Last week, Barnard College President Debora Spar told Spectator that the various cutbacks that have affected Barnard students, administrators, faculty, and staff are part of a larger attempt on the college’s part to cut $8 million from its annual operating budget (“Barnard working to cut $8 million from budget,” Sept. 29). Spar highlighted two reasons for the cuts. The first of these, which she emphasized much more than the second, was that spending must be cut to curb rising tuition costs for Barnard students. The second was that the cuts is that they will allow Barnard to avoid running what is now a $5 million annual deficit, allowing the college to better solicit donations in its upcoming capital campaign.
While it is reassuring to see Barnard’s administration giving some context to the spending cuts we have seen unfold throughout the past few years, we believe that more can be done on the part of the administration to bring all students into these financial discussions and to engage them in frank dialogue.
It is not surprising that Barnard is experiencing budget problems. The college has an endowment one-sixth the size of those of Amherst, Swarthmore, and Wellesley, but enrolls a greater number of students. There is no evidence that Barnard’s existing funds were poorly managed or that expenditures in previous years were unreasonable. When properly explained and contextualized, the Barnard administration’s attempts to address its financial shortcomings make sense.
The problem is that until very recently, the administration has refused to treat students as competent, rational adults capable of stomaching a financial shortcoming without raising an unnecessary panic.
The budget cutbacks discussion comes on the heels of a series of policy changes implemented poorly and without attention to transparency. If, early on, Barnard had been up front, elimination of part-time tuition and meal plan mandates may have been better received.
Even as it is encouraging to see a more forthcoming Barnard administration recently, current discussions framed around tuition can seem forced or simplistic. Spar’s emphasis on curbing rising tuition costs can seem like a marketing ploy, or an effort to pander to assumed student interests. If it is, it is unnecessary. If a desire to keep tuition increases low is less important than the deficit’s effect on future fundraising, then students can handle that knowledge.
Going forward, we would like to feel that Barnard respects its students, and that we are trusted to understand the complex constraints facing the college now and in the future.
President Spar and Dean Avis Hinkson have opportunities to reframe the conversation when the Student Government Association meets today from 8 to 10 p.m. and at the SGA town hall tomorrow from 6 to 8 p.m. We hope they and others in the administration will take this time to speak openly with students as equals as they attempt to resolve Barnard’s budgetary concerns as smoothly as possible.
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