math Professor Judith Moran, the center's director.

"I think what's being done is necessary," she said, but, she added, "We have a good program, and I don't want to see it downsized to a point where it's not effective."

Trinity President James F. "Jimmy" Jones Jr., who has grappled with budget issues since arriving on the Hartford campus two years ago, said too many programs have been added over the past decade without provisions for ongoing funding.

"It's just a wonderful idea, like an Oxfordian tutorial," Jones said of the Tutorial College, "but it was never permanently funded. When things are not permanently funded ... you have to make tough choices."

Although the budget crunch will force Trinity to re-examine its priorities, that process is certain to produce disagreements.

Next to the campus, the growing steel skeleton of the new community sports complex, which will include a hockey rink, stands as a symbol of Trinity College's commitment to its urban neighborhood, but some people question the annual $385,000 operating cost.

"It seems to me that's a huge operating cost to take on at a time when administrative staff and adjunct professors are being cut and academic programs are being suspended," said Maurice Wade, a philosophy professor. "It can be a great resource for Trinity and the community, but, given that academic programs are going away, it looks like a strange set of priorities."

Wade said the college should consider suspending the sports center's operations during the budget squeeze, but Jones said that is not possible.

"It would really signal something terrible to the city of Hartford if we pulled back," said Jones, who added that part of the community-related costs of operating the complex will be defrayed by a pledge of $100,000 a year for three years by one of Trinity's trustees.

The sports center, believed to be one of the nation's first urban community athletic centers linked with a liberal arts college, is part of a city outreach effort that has won widespread praise and bolstered Trinity's national image. The centerpiece of that effort was the Learning Corridor, a public school complex that opened adjacent to campus six years ago.

Although Jones has praised the outreach effort, he said Trinity's budget shortage left the school no choice but to tap into its endowment to support the construction of projects such as the Learning Corridor and the sports complex.

He has pledged to try to bolster the endowment substantially to ease pressure on the college.

In the meantime, officials hope to minimize the impact of the cutbacks, including an alternative for students who applied to Tutorial College - offering them a single course with a reading list and faculty-led discussion groups, said Dean of Students Frederick Alford.

The suspension of the full-scale program has been described as a temporary measure.

"In theory, I guess what that means is they're hopeful it will come back once they sort out these issues," said Dan Cosgrove, a sophomore from Quincy, Mass., in the Tutorial College. "For now, it's a huge loss for Trinity."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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