There is no doubt that Brown is in the midst of serious financial stress. To cope with endowment losses, the Corporation recently approved $30 million in budget cuts and spending reductions for fiscal year 2011. The University let go of 31 staff last year and plans another 60 layoffs this year. On top of that, next year tuition will increase 4.5 percent — a significant amount, even if it is consistent with the annual increases seen before the recession.
At the same time, the University is pushing ahead with major capital projects, including the Stephen Robert '62 Campus Center in Faunce House and the new medical school building located in the Jewelry District. The Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts is slated to open for student use next spring, and the combined Katherine Moran Coleman Aquatics Center and Jonathan Nelson '77 Fitness Center will be complete in January 2012. Given the two conflicting messages — restraint and growth — the University has an obligation to be extremely forthright about its strategic vision.
We understand that students may be at least puzzled or even upset to see large infrastructural investments alongside tuition increases and staff layoffs. The Herald reported Monday that 30 percent of students are either "somewhat worried" or "very worried" about their ability to finance their education. As a result, the administration must do a thorough job of explaining its plans and justifying the financial burdens it places on students and their families.
While we can't allay every concern about Brown's plans — only administrators and members of the Corporation can do that — we do think a few points are in order. First, much of the funding for capital projects and renovations comes from earmarked donations. In many cases, the Corporation accepts funds based on the stipulation from donors that the money will be used for certain designated purposes.
Brown relies heavily on the generosity of alumni, parents and others whose support helps keep our institution thriving, and many contributions are made without stipulations attached. Nonetheless, we urge major donors to consider giving to Brown without specific designations. While we are grateful to benefit from donors' loyalty and unselfishness, right now it seems like the University could use greater discretion and control over its short-term finances.
At the same time, concerned students should try to temper their skepticism towards capital projects and infrastructural growth. These investments ensure Brown's long-term ability to recruit talented faculty and students, thereby allowing Brown to maintain and enhance its reputation for excellence. This kind of expansion also facilitates worthwhile research that can have a positive impact on society and spur broader economic growth.
As far as helping students goes, the Corporation was right to expand next year's undergraduate financial aid budget by 6.5 percent. Nevertheless, the University must recognize that it is sending mixed messages. Administrators should keep this in mind as they address students' concerns in the months and years ahead.
Editorials are written by The Herald's editorial page board. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.