Dean Expects Mellon Grant Cutbacks as a Result of Economic Downturn


Published: April 30, 2009

As a result of the recent economic downturn, the Rev. Robert R. Grimes, S.J., dean of Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC), said he may reallocate Mellon endowment money from Mellon Challenge Grants to other, “more essential” programs, such as the freshman experience, and a new class.

The challenge grants are one program under the $500,000 endowment originally granted to FCLC by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in 1974 “to strengthen the liberal arts curriculum and faculty,” according to the Mellon Foundation’s annual report for 1974. Since the endowment was granted, professors have used these grants to fund research projects, guest speakers and development of course materials.

According to Clara Rodriguez, associate chairperson of the sociology/anthropology department at FCLC, the grants offer an expedient alternative to seeking funds for projects from other private foundations. She said that applying for money through the Mellon challenge grant program allows for a quicker response to a proposal and faster money allocation.

However, because of the recession, Grimes said he suspects that the endowment will have lower annual returns, and this, coupled with recent FCLC budget cuts, will result in less money to fund Mellon endowment programs.

“On the one hand, the Mellon endowment is earning less. On the other hand, the University is cutting budgets, so I have less in my normal operating budget,” he said.

Because of this decrease in the operating budget, Grimes said that he may put more Mellon endowment money towards “funding things that we cannot fund from the operating budget anymore… If I see something essential to the college that is being cut from the budget, I will use Mellon to make up for it so that we can hold on to something that is really important.”

One of the “essential” programs that Grimes said he hopes to preserve is the freshman experience, which includes orientation, freshman seminars and freshman advisors. Grimes said he is also considering allocating money from the Mellon endowment to fund a new class for freshmen, the details of which he said he was not allowed to discuss.

“Those are the things I consider most essential, and those things will get money first,” he said.

Rodriguez said that she has benefited from the grants.

“They have been extremely helpful,” said Rodriguez. “We’ve been able to do things we otherwise would not have been able to do,”

Rodriguez said she used Mellon Challenge Grant money in conducting research for a class she taught on research methods and ethics. She was also able to invite the research manager from Consumer Reports to speak to her class.

Another perk of the grants that Rodriguez pointed out is that “they provide students with research experience, which is very important for applying to graduate school.”

Rodriguez said she was not surprised at the prospect of less money available for Mellon grants, and that many other professors feel the same way. “In the context of so many other downs, this wasn’t unexpected… it was accepted.”

Grimes explained the reasoning behind his decision to reallocate funds from the Mellon challenge grants.

“We’re going to do the best we can, but the key factor is deciding which proposals are most essential,” Grimes said.

“You may have something that would be nice, but then you have something that is going to move you forward on your plan for the college, which one are you going to choose?  Obviously the one that is going to move us forward,” he said.