May 8, 2020: Quarterly Update

As I write this spring quarterly newsletter, we find ourselves under ongoing circumstances that none of us ever could have imagined a few short months ago.  It has been eight weeks since Peabody had its last rehearsal, moved most everyone offsite, and took all instruction online in a matter of days.  This has been a time of both extraordinary change and adaptation, and at the same time, we have continued to do our work, meet our mission and educate our students, many of whom will graduate “virtually” in a few short weeks.  Through all of this our faculty, staff and students have risen to the challenges of this spring in remarkable ways.  I report here on some important developments. 

Financial Outlook

We always look at our financial picture and plan over a multi-year period.  In the first two years of our 5-year plan, FY18 and FY19, we made investments in new degree programs and the Breakthrough Curriculum, strengthened and right-sized existing programs, increased student and faculty resources, and began the process of eliminating structural deficits, thereby continuing to strengthen Peabody’s financial underpinning.  Two years into the plan the Institute beat its financial benchmark and cumulatively came out $2.2 million ahead of plan. The improved position of the Institute was due to better-than-budgeted enrollment and ongoing expense controls.

With the impact of COVID-19 increasingly apparent, we have projected that Peabody’s GAAP results for FY20 will be $1.6 million unfavorable to budget while Peabody’s revised budget for FY21 beginning July 1, is an additional $1.7 million unfavorable to the original budget, a total $3.3 million unfavorable impact for FY20 and FY21, resulting in a net negative $1.1 million since the beginning of this multi-year plan.  This most recent projection includes the financial mitigation steps taken across the entire university and health system including pay and hiring freezes, compensation reductions taken by the university officers and deans, and a one-year retirement contribution “holiday.”

Peabody remains fully committed to our financial plan, which will likely entail further mitigation across the institute.  We are currently evaluating what additional steps we will take to minimize exposure in the short run and ensure our continued institutional strength for the long term.  Whatever steps are taken, we must ensure the choices we make are consistent with our mission, strategic, financially sound, equitable and sensitive to the impact on our community. 

Fall 2020 Academic Planning

Peabody’s financial planning must be driven by its academic program and needs.  As noted in the recent communication from President Daniels and Provost Kumar, planning is ongoing across the university for the fall semester and beyond.  At Peabody, we have assembled a task force comprised of 25 faculty, staff and students drawn from across the Conservatory, chaired by Abra Bush, senior associate dean for institute studies.  This group is charged with developing instructional models under which Peabody will be able to operate and meet its mission at the highest possible level in the coming academic year.  This is a complex and challenging process that must be informed primarily by two essential values:  ensuring the safety, health and security of the entire Peabody community – faculty, staff and students, and delivering the highest level educational experience for our students.  I am enormously grateful to the task force for undertaking this important work. 

Fall 2020 Admissions

We can now report a very strong outcome in Conservatory admissions for the upcoming academic year.  As of May 1, Peabody has received the commitment of 315 admitted students, exceeding our goal of 296, in addition to nine double degree students.  Of the 324 members in the entering class, 54 students (17 percent) are underrepresented minorities, among the highest proportion in Peabody’s entering classes in recent years.  Sixty-three percent of the incoming class are domestic students with 37 percent international.  While we are delighted with this admissions result, we remain keenly aware of the obstacles to attendance that may exist both for our international populations and some domestic students in this environment.  For that reason, again, our academic planning and models for the fall will be critical to ensuring we can meet the needs of all matriculating students.  We congratulate Associate Dean Townsend Plant’s enrollment team led by John Huling (Admissions) and Celeste Franklin (Financial Aid) for an outstanding recruitment result under these unprecedented circumstances. 

Virtual Commencement

On May 20th 211 students will graduate as the class of 2020.  While we are saddened that we are unable to celebrate the wonderful achievements of our students in person, we have planned a graduation event that both keeps the tradition of a Peabody Commencement while also leveraging some of the unique aspects that this virtual graduation affords.  Renowned writer and chief music critic of The New Yorker, Alex Ross, is our commencement speaker and George Peabody Medal awardee.  A planning group led by Associate Dean Sarah Hoover and Registrar Nilaya Baccus-Hairston have been working tirelessly to plan and execute this important moment in the lives of our graduating students.   


The “silver lining” in the extraordinary events of the last few months may be that it has propelled us to think anew about how we teach, perform and perpetuate our art under circumstances that don’t allow for in person experiences.  At the same time, we know that long before this pandemic, technology has been changing the performing arts, impacting audiences, and causing us to rethink how we develop and connect with new audiences.  For that reason, we are especially pleased with the launch of ArtReach, Peabody’s growing and expanding online collection of creative responses to, and resources for, the global pandemic.  Through ArtReach, people can watch archived Peabody performances, recently produced “living room” concerts by faculty, students and alumni, brief musical moments, teaching vignettes and more.  This continues to be an important way of ensuring that our performances and brand continue to be projected world-wide even though we may not be together on our campus at this moment. 

Breakthrough Plan 2024

Building on the strategic plan of our last five years, we have spent the last eight months developing Breakthrough Plan 2024.  The resulting plan has benefited from broad input that has included the involvement of more than 90 faculty, staff, students, advisory board members and alumni.  The result is a strategic roadmap built around 13 goals that focus on programs, people, and resources.  Over the last six weeks we have continued to refine this plan through a series of broader virtual meetings with faculty, staff, students, volunteers, and others.  While most of this plan was completed prior to the impact of COVID-19 and may require some timeline adjustment, the initiatives here remain fully relevant and indeed, more important than ever.   

Wrapping Up

As always, there is an enormous amount of activity going on at Peabody, albeit virtually these days.  I look forward to keeping you updated as we move through the summer and into the next academic year, and of course, to the moment when we can be together again on campus.