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Simon Liebling '12: Take your self-sacrifice and shove it

To those unfamiliar with the way Brown does business in a recession, the administration has to sound pretty prudent and responsible right now.

The news last week that University bureaucrats would carve $30 million out of next year's operating budget carried all the appropriate airs of self-sacrifice in times that demand it — improving efficiency, sacrificing superfluous expenses — while administrators said all the right things about including students and faculty in their ever-careful financial deliberations. Any budget cuts that might be painful in the slightest were treated in euphemism — layoffs are now "consolidating some people's jobs" — or not at all.

It seemed for a moment that the administration was living up to President Ruth Simmons' assurance at the beginning of the recession-provoked bloodletting: that throughout the budget cutting process "the pain must begin at the top." Provost David Kertzer '69 P'95 P'98 described cuts coming almost exclusively from administrative priorities — reduced bureaucratic spending and $7 million salvaged from scaled back Building Brown initiatives, the administration's dearest pet project. This year's cuts, the provost promised, should only marginally affect students. Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Beppie Huidekoper, Kertzer's colleague on the Organizational Review Committee, wrote The Herald to promise that faculty would be largely immune as well ("Organization changes will provide support, efficiency," Sept. 15). The message from administrators was clear: This year, budgetary discipline would be focused right where Ruth promised, the bureaucratic "top." How noble.

But this comes after a year of firings, tuition hikes and inadequate financial aid without so much as a thought given to turning back the bulldozers. Brown's administration has no right to the moral high ground in this round of triage, however improved their cynical messaging may be. Every student and staff member must remember that every budget cut, no matter how benevolent and selfless the administration may seem now, comes only after 30 firings and a three percent tuition increase — which means the administration has come around to making its sacrifices only after dropping the heaviest burdens on us.
The Herald's report on the impending budget cuts cites Kertzer as claiming that the University could save between $5 and $10 million next year by "changing policies related to travel and other costs." I just want to pause to make sure we capture the breadth of the absurdity here. The administration can save up to $10 million by tightening the purse strings on its expense accounts and didn't want to do that before it cavalierly fired 30 dedicated staff members to save money. Classy.

Each instance of the efficiency improvements that supposedly will save us millions is equally farcical — too little much too late. We, the students who pay higher tuition in a recession, along with the staff whose colleagues were unceremoniously fired, must ask the administration why they came calling on us first when all along they could have saved so many millions with a few simple organizational improvements. But the question is rhetorical and the answer obvious: The bureaucracy, of course, asks sacrifices of itself last.

What else should we expect when the organization tasked with finding cost reductions, the organization leading a process that administrators say will include "extensive input from students, faculty and staff," is made up of 10 administrators, three faculty members and precisely two students — only one an undergraduate?

It all starts to make sense when you think of it that way. The administrators with authority over budget cuts have targeted those cuts to protect themselves and have left the pain to the powerless and underrepresented — students, faculty and staff. It's why financial hardship means firings and merciless tuition hikes first and administrative sacrifices second. It's why no one talks about curbing the three major construction projects whose combined $90 million price tag would cover every budget cut from now to 2014.

This is why the administration pays only lip service to community participation in decision making. By protecting its unilateral power — in the form of the unaccountable Corporation and the unrepresentative ORC — the administration protects its own initiatives and interests, despite the needs of the vast majority of the Brown community. And as long as power remains consolidated in the hands of bureaucrats, that vast majority — students, staff and faculty — will be the first group to come to administrators' minds whenever painful decisions must be made.

So to Provost Kertzer, to the ORC, to every administrator behind these budget cuts, I say, take your self-congratulatory attitude and righteous self-sacrifice to the 30 staff members you fired last year. Take it to the families struggling to pay your outlandish tuition. Take it to all of them and see if you're still patting yourself on the back.

Simon Liebling '12 is from New Jersey. He can be reached at
simon.liebling@gmail.com




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