Letter to the Editor: University should define costs, allow students control over their money
Here at Mary Washington we pride ourselves on rigorously searching for truth in our academic lives, and on the open warmth of our community outside the classroom. We form our opinions based on evidence and are not afraid of any argument made in good faith. We produce graduates who are “engaged citizens,” combatting injustice, apathy, and incompetence with understanding and determination.
But that’s just part of what makes this place special. We are also well known as a “best buy” school, providing a high quality education at a reasonable cost. Or we were.
Ever increasing cost growth threatens to undermine our hard-earned reputation for affordable excellence, while blocking educational opportunities for low-income students, and loading down graduates with debt. No cheap branding – a la “it’s a yes-brainer” – can replace the practical appeal of an affordable education, which we are slowly losing.
Now if all this money was flowing to provide more and better-qualified instructors, the expense might be understandable. But full time faculty compensation has stagnated nationally since the 1970’s, and the proliferation of underpaid adjunct professors has hurt both instructional quality and those attempting to become educators.
Instead, the number of non-academic and professional employees at U.S. colleges and universities has more than doubled in the past 25 years, according to the Department of Education. At this rate eighty-seven new administrators were hired every single day from 1981-2012 in the United States. It’s no surprise that average tuition rose by 521% across the nation during that time.
This unhealthy bloat even affects the landscape of our campus. Buildings that once housed students are now only home to administrative offices or telemarketing-style phone banks. Now less than half our budget at Mary Washington is spent on instruction. However the amount of money spent on institutional support, “the most commonly used marker of administration” according to the Office of the President, has nearly doubled from below $5 million in 2012, to over $9 million last year. During just my four years here, the cost of school for an in-state student has grown by 18 percent.
Given these trends, it is shocking that the Vice President of Administration and Finance doesn’t even know how to define who is an administrator, and has declared that “there are no current plans to pursue this question.”
Lately, the administration, that undefinable entity, has been more responsive. They have taken steps to pull back the curtain on certain sorts of finances. Yet, they still will not offer a definition of their own.
Senior members of the administration are worried that burgeoning concerns about administrative accountability might make very well-paid administrators look inept. Some seem to be more worried about damage control than solving the real problems faced by the student body. This is unacceptable, but unsurprising.
Last year Divest UMW’s demands for a vote on institutional divestment were ignored. The powers that be preferred to have the activists arrested. This year, when the Student Government Association requested that the Board hold a vote on divestment during their February meeting, the Rector and the Visitors disdained to even have a discussion on the motion. It’s a disturbing trend.
They may have good reason to slam the door on student activism. For one, our own President Hurley takes home more salary than the President of the United States receives. While success and competence should be rewarded in all walks of life, that sure seems excessive.
We cannot allow these ballooning overhead costs to be hidden in the shadows. If gone unchallenged high salaries and unnecessary personnel will grow into a malignant cancer threatening not only the success of Mary Washington’s students, but even the stability of our university.
The Student Government Association is acting in order to ensure financial transparency and to hold decision makers accountable. The Senate has formed the Ad Hoc Committee on Tuition Increases, which will investigate what has been driving continuous cost increases, and determine how exploding student costs could be controlled through administrative budget cuts.
Students must have a say in determining how their money is spent. Firstly, the university should define who is administrator, and produce easily understandable materials which reveal the amount of funds wasted on bureaucracy. The university should create a budget committee composed of students and faculty members, which has power throughout the budget process. We should place a temporary ceiling on salaries, so that students and faculty are not being squeezed to pay for ever higher administrative compensation.
If we unite, Mary Washington’s students can create a better university community, where we have more money in our wallets, and where our engaged citizenship is welcomed, not ignored or discredited. Together we can create a Mary Washington that embodies our ideals, while allowing students from all walks of life access to a quality education.
Alex Obolensky President, Student Senate Vice President, Student Government Association
Noah Goodwin & Amanda Ritchie Co-Chairs, Students United
Rabib Hasan & Kinzer Kan Co-Chairs, Divest UMW
Zaire Sprowal Chair, Diversity and Unity Coordinating Committee
Chris Dingus President, UMW Young Democrats