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Ethan Tobias '12: Spring into action

Where was everyone? Last Thursday, after what has been, in her own words, "an exceedingly difficult year for the Brown community,"  President Ruth Simmons delivered the first State of Brown address in four years to a mostly empty Salomon 101. To make matters worse, those few students who showed up started trickling out from the very beginning, with the floodgates finally unleashed during the question and answer session. By the end, hardly anyone was left. 

It seemed that nobody wanted to be there. At times, even Simmons could be seen checking her watch or inquiring about the time. Spring fever had arrived and the entire University forgot about 2010's major issues and changes. As Undergraduate Council of Students President Clay Wertheimer '10 explained, they just couldn't compete with the beautiful spring weather.

How could it be that spring just happens to come along and cause such bad amnesia? How quickly everyone forgot about that $740million hole in the endowment or that charming 4.5 percent tuition hike. Where were the faculty and staff who had their salaries frozen or their friends and co-workers laid off?

Everywhere I go on campus, student groups always seem ready with a cause and a petition. The Herald's pages are generally filled with the voices of many passionate and opinionated students. Where did all these people go when the President of the University set aside a full hour and a half to speak directly to the Brown community?

There appears to be a disconnect between the zeal on campus for these many causes and the general apathy of the student body. While many students have their own pet issues, they missed an excellent opportunity to express themselves. It is time that students shed this indifference, put down the Frisbee and start caring.

Let's be clear: the University is raising tuition by a comparatively large margin during the worst economic crisis in decades. However, these tuition hikes will not even be enough to plug the budget gap.

The University is at the same time seeking budget cuts and cost savings measures. President Simmons chose her words very carefully when she promised that large tuition increases would "absolutely not be an option." She specifically did not rule out any tuition increases and instead left herself leeway in the interpretation of what constitutes a "large" tuition increase. I understand that Brown doesn't come cheap, but this reach into our already turned-out pockets should at least get students excited enough to turn out to hear why this is happening.

Therefore, it is time to demand full accountability from ourselves and from our school.

President Simmons said that the funds for the new construction were contributed specifically for those projects and could not be used elsewhere. We should demand to see the books and ensure for ourselves that more flexible funds did not go into those projects. More importantly, we should insist that those in development do their best to obtain open-ended donations that can go straight into lowering tuition and providing financial aid.

A quick glance at the Organizational Review Committee Report should inspire some outrage. While many students are seeing cuts to things like athletics, the folks who attend the Faculty Club  — whoever they are — are getting a big break. The ORC recommended that the Faculty Club receive over $200,000 despite the fact that the Faculty Club operates at a deficit. Surely, there are better ways to spend this money.

At the same time, we need to make our values known as the University has to make tough choices. At the address, President Simmons mentioned the great debate about athletics at Brown – whether it is better to spread the funding over more teams or field fewer teams and fund them more. I would be very curious what a poll of students — especially athletes — would turn up. Sadly, the University is not conducting such a poll, and the students are not rising up to voice their opinions.

I think that a shift in attitude is in order. I know that students are extremely passionate about various issues — why not this? Indifference is not an option when your money and values are at stake. The warm weather will be around for the rest of this semester, but the chance to voice your opinion directly to the University President is gone. Hopefully, you won't have to wait another four years before an opportunity like that arises again.

Ethan Tobias '12 feels very passionate that other students should feel very passionate. He can be reached at


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