Moving On

In 2008, the world economic condition faltered and then fell apart. Enormous stock market losses, bankruptcy of Lehman bros, housing foreclosures, double digit unemployment, European banking crisis, all compounded to put extraordinary stress on this institution.


On the 19th of December of 2008, I sent the following memorandum to the Field Museum community:

"We had a meeting of The Board of Trustees Monday and I want to bring you up to date on events and decisions since our session in James Simpson Theater on November 12. 

To begin, thank you for the outpouring of concern for this institution and support as we work to make very difficult short-term decisions in the interest of the long-term sustainability and growth of the Museum.

As is obvious to all, the economic climate has continued to deteriorate. We are seeing unemployment, home foreclosures, bankruptcies and corporate retrenchments at levels unprecedented since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Academic institutions everywhere are cutting back. 

We are a strong institution with a great history but we are not immune to the global economic crisis. Our endowment has dropped nearly 30% since the spring. Attendance has been steady but at levels below budget. Philanthropy is holding at expected rates but the next two weeks are critical and 2009 and 2010 will pose financial challenges for long-term donors and friends of the Museum. We are hopeful, with President-elect Obama, that the stimulus package he has proposed will help to reenergize the economy but the impact will not be felt for several months. We need to plan that both 2009 and 2010 will be very challenging years.

In working to find ways to address these economic disruptions, we have adopted the following criteria to guide allocation of scarce resources. We will work to:
- Maximize revenue
- Care for the collections
- Maintain staff morale
- Emphasize high impact programs
- Minimize long-term damage

Applying these criteria and working in partnership with many of you over the last two months, we have undertaken the following.

We are working to secure additional revenues. Last week The Chicago Park District approved a $1.00 increase in our general admission fees bringing us more in line with other institutions. We are also adjusting prices for all services and programs provided to the public. Our philanthropic team--at full strength--is renewing gifts from traditional donors and bringing new supporters to The Museum. 

The trustees have approved a 2009 expenditure budget that is 15% below that of 2008 in order to stay within anticipated revenues. As you already know, this will require reductions in employment across the Museum. We have begun to notify individuals who will be affected, but most reductions will be implemented after the first of the year. A number of individuals who are eligible to retire have elected to do so. We are also undertaking other changes that relate to employment at the Museum. We will implement reductions in compensation for at least the first six months of 2009--20% in my case and cuts varying between 5% and 3% with compensation above $75,000. Those affected will be notified by December 30th. We are not planning merit increases for 2009 and are starting to explore an equitable shift from a defined benefit pension plan to a defined contribution retirement program. Health care costs will increase modestly in 2009. We will provide two additional floating holidays for 2009. 

We are making numerous changes to the way we work in order to realize savings. For example, we are refining our strategy for exhibitions. We have cancelled the Sesame Street exhibition for 2009 and are looking critically at the expense of other temporary exhibitions over the next three years now that we have new permanent exhibitions of quality--Evolving Planet, Crown Family PlayLab, Underground Adventure, Malott Hall of Jades, Ancient Americas, DNA Discovery, Brooker Gallery. We will work to identify opportunities from our own collections and simplify our process in developing and building exhibits. 

We are deferring construction of the Comer Gallery but continuing to build the fully-funded Grainger Gallery.

We are reducing administrative expenses by looking at opportunities to eliminate or simplify work and to consolidate departments where there is opportunity for increased efficiency or cost reduction. We are reducing hours in the Library and cancelling subscriptions to many journals. We are limiting access to the Harris Loan Program. We have eliminated the Provost position. We are reducing the hours the Museum is open. We are moving positions from the operating budget to other funds wherever possible. We are eliminating capital expenditures except those absolutely mandatory to keep the building operational. We have reworked budgets in the Education Department to maximize revenue and cover expenses through program fees, grants and restricted funds. We are focusing on high priority iconic educational programs that drive attendance and eliminating all others. We are eliminating most temporary exhibition educational programming in order to emphasize permanent collections, general science and Field Museum research.

