Another year, another tuition hike, another chorus of compliant students racing to be the first to thank our benevolent administrators for once again balancing their budget on our backs. Judging just by the gratitude some of us expressed for the Corporation's infinite financial wisdom, you'd think they'd frozen our tuition and cancelled layoffs. But no, we masochists just love it when they jack up our expenses five percent and fire more staff while Building Brown continues apace.
This brown-nosing, "Thank you sir, may I have another" attitude, expressed most famously by The Herald's editorial page board, is precisely why tuition keeps going up year after year. At the University of California, administrators who try to get away with a tuition hike of essentially the same magnitude have to face thousands of students on strike, rallying in the streets. At Brown, they get a congratulatory editorial.
The administration doesn't charge us more and fire its workers because it has to, but rather because when it comes time to save money, tuition hikes and layoffs offer the path of least resistance. There's never an organized mass student response forcing them to respect our interests. We let them fire staff members without so much as a peep. Instead, we thank them, because for some mysterious reason we faithfully put our trust in a president and an administration that have done nothing to deserve that deference beyond projecting an image of cool accessibility that has never been grounded in fact.
Because administrators know that whatever they do, they will meet no opposition from their fawning students, they know that they can safely cover budget deficits with tuition hikes while protecting their own priorities from any meaningful cuts. That's precisely what they've done this year, proceeding with spending increases and massive capital projects that put buildings over people yet again.
Those who are so quick to laud the Corporation fail to understand that the tuition hikes are going to continue — necessary or not — until students start sticking up for themselves and forcing the administration to meet us halfway. Even if you think this year's hike isn't particularly bad, perhaps even necessary, responding so eagerly to still more administrative disregard for our interests is what empowers the Corporation to keep asking us for more sacrifices. It is confident that whatever it does and whenever it does it, we would rather defer to them than think for a second about putting up a fight. And so the tuition hikes will proceed unabated, as they have for four decades.
This is Brown Incorporated — the University acting like a for-profit enterprise by charging us as much as it can get away with rather than as little as it needs. You can see it when they waste a $2 million tuition surplus — our money — not on financial aid or mitigating this tuition hike but on speeding up construction projects that will get done anyway. You can see it when the budget ignores taking care of the University community in favor of initiatives that will help Brown "remain competitive."
But above all you can see it in the ethical illogic of coupling budget cuts with tuition hikes in this economic climate. The University, with $2 billion in the bank, decides it has to spend less money, so it thinks it is justified in asking families to spend more. Why it thinks we are somehow better positioned than it is to increase spending in times like this is beyond me.
It's hypocrisy, straight up, and the only explanation is the obvious one — this administration discarded the University's non-profit mission to serve its community long ago.
The tuition hikes and layoffs reveal a University administration consumed with profitability and its own priorities — at the expense of students and staff. Passively accepting — even welcoming — the administration's disrespect will do nothing to change that; tuition will not level off just because we asked nicely. The only way to win respect for our interests — or rather, our needs — is to demand it, to make raising tuition and firing workers so politically damaging that the administration no longer thinks of us as the easiest way to patch budget problems. The alternative is another forty years of annual tuition hikes, but at least we'll be begging for it.
Simon Liebling '12 is from New Jersey. He can be reached at