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Tyler Rosenbaum '11: Methinks he doth protest too much

I doubt that many administrators here at Brown would think of me as some sort of student collaborateur, working to shore up support among the serfs for our benevolent overlords. I've been known to have more than my fair share of grievances, many aired publicly on this very page.

Like everyone else, there are some things I would do differently if I were in charge. But I don't believe that the administration here is full of heartless, diabolically scheming bureaucrats who think of nothing but themselves, and therefore I take issue with Simon Liebling's column in last week's Herald ("Take your self-sacrifice and shove it," Sept. 18).
Liebling's column seems to imply that Brown's administration is bent on expanding the campus, come hell or high water — as if renovating Faunce or erecting the Mind Brain Behavior Building were more important to them than maintaining the quality and affordability of undergraduate education.

The first, and most obvious, response to this nonsense is that administrators' hands are tied. That's how bequests work. Yes, some donations to the University come with no strings attached. But from my experience on the Undergraduate Council of Students, I know that most donors specifically condition their gift on its being used for a specific purpose.

Such restricted donations account for most of the funding behind the construction that is currently going on at Brown. Therefore, the choice is not between a fancy new building and more financial aid, but rather between a new or renovated building for students' use and millions of dollars sitting tight in a would-be donor's hedge fund.

Moreover, the administration has gone through pains to notify donors that gifts could be more profitably used to increase financial aid or going toward staff retention. But to some, a shiny new building bearing their name is sexier than the knowledge that the average financial aid package is $500 larger. And since the millions are theirs to give, that decision is their prerogative.

Finally, it is unclear how exactly continuing on with previously scheduled and donor-funded construction projects is an example of administrators "protect(ing) themselves." As one of my friends noted, "It's not like they're Louis XIV, building themselves a summer palace while the peasants starve."

Indeed, I would say that the administration's response to the economic crisis has been exemplary. More than a quarter of the University's resources disappeared essentially overnight, and neither I nor any of my friends have noticed any significant effects upon the students. Remarkably, not only has the University committed to not cutting faculty, but also to maintaining the already generous levels of financial aid that pre-existed the stock market crash.

Almost all decisions about how to make the necessary budget cuts will be made by the Undergraduate Resource Committee. And though Liebling dismisses out of hand the importance of having two students on the 15-member committee, this is a level of official student input that would be inconceivable at most other institutions.

The administration's solicitude for student and community input on this issue is even more remarkable considering the resounding silence that it encounters when it explicitly seeks out such opinions. Those few students and community members who do respond rarely heed administrators' (reasonable) request not simply to complain about cuts, but rather to proactively suggest reductions that would be more acceptable.

Perhaps some students fail to comprehend that the economic crunch hits universities just as it hits families. Our insatiable expectations of constantly increasing amenities and decreasing tuition rates (once financial aid is factored in) were rooted in the years when endowments could grow by 10 or 20 percent per year.

Therefore, it might be popular to lament a year in which financial aid does not increase and tuition rises a whole three percent (never mind that when the tuition increase was approved, the latest inflation rates were 3.8 percent).

And while I do sympathize with the 30 staff members the University had to let go, the fact that this only constituted two-thirds of one percent of Brown's employeesshows that the administration is actually very cognizant of the difficulties that laid-off staff face and  demonstrates a desire to mitigate the recession's effect on them. This is especially true when you consider that, over the last several years, Providence's unemployment rate has increased from 4.3 to 12.1 percent.

Again, this column is not meant to imply that the administration is always in the right and protestors are always in the wrong. It is just meant to put some of the difficult decisions the school has to make in perspective. And though we're not out of the woods yet, so far the management of the University's resources in the face of such tremendous financial difficulties has been remarkable, to say the least.

Tyler Rosenbaum '11 is a callous shill for the administration's sinister plot to
balance the budget.


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