Honoring Our Retirees
This past summer, Vassar offered a voluntary early retirement plan to eligible staff and administrators with many years of service at the college. The plan was part of a much broader series of efforts we have continued to undertake since 2008 to regain financial equilibrium following the recession. It is the kind of strategy with which many of you may well be familiar from your own workplaces. The plan had two important goals: financial savings for Vassar and appropriate recognition of long-term employees with remuneration that could help them transition from the college.
The result for us all was bittersweet. By the time the recent calendar year ended, Vassar had bid farewell to a large, diverse, and remarkable group of 69 people. Although our faculty undeniably remains at the very heart of what we do, these employees—like their hundreds of peers who continue their work here on campus—have served the college exceedingly well and in a myriad of ways, some visible, many less visible.
I strongly believe that we succeeded in achieving both of the plan’s goals. Thanks to it and many other measures, we have made significant progress in reducing our spending, and thus the percentage of funds we take from the endowment for our operating budget. (During the economic slowdown we drew a higher than normal percentage of funds from the endowment to support our budget, and now we’re returning to a draw that will ensure sustainable support for the college’s priorities.)
I could not let such an extraordinary group depart without saying more. In aggregate, these 69 employees, coming from virtually every part of the college, gave an astounding 1,559 years of service to Vassar. Let’s put that in perspective: If we took those years and stretched them backward evenly in time from 2014, we would reach the year 455 AD—the year of the Sack of Rome by the Vandals! The longest-serving member of the group began working at Vassar in 1963, when Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy ’51 was still in residence at the White House.
Who are these people, and what did they do for Vassar? There is a common tendency for those who are critical of the cost of higher education to regard any employment outside of faculty as somehow a drag on the college’s mission. But in fact, these people collectively have been engaging over the past five decades in keeping our campus and buildings clean and in good repair, feeding our students, assisting them in the libraries, working to ensure their safety, helping them to get properly registered for their courses, and tending to their health. They’ve been the administrative assistants who have kept academic departments running smoothly, the supervisors and assistants who have guaranteed the uninterrupted flow of essential parts of campus life ranging from admissions and field work to the post office and the bookstore. They have helped to raise the resources we need to keep our college going, and they have helped to keep track of those resources. They have worked at engaging our alumnae/i and in communicating on behalf of the college to you, and they’ve taught and observed youngsters at Wimpfheimer Nursery School.
During our last turbulent national election, one of the candidates famously said, “Corporations are people, my friend.” We all can go on taking sides about the ramifications of that remark, but I for one am quite certain that colleges are people. And on behalf of everyone—students, alumnae/i, faculty, their fellow staff and administrators, parents and friends—who has benefited from how well the members of this group did their jobs for Vassar, I would just like to say one more time: Thank you.