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Editorial: Measuring student opinion

As of June 30 the endowment stood at just over $2 billion, in line with the University's January projections. Over the next few years the sharp drop in value — a loss of about $740 million — will limit Brown's ability to draw on the endowment to pay for its annual operating expenses. More immediately, the University will need to cut $30 million from next year's budget.

The University has identified $12-17 million in savings so far, primarily by reducing spending on planned construction projects and changing Brown's policies regarding travel. The rest of the cuts will, for the most part, be determined by the Organizational Review Committee — a group of faculty, staff, administrators and students that was established last November and tasked with finding ways to reduce University expenditures.

Administrators have repeatedly emphasized the importance of receiving student input on the budget cuts. We commend the University for asking for student feedback on this issue. Budget cuts are inevitably somewhat painful, but by consulting students the University can ensure that the least valued services on campus are the first ones to go.

While we admire the University's intent, we believe that its past efforts have not done enough to reach out to undergraduates. To that end, we hope that administrators will consider new approaches that more accurately reflect the student body's priorities.

All too often, Brown has relied on the advice of a select few students appointed to various committees or working on UCS. While these channels for input are certainly helpful, they are inadequate as a measure of student opinion. We believe that the University should count votes, in addition to increasing student representation on the Organizational Review Committee and the handful of subcommittees that it oversees.

We do not deny the value of student participation on panels. Student representatives, and undergraduates in particular, play an essential role in voicing student concerns as the University deliberates on different policies. Our fear is that the views of students who serve as representatives on panels or through UCS might not reflect the breadth of student opinion on particular issues and, more broadly, on what the University's priorities should be. Brown is a small enough community to allow for a measure of direct democracy, and soliciting the student body as a whole for opinions would be a useful supplement to undergraduate representation on official committees.

An online forum is the best way to generate suggestions and discussion about budget cuts among students. Unlike public forums, anyone can contribute throughout the process without facing scheduling conflicts or other inconveniences. Similarly, an online ballot is the fairest way to gauge student opinion on various cost-cutting measures. After the

Organizational Review Committee devises a list of possible proposals for cutting costs, it should post them on a MyCourses poll, along with the amount of money each proposal would save the University.

An online poll with publicly available results will let the University discriminate between popular and unpopular budget cuts and give students a mechanism to demand accountability on the University's part.  The creation of such a system would spur student engagement in University affairs and would be one of the few welcome developments to come out of the financial crisis.

Editorials are written by The Herald's editorial page board. Send comments to editorials (at) browndailyherald.com.




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