We heard the first of it February 2012. The Gate, said a line in The Herald, would be shuttered and a new dining facility opened in Andrews Dining Hall. It was a weird idea — after all, the Gate has been renovated recently, it’s not exactly jammed to capacity and in this age of rapidly rising tuition it seemed like a weird, expensive and thoroughly unnecessary thing to do.
We heard nothing about the idea for the next 12 months or so until mid-February, when the higher-ups announced it was time to take the freshly renovated eatery and rip it apart. The price was, of course, not announced, but apparently the project, including some new meeting rooms, a study center and some fancy outdoor seating, will cost us $6 million. That’s a lot for any project, let alone a frivolous project that nobody needs. It’s too much. Lighting-hundred-dollar-bills-on-fire too much.
This is just the latest in a long line of unnecessary renovations. The $50 million gym, the $67 million reorganization of campus dormitory space, the multimillion dollar athletic facilities improvement project that includes a new field hockey field and the dozen-odd threatened new buildings in the Strategic Planning interim report spring to mind. This is more than just a wasteful project. It’s a symbol, the latest in a long, long line of wasteful symbols.
Given that these decisions affect all of us, you would think there’d be some element of student power involved, or at least some semblance of a democratic process. You would be wrong. Plans are formed behind closed doors, decisions are made behind closed doors and we find out when the administration deigns to tell us.
This project was announced on the same day as another bad decision made behind closed doors. The Corporation, as always, met in private and decided to hike tuition 4 percent and undergraduate financial aid 5.6 percent. President Christina Paxson then informed us that the financial aid increase was “higher” than the tuition increase. For the record: The University is extracting over $11 million more in tuition from its undergrads and doling out $5 million more in financial aid. Five is less than 11.
According to statements made by University officials, financial aid packages will not increase. Our insufficient definition of “need” will not change. Brown will depend on finding enough students whose families have a spare $57,232 a year lying around to fill 57 percent of its student body. That’s $6,000 more than the U.S. median household income. The situation already isn’t good, and it just got a little bit worse.
Given the lack of transparency in the University’s budgeting, we don’t know exactly how much money we throw away every year on unnecessary renovations and schizophrenic reshuffling of campus infrastructure. But it’s hard to miss the symbolism of the University announcing a pointless $6 million project on the very same day it announces plans to extract $6 million more from its undergraduates.
There’s a lesson in this mess. Over the past year, a student body not in the habit of demanding much of anything has demanded one thing: universal need-blind admissions. The signatures of over a fifth of the student body have been gathered. The Committee on Financial Aid endorsed it. Meetings have been held — meeting after meeting after meeting — and administrators have heard the student input they supposedly care about.
That demand has been ignored. The Corporation didn’t touch it. Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Beppie Huidekoper claimed it was unsustainable without even having a cost estimate. They met in secret meetings closed to the public and hammered out a plan, disregarding student demands.
So the next time the administration claims that the current system works, that students should be content to give friendly advice while having little or no real power, we should remember this moment. We should remember when the administration disregarded student action and doubled down on its building spree even as it continued to admit international students based on the wealth of their families.
Friendly advice is inadequate. A token student presence on the University Resources Committee is inadequate. The Corporation and administrators run the show, and they are prepared to spend and spend on flashy renovations we don’t need while continuing unjust admissions policies. There just might come a time when the members of this community aren’t satisfied anymore with letting the financiers of the Corporation have the final say. The sooner the better.
Daniel Moraff ’14 can be reached at email@example.com.