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Simon Liebling '12: If I had two million dollars...

…I'd improve financial aid in a recession. Or mitigate next year's tuition hike. Or avoid firing University employees. Or pay Dining Services workers what they deserve. Or I'd give it back to the students I overcharged to get it in the first place.

But I would not waste it on speeding the construction of a building that's going to get done anyway. Not when students are struggling to stay at Brown, forced to take on hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt to continue with their. Not when the administration fires 30 employees to save money. Not when it's trying to deprive dining workers of their health care and a living wage.

It takes ruthless callousness to wield the language of hard times to demand sacrifices of all of us before turning around and wasting found money. But these are administrators' clear priorities. Their first thought after stumbling upon an unexpected windfall is not to alleviate the burden they have mercilessly levied on students and staff but to pour still more money into their dear pet projects.

The Faunce House construction project does not need two million more dollars. It will be completed with or without the extra money because it has remained entirely immune to the budget cuts extracted from students and staff. Speeding up the construction of Faunce — with money extorted from students — is precisely the kind of financial extravagance that the administration says the rest of us must learn to live without.

In better times, in the absence of more pressing needs, we could understand using a surplus to fast-track a construction project. But today, while students desperately need tuition relief and staff need steady jobs and fair wages, spending two million scarce and precious dollars to finish a building faster is an affront to basic human decency and any sense of community this administration pretends it promotes.

For students and staff, there can no longer be any doubt. When the administration would sooner spend its money on speeding up a building than looking out for living, breathing people, there can be only one conclusion: the administration does not care about us. When it can placate us without compromising its initiatives, it is happy to do so, but next to Building Brown we are insignificant, even problematic. We are the furthest thing from a priority.

In these circumstances, the allocation of still more money to regal construction projects is cruel regardless of the provenance of the cash, but what makes this impossibly outrageous situation still worse is that the administration is doing this with our money. They have two million unbudgeted dollars because they shamelessly overcharged us in the middle of a recession. Every student paid $340 more in tuition than the University needed.

The ethical thing to do would be to grant every student a $340 refund or credit towards future tuition, because this is a recession and families need that money more than the administration. But instead the administration put even more money to its glam projects, as if trying to see just how much bull it could manage to pull on us before anyone objected.  And the $two million may not be enough to speed up construction. University officials warn that more money may have to be taken from somewhere else.

At the very least, the administration could have asked us how we wanted our money to be spent. Beppie Huidekoper, the executive vice president for finance and administration and the University's acting Marie Antoinette, told the Brown University Community Council that the administration allocated the money to Faunce because it wanted to choose a project that would benefit the students who provided the funds. But this is the administration putting words in students' mouths.

The University didn't ask students what they thought because, as a matter of policy, this University doesn't ask students what they think. If it had, it would have heard about refunds and credits, better financial aid and respect for the humanity of employees. But the administration doesn't want to hear about any of those things. It wants to hear about glitzy buildings and high-profile projects that attract donor dollars and promote prestige — the metric administrators use to measure their success.

The waste of our money, the unfeeling disregard for human needs, the giddy eagerness to sink more resources into buildings — we must use the Faunce farce to finally dispense with the myth that the administration is concerned with our welfare. We must remember that we attend a university that would sooner spend other people's money on buildings that don't need it than on people who do.

 


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




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