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Moraff '14: Hiking tuition and blowing money on sparkly things


Our new fitness center plus aquatics center plus "varsity strength and conditioning center" is, as promised, a very fancy gym. The stationary bikes are spiffy, video-game-equipped and might as well be plated with gold. There are shiny new treadmills with shiny new TVs. Assistant Director of Athletics and Physical Education Matthew Tsimikas called it a "state-of-the-art fitness center," with a pool that "allows for diving, water polo and swimming simultaneously. It's that long."  It would, he said, be "a leader within the League." The Nelson Fitness Center is an absurd, swanky temple to athletics, a $46 million pile of unnecessary excess in an era of skyrocketing tuition.

Defenders often give a flimsy excuse - all of it, they say, is funded by alumni donations. But that's a weak dodge. Five years ago, administrators specifically set out to raise $50 million from alums for a really big gym. The Corporation is not a helpless pawn of alumni donors - they directly target fundraising efforts to line up with their misplaced priorities. In this case, the priority was a league-leading gym that saves us from the horror of non-simultaneous water sports.

This is not to single out the athletes. It's the whole system. Last year, the University's wise rulers decided to drop a cool $67 million on a campus-wide effort to renovate pretty much every dorm. The buildings were not too old, they were not falling apart. But, as Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services Margaret Klawunn said, "We want the whole thing to look sparkling" ("Campus housing to be renovated, transformed," Feb. 13). 

The old Keeney Quadrangle, whatever its disadvantages, was serviceable. First-years lived through the tragedy of slightly mediocre dorms. And now? The kitchens have only the newest, fanciest stovetops. The lounges sport the flattest televisions and presumably, after next summer's bathroom renovations, the bathrooms will house the most aesthetically pleasing urinals. Discomfort and inconvenience will be eliminated from our lives, for the low, low price of $67 million.

The rest of the housing plan seems motivated more by boredom than anything else - a bizarre case of corporate ADD. Every single freshman dorm will be renovated. The Gate, fresh off of two major renovations over the past five years, will be replaced by the new Andrews Dining Hall. The Keeney Courtyard will be rebuilt for some reason.

The Corporation's building fetish has this underlying philosophy - that Brown should be a palace, that our dorms should be luxurious, that we should have all the fanciest knickknacks and tchotchkes. Our University should be a gleaming ode to living the good life. Undergrads should feel pampered, even as their tuitions soar ever higher. We should build and build and build until we have the glossiest, prettiest brochures in the Ivy League.

At the same time, the Corporation continues to jack up tuition and fees. They tout increased financial aid, but for undergrads the cost of attendance is rising at a 67 percent faster rate than University scholarships. This has obvious consequences - it becomes harder or even impossible for students to pay for this place. No matter how much Brown blithely throws around phrases like "100 percent of demonstrated need," good people decide not to go here because it's financially unworkable, or because other schools offer better aid packages. Given the situation, should we really be going on a building spree? Couldn't we make do with regular dorms? Couldn't the swimmers, divers and water polo aficionados get together and make some kind of schedule? Should athletes really be getting their laundry done for free by university employees? That is not a joke. That happens.

The most sickening part of all this is that even as they sparklify the campus, the Corporation continues to use financial aid as some kind of perverse fig leaf. Whenever anyone calls for them to spend more money in line with the University's mission - say, to pay University workers fair wages, or to continue to provide childcare services to faculty and staff - calls of "financial aid!" go up even as administrators pick out top-of-the-line treadmills and toilets. It's incredibly dishonest.

The point isn't that Brown should let its infrastructure crumble or that we should all live like ascetic monks. The point is that the priorities of the Corporation are completely out of whack. They are committed to an endless cycle of unnecessary gleaming renovations and tuition hikes.

Maybe the Brown community as a whole is okay with this. Maybe fancy new things really are central to the Brown experience. Or maybe the University is governed by an unaccountable, unelected board that imposes its will upon faculty, staff and students who supposedly believe in democracy.

This calls for a healthy and long-overdue skepticism of the Corporation and its motives. Students, faculty and staff have the power to build the university we want, but we have to fight for it, and we have to care.



Daniel Moraff '14 is psyched they're fixing the hellhole that was Morris-Champlin and can be reached at



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