State of the school: Optimism from the dean

By Frank Brown, Assistant Director, Publications

In what has become a staple of Yale Divinity School's annual Convocation and Reunions, Dean Harold Attridge's 2009 State of the School Address offered alumni a concise, fast-moving presentation on the health of the institution. This year, much of Attridge's attention focused on the financial challenges caused by the ongoing economic downturn.

YDS is facing a projected 13 percent drop in endowment revenue for the next fiscal year, Attridge reported to about 60 alumni, spouses and YDS staff gathered in Marquand Chapel for the Tuesday, Oct. 13 afternoon session.

"So, what is our overall strategy on finances?" asked Attridge rhetorically. "First of all, it is to be restrained in our expenditures, especially those expenditures for non-salaries. We're going to maintain our faculty. We're going to maintain our student aid. Those are the sacred cows that will be sacrificed last."

To do that, “a lot of other things must be tightened up,” noted Attridge, who was recently named the Reverend Henry L. Slack Dean and is also the Lillian Claus Professor of New Testament.  “The team has been working on this and is very serious about finding all kinds of creative and interesting ways of reducing our expenses.….We're also going to be looking at increasing our fundraising. And, we will pray a lot that the economy recovers and that the endowment at Yale grows sooner than later."

Despite an economic climate that has battered the school's share of the similarly suffering University endowment, Attridge predicted that the $38 million goal laid out for YDS in the ongoing five-year Yale Tomorrow capital campaign will be met:  "We are at a little over 70 percent of the time that has been devoted to the capital campaign, and we are at 69 percent of the goal for the capital campaign. So, I still think it is doable.”

Attridge's optimism is fueled, in part, by a healthy cooperation with the University's central development office, which steers to YDS donors "whose imagination has been captured by something at this place." As a result, Yale alumni who did not attend YDS— who on average have much higher salaries than people trained for the ministry —have contributed $10 million to the capital campaign, as compared to $6.7 million from YDS alumni. The balance of the $26.1 million raised to date comes from foundations ($4.3 million), individuals who are not Yale alumni ($4 million), and various corporations and organizations ($1 million).

In response to a question from Ralph Barlow ’59 B.D., ’64 S.T.M. about the relationship with the University's Yale Tomorrow campaign, Attridge elaborated, "We have good collaboration with the development office downtown and they are very supportive of our efforts and have funneled to us a number of gifts and benefactors."

Another measure of the school's financial health, Attridge said, can be had by examining YDS's reserve funds. In this realm, YDS is in good shape, especially when compared to other theological schools and even other parts of the University. The principal fund, the capital replacement reserve used for major capital expenses, currently stands at $5.8 million and is set to grow to $14.7 million by fiscal 2015.

Daniel Bonner ’72 B.A., ’76 M.Div., ’77 S.T.M asked the dean what is being done to boost the number of Latinos who attend YDS each year. Attridge acknowledged the need to reach out to the nation's growing Hispanic population and identified those YDS alumni in areas with heavy Latino concentrations as an invaluable asset in recruitment. Earlier, using a colorful handout showing admissions statistics, Attridge spoke glowingly about the size and caliber of the applicant cohort.

"We had an absolutely spectacular fall admissions season," he said. "We had one of the largest applicant pools in recent memory. We had 560 applicants, with 170 enrolled. That is about 20 students larger than last year’s class was. We had kind of a bumper crop of new students this year."