At URC open forum, budget bickering abounds

Forum provides a chance to 'whisper in the ear' of the keepers of the University's million-dollar coffers

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Students, faculty and staff voiced their concerns and questions about the University’s budget priorities at an open forum Monday held by the University Resources Committee.

The URC, which comprises faculty, staff and students, advises the president and the Corporation on the University’s annual budget. It holds closed meetings about once a week, augmented by occasional open forums such as the one held Monday in Wilson 102.

Provost David Kertzer ’69 P’95 P’98, who chairs the URC, led the open meeting, which was attended by about 30 people.

Assistant Professor of History Naoko Shibusawa discussed the need to expand the library’s subscription to the online database ProQuest Historical Newspapers. Shibusawa said the library’s subscription currently includes only the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, not the archives of other newspapers from around the country, such as the Boston Globe and the Chicago Tribune.

“Having these kinds of research tools available would radically change the kind of research you can even do,” said Jessica Johnson MA’06 GS, a graduate student in American civilization.

Shibusawa said she had been told by a library official that the library budget did not cover the $48,000 annual subscription and that Shibusawa should “whisper in the right ear.”

“We thought this might be the right ear,” she said.

Kertzer indicated that the subscription would not be a line item in the budget and that it could be funded by a general increase in the library budget, which library officials would need to request.

Johnson also said the University must increase graduate funding in order to remain competitive with its peer institutions and to improve the scholarship of its students, adding that many doctoral candidates can take as many as 10 years to complete their degrees, while Brown only guarantees five years of funding. “I think it’s also essential for Brown’s reputation in general,” she said.

Elizabeth Huidekoper, executive vice president for finance and administration and a member of the URC, responded that the 10-year figure is a result of other universities’ less-than-full support for their students, which forces grad students to teach and thus take longer to complete their doctorate. Huidekoper added that Brown has taken great strides to become more competitive in grad student support.

“If you compare where we are to just a few years ago, we’re way better off,” she said.

Kertzer said Dean of the Graduate School Sheila Bonde hopes to approve all requests for sixth-year funding this year, as Grad School officials did last year.

Other faculty members discussed the need to increase departmental operating budgets to keep pace with the increased size of the faculty, one result of the Plan for Academic Enrichment. Kertzer responded that the plan would be reviewed at the Corporation’s February meeting. For now, “I’m sure the Dean of Faculty (Rajiv Vohra P’07) feels that he’s been given his marching orders,” Kertzer said.

Julia Beamesderfer ’09 and Kirsten Howard ’09 represented the climate neutrality advocacy group emPOWER, asking the URC to adopt the recommendation of the Energy and Environmental Advisory Committee to reduce the University’s carbon emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

“We have shown that climate change is a very important issue for students here,” Beamesderfer said. Undergraduate Council of Students President Michael Glassman ’09 cited a UCS survey showing 58 percent of the student body supported investment in reducing emissions, even at the expense of other programs.

Glassman also raised a number of other student concerns, including financial aid, housing and the availability of a printed version of the course bulletin.

“That recommendation has made its way up, and I think there will be some movement there,” Kertzer said of the printed course bulletin.

Donna Mitchell, administrative manager of the Africana Studies department, said the University’s recent growth has led to a “domino effect” on its support staff, which is now “overburdened, overworked and underpaid.” She also said many University rooms remain inaccessible to the handicapped, including Wilson 102, where the meeting was held.

Kertzer responded that the URC did, in fact, plan to hold a future forum in an accessible venue. The next forum is scheduled for Nov. 9, according to the provost’s Web site.

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