Letter from Interim President Dan Whalen
November 15, 2008
My name is Dan Whalen. I recently became interim president of Saint John's University after Br. Dietrich resigned to deal with malignant melanoma. I cannot begin to fill Br. Dietrich's shoes. Luckily for SJU and me, Br. Dietrich left SJU both strong and resilient.
The Economy and Our Students
We are living in economically challenging times. Neither Saint John's University nor our students' families are immune to this. I am happy to report that Saint John's is a strong and well-managed institution. We have benefited from fiscally responsible leadership throughout our 150-year history, and today we stand financially strong. Our recently concluded capital campaign, One Generation to the Next, further secured the foundation for Saint John's for the next 150 years. The current economic climate notwithstanding, our future is bright.
Our first priority is to continue to provide our students with an outstanding education. To do this, we will need to emphasize our strong commitment to student financial aid. We fully expect that the number of families seeking assistance will rise. Nationally, applications for student financial aid are up 16 percent this year.
Our ability to meet the growing financial needs of students rests on the strength of two sources of revenue: endowment and the Annual Fund.
The sharp decline in financial markets has had a dramatic impact on university endowments nationwide. Some of the country's most prestigious and well-endowed institutions - Harvard, Dartmouth, Columbia and Stanford - are facing steep declines in their endowments. Saint John's assets are managed extremely well - over the past 10 years our rate of return has consistently outperformed the S&P 500. But our endowment has not escaped Wall Street woes. As of October 31, SJU's endowment has declined by approximately 19 percent. By comparison, the S&P 500 Index has declined by approximately 24 percent in the same period.
Allocating Resources Wisely
The economic downturn and the decline in endowment values put added importance on the Saint John's Annual Fund, because it helps fund a portion of the scholarships and financial aid we award each year. The state of the economy has also affected the financial well-being of donors and foundations. Thus, Saint John's is faced with a threefold challenge: Parents have fewer resources to pay for college, universities have smaller endowments to offer financial aid, and benefactors are stretched to contribute to the Annual Fund.
I've been meeting with our administrative and academic leaders to determine the most effective response to these economic challenges. We've examined our priorities to ensure that our resources are best allocated in support of student learning. We're considering not only what we need to do more of, such as offering additional financial aid, but also what we may need to do differently or at a different pace than originally anticipated. I'm confident that we will emerge from this financial crisis a strong and vibrant institution.
Throughout our history, Saint John's has seen moments of great success and survived times of economic depression. In this era of transition and uncertainty, I look forward to the opportunity to come together as a community to develop innovative solutions that will allow us to thrive and prosper.
It is an honor to serve Saint John's University at this critical time. Thank you for your continued loyalty and generosity. Our students need our support now more than ever.
Dan Whalen '70
Saint John's University