Every year for the past four years, Classics professor Andrew Johnston has encouraged students taking his ancient history and Roman culture courses to spend their summers participating in a renowned archaeological excavation project at the ancient city of Gabii in Italy, where Johnston runs the field school.
But every year, Johnston has watched as dozens of interested students are denied the chance to do so due to a lack of financial support — despite the more-than-$50,000 annual budget of the Tarbell Fund, an endowed Classics departmental fund specifically designated “for the support of instruction in classical archaeology.”
Instead of funding students to join the archaeological excavation as its indenture, or contract, specifies, almost all of the Tarbell Fund’s budget this year will go to paying for repair work in Phelps Hall, according to Classics department chairman Kirk Freudenburg. Other endowed funds in the department have also been redirected to pay for the University’s general budget, Classics professors interviewed said.
At a Nov. 18 Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate meeting, Freudenburg presented a report criticizing the administration’s “aggressive” financial strategy over the past eight years of appropriating his department’s restricted, endowed funds for purposes he said do not align with how donors intended the money to be used. Regular departmental expenses, such as librarian salaries and faculty research budgets — which had previously been paid from the University’s central administrative budget — are instead being paid with the department’s restricted funds. In total, Freudenburg said, the department has paid more than one million dollars toward these departmental expenses since 2008. Other Classics professors interviewed confirmed that what they described as an administrative “raid” on funds is damaging the quality of the department.
“When I came to Yale 10 years ago, I did so under the impression that we were expected to stand toe to toe with our competition by doing exceptional things, by having big ideas, developing programs, providing magnificent opportunities for our students and so on,” Freudenburg said at the senate meeting. “In fact, for the past several years, the only bold initiatives I have been able to undertake as chair of Classics have had to do with finding ways to eliminate and slash away at the very things that have helped make the Department of Classics at Yale one of the best in the country.”
In his presentation, Freudenburg referred primarily to former University President Richard Levin’s “all funds” budgeting initiative, which was instituted after the 2008 financial crisis to compensate for the drop in the University’s endowment and remains in place today. The budgeting strategy stipulates that more restricted funds — such as departmentally endowed funds — should be used before less restricted funds for the most effective deployment of resources, according to FAS Dean Tamar Gendler. Freudenburg, however, said the administration’s centralization of his department’s endowed funds has severely damaged its ability to do “important and necessary things” for the department’s students. He said the all funds budgeting model should no longer be used, as the endowment has fully recovered since the recession, and he recommended that the FAS Senate hold the administration accountable for its use of departmental funds — not only in the Classics department, but also in many other departments at the University.
Gendler, who said she has not been given a detailed version of Freudenburg’s remarks, defended the use of all funds budgeting. She said using more restricted funds before less restricted funds is a method for “responsible stewardship” of University resources and provides support for the University’s core academic mission.
Still, Freudenburg’s report extensively detailed how the all funds budgeting initiative has crippled his department’s finances. For example, starting from the spring of 2008, the department has been required to pay a Capital Allocation tax — essentially rent for the offices in Phelps Hall, Freudenburg said. The amount was supposed to be capped at $50,000 a year but has now risen to more than $57,000. Freudenberg called the tax “odd,” describing it as asking the department to pay for “being a department and doing our jobs.” In 2010, the department became responsible for paying for all research funds for almost all of the department’s members, and in 2011 it was tasked with paying a significant portion of the salary and benefits of Classics Librarian Colin McCaffrey. These expenses had previously always been paid by the administration, according to the report. Other added expenses include the salary and benefits of an administrative assistant in the Yale University Art Gallery, the stipend of a graduate student and the salary of the department’s lecturers.
However, Freudenburg noted that the amount of money the department has had to pay is not the only concern. He said the administration is taking advantage of loopholes in the restricted funds’ indentures. For example, the Horatio Reynolds Fund stipulates that no part of the fund may be applied to salaries of teaching staff. But the indenture makes no stipulation about librarians, so the administration used the fund to pay for the Classics Library librarian. Because of these financial maneuvers, Freudenburg said, the department’s largest fund, the Martin Kellogg Fund, is projected to run a deficit next year — the first in its history.
“Donors need to be warned: Leave any small opening in whatever indenture you write, and this administration will drive a truck through it,” Freudenburg said. “The financial details that I have laid out above suggest that donors’ intentions are not treated as priorities by this administration, but as obstacles to be gotten around.”
Other Classics professors confirmed the impact the all funds budgeting system has had on the department’s students and faculty. Professor Emily Greenwood, the former Classics director of undergraduate studies, said Classics majors are missing out on opportunities to join excavation projects and visit overseas museums. There has also been a decrease in the number, range and ambition of conferences and colloquia hosted by the department. Greenwood added that faculty members have been forced to shelve many exciting initiatives due to financial constraints, and that these impacts will damage the department’s profile over time.
“As a department we do an excellent job with what we have, but it would be dishonest to pretend that areas of our teaching and research have not been undermined by the raid on our endowed funds,” Greenwood said.
Johnston said that a few years ago, the department could support any qualified, deserving Yale student who wanted to participate in the Gabii excavation project. Now, however, the department can only partially support two students at most. He said the administration has “handcuffed” the faculty and students by taking away the department’s resources.
Speaking more generally, Greenwood said there needs to be clear accountability when endowed funds are appropriated into the general budget, as well as a restoration of these funds when a budget surplus returns.
“An important part of the University’s financial ethos is … the safeguarding and shepherding of the endowment so that future generations of students and faculty can benefit from Yale’s academic and intellectual culture,” she said. “Depleting endowed funds in Classics and other departments and programs is a breach of this ethos; this is to condemn future generations of students to less excellent academic training.”
The Classics Library contains a working collection of over 25,000 noncirculating volumes.