Campus prepares for coming budget cuts
By Laura Bryn Sisson
Published on Tuesday, November 10, 2009
In the wake of this weekend’s announcement of targets for College budget reductions, many faculty and students leaders interviewed by The Dartmouth said they are now looking to prioritize the programs and aspects of Dartmouth life that they feel are most important. As the College stares down its second round of budget cuts in under a year, however, many of these individuals said they recognize that Dartmouth will have to make substantial changes to meet the reduction goals.
“You can’t treat a deficit of that size by using fewer paperclips,” Dan Rockmore, chair of the Committee on Priorities and a mathematics professor, said. “A deficit of that size is going to require some real strategic thinking about the structure of the institution and about what higher education means in the 21st century.”
The College’s Board of Trustees announced on Saturday that Dartmouth will implement a series of budget cuts over the next two fiscal years that could total $100 million — less than one year after the College implemented a $72-million budget reduction last winter for the 2009 and 2010 fiscal years combined.
As the College heads toward its second round of cuts, refining and preserving the College’s identity must be a major focus, several faculty members told The Dartmouth.
Those programs and qualities that differentiate Dartmouth from its peers and make the College more attractive to students — particularly small classes taught by professors and the presence of faculty “active in generating new knowledge in their fields of study” — must be protected, John Carey, chair of the government department, said.
In interviews with The Dartmouth, members of the faculty raised particular concerns about the College’s ability to sustain further layoffs while maintaining its commitment to educational excellence.
“There are limits to how many people you can lay off without changing the quality of the curriculum,” geography professor Richard Wright said. “There are limits to how many searches you can postpone until we reach a crisis point. I don’t know where those limits are, but we’re approaching them.”
In his e-mail to The Dartmouth community this weekend, College President Jim Yong Kim said that impending budget cuts “will unavoidably result in a smaller workforce at Dartmouth.” Both the size and extent of those layoffs remain undefined.
In the last round of budget cuts, no tenure or tenure-track positions were eliminated.
Several faculty members also raised concerns about the possibility of alterations to the College’s financial aid program, which remained untouched in the College’s last round of budget cuts. Geography professor Richard Wright said he believes that any significant alterations to the program would leave faculty members distressed.
“We’ve made incredible progress in being competitive for students we’ve wanted to see here, and we’ve been able to produce amazing student bodies,” he said.
Kim told The Dartmouth this weekend that the College’s financial aid program would be examined as part of the cuts, but said that Dartmouth’s commitment to need-blind admissions will remain unchanged.
“I can’t imagine being part of a college that is only open to people who can pay,” Kim told The Dartmouth. “So we will absolutely maintain our commitment to need-blind admission.”
The administration hopes to begin developing a plan for the budget cuts over the next few months in anticipation of the next Board meeting in February, Kim told The Dartmouth this weekend. Kim has previously said he will hold forums — similar to those held before the last round of budget cuts — as the College seeks to define its cuts.
“We’re all just in a holding pattern until we hear from the deans. We’re looking to figure out what format the discussions will take,” Irene Kacandes, chair of the German studies department, said in an interview with The Dartmouth.
Faculty committees, such as the Committee on Priorities, can now begin to gather input from faculty members about budget direction.
“We’re in a data-collection mode,” Rockmore said.
Activities currently funded by academic departments may be pruned amid the coming budget reductions, which could lead to increasing demand for funds from the Undergraduate Finance Committee, Student Body Vice President Cory Cunningham ’10 said in an interview with the Dartmouth.
Cunningham is a member of The Dartmouth senior business staff.
Although the discretionary funds from student activity fees increase every year, Cunningham said the increased dependence of organizations on that funding will leave each organization with significantly reduced resources.
Cunningham pointed to the midnight breakfasts typically sponsored by class councils during Green Key weekend as an example of one event that was out of line with the groups’ most important priorities. The program has since been cut.
“We thought that, given the way things are going with the budgets, is it really such a good idea to be spending our money giving free food to drunk students, when perhaps there are more constructive ways that funding can be used?” he said.
Poorly attended events should be cut or restructured to increase attendance and make their costs more justifiable, Cunningham said.
Student Assembly plans to reevaluate last spring’s student survey to create a new, more statistically significant study that can be used to assess students’ current priorities and ideas as to where cuts might be made, according to Cunningham and Student Body President Frances Vernon ’10.
Vernon said she is now working to better understand the administration’s budget development timeline to determine when student opinions must be collected in order to be considered in budget decisions.
Survey questions will be specifically designed to help students consider aspects of the College beyond those experienced in their everyday lives, Cunningham said. The Assembly will work to frame students’ views holistically and to evaluate issues important to the Dartmouth community as a whole, he said.
“One of our biggest goals is to help students make unbiased assessments of what they think is important,” Cunningham said.
The Greek system, meanwhile, will likely be only mildly affected by the budget cuts, Zachary Gottlieb ’10, president of the Interfraternity Council, said in an interview with the Dartmouth.
“Greek life is pretty much self-sustaining, since we function based on rent and dues,” he said.
Fraternities themselves could voluntarily make cuts or alter resource allocation, Gottlieb said.
The increased competition for resources among College-funded student organizations, combined with the relative resilience of the Greek system, could shunt the College social scene towards the Greek system, Cunningham said.
“I think it would be a travesty if that were to occur, because while there’s nothing wrong with events held at Greek houses, for many students, they’re not appealing, and I think it’s incredibly important that we have alternative social events,” he said.
Dartmouth’s small size, however, may also help it weather financial constraints from the perspective of student life, according to Panhellenic Council President and Palaeopitus member Amaka Nneji ’10.
“We’re more tight knit, willing to reach out and do co-programming,” Nneji said in an interview with The Dartmouth. “I think it puts us in an advantageous position compared to other, larger schools.”
Rockmore similarly said that Dartmouth’s small size may give the College dexterity as it seeks to redefine itself and meet the budget reduction target.
“For an imaginative thinker, that can be an opportunity to vault Dartmouth head and shoulders above other institutions,” Rockmore said. Rockmore said he believes smaller institutions are better poised to reallocate both financial and human resources than are larger ones.
“If there’s less redundancy, then the organism may be less robust, but on the other hand a simpler organism survives more catastrophes,” he said.