We are eliminating expenses such as printing for the Museum's annual report and employee benefits guide, providing only electronic access to these documents. We have eliminated expenses for the staff holiday part and other events. We are working to streamline and consolidate technology platforms, services and equipment.

I thank those of you who have joined The Annual Fund. Your participation sends an excellent message to our external donors that staff are willing to share in the support of the Museum. I also thank those who will retire but will stay on in voluntary and emeritus positions.

While we are focused so intently on budget reductions, the Museum continues to enjoy extraordinary success...dozens of scientific publications, four new grants from The National Science Foundation, new support from The MacArthur Foundation and the Tawani Foundation and the first grant ever from The Davee Foundation, the impact of The Aztec World, new Searle Funds for Botany, the success of the high school transformation project, the completion of field work on the 21st rapid inventory. We recently finished a successful upgrade to a new voicemail system and continue to strengthen our technology infrastructure. In the Library we have secured foundation support to digitize our archived films. In Education we are finishing a highly successful year with school group visits and outreach programs and had one of our most successful years of attendance at our Dozin' with the Dinos overnight programs. Our front line staff provides a quality experience to our guests. Clearly, we continue to do significant and impactful work.

We concluded the Trustees Board Meeting with two great reports--one from Olivier Rieppel on the evolution of the turtle and one from Corine Vriessendorp on the latest rapid inventory in Ecuador. These presentations were nothing short of inspirational to our trustees. One sent me the following message--
'And what a way to end--with Olivier and Corine! Their message would make it clear to all trustees how important the Museum is to Chicago and the World, and how important it is that all of us work harder than ever to protect the Museum for the future.'

I have had conversations with many of you and a number of good ideas have resulted. I encourage continued input and end this letter as I began, with thanks for your support in a very difficult time." 


Looking back on it, we did the right thing, and colleagues at other institutions went through similar steps.
- From the American Museum of Natural History, Ellen Futter: "The challenges we are facing, while not of our own making, are unprecedented in our lifetimes...additional budgetary reductions...reductions in staff...cannot ignore economic realities..."
- "Lincoln Park Zoo to cut more than $1 million, a move that will force the zoo to cut programs and eliminate staff."
- "Metropolitan Opera has been bludgeoned by the recession and now faces a 'disaster scenario' unless the company finds major cost cuts."
- University of Chicago Medical Center: "...the positions of 15 senior managers including 4 VPs were eliminated this week...focus on budget reductions and organizational restructuring...it is likely that significant and broader staff reductions will be necessary."
- Princeton University: "...the endowment has significantly lost value...this year's downturn is deeper than what anyone could have imagined...we are at the beginning of a multi-year budget adjustment."

How quickly we forget the risks that all of these great institutions faced and the similar way in which we all addressed the problems. Four years later, I think we have re-established the financial base of this institution and--economic conditions willing--can be on the cusp of a period of renewed innovation and growth.

On this rather somber note, but with high expectations for this great institution and the success of our new president Richard Lariviere, I bid you adieu, having shared with you some humor, and I hope wisdom, over these blogs. I could not have done this without the counsel and good guidance of my partner in this endeavor Jane Hanna, who is on the cusp of a great career in this world of technology, innovation and increasing complexity.

So here I am at age 74 about to move on to a new state of bliss known as retirement, which is providing several challenges to me--including trying to figure out what I've been trying to do over these last decades and failing at a succinct answer, which has now been provided to me by Virginia Tufte in her book Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style, a quotation from Laura Nash and Howard Stevenson, from "Success That Lasts:"

"Success involves more than a heart-pounding race to the finish line. Our research uncovered four irreducible components of enduring success: happiness (feelings of pleasure or contentment about your life); achievement (accomplishments that compare favorably against similar goals others have strived for); significance (the sense that you've made a positive impact on people you care about); and legacy (a way to establish your values or accomplishments so as to help others find future success)."

That sums up my aspiration far better than I could have said it myself.