Priority Report

by Peter Blair | 1/21/09 6:05am

Micaela Klein's recent guest column ("An OPAL in the Rough," Jan. 15) was an impassioned defense of the Office of Pluralism and Leadership. However, I can't help but think that Klein's column, along with other recent pieces about the College's impending budget cuts, have been asking the wrong question. The important question is not whether OPAL is valuable, (though I think that question remains an open one) but whether OPAL is more valuable than all of the other programs it competes with for college funding.

Some programs and departments are going to have to be scaled back. The College won't reduce its budget with superficial cuts alone. There are going to have to be serious reductions in the budgets of some offices, programs or departments, particularly now that the College may have to cut its spending even further than first announced ("Fundraising has mixed results," Jan. 15).

If we have to rank all of the groups and organizations that use college money in order of importance to students, it is clear that OPAL falls in the bottom half of the list, somewhere below DDS and Career Services, but above the Dartmouth Union of Bogglers and the Center for Women and Gender.

OPAL and CWG may be valuable, but certainly we can all agree that they are not as valuable to Dartmouth students as is, say, the Registrar's office. We can all hope that the College has enough money to fund lower programs in the ranking, but if the money just isn't there, do we really want the College to cut back on funding for the Hop so that OPAL can keep its current budget? Consent Day may be the important and invaluable tradition that Klein claims it is (however unlikely that may sound), but can anybody honestly say it is more important than Winter Carnival?

There are, however, several ways the College can make funding reach farther down on this list of priorities. There are some expenditures the College can easily cut right away, things that it clearly should not be spending its money on under these circumstances. These measures are the obvious ones pointed out by Student Assembly in its letter to the administration and in students' responses to the Assembly survey: cut back on unnecessary luxuries provided by the College (like free food), reduce both administrative waste and inefficiencies, limit the number of advisors in the residential undergraduate advisor program and lower heating and energy costs.

And, with so many groups fearing cuts, does it really make sense for the College to be spending its limited money on screenings of pornography, sex fairs, free condoms and the Vagina Monologues? The College could also consider taking down the superfluous televisions in Food Court and selling them on eBay. Hard times make decadence difficult to justify.

Of course, the superficial cuts I just mentioned will not be enough. The College will have to make some tough decisions in the near future about which groups and programs will be reduced and restructured. Inevitably, these reductions, no matter which organizations they affect, will upset a lot of people, who will consider their losses to be the worst tragedies ever to befall Dartmouth.

However, before all of that happens, I want to make a plea for calm thinking in this process. I think it is important that we keep in mind that the allocation of funds is (especially now) a zero-sum game, and that the College has been forced by the economic recession to think in terms of priorities.

Just because a certain program's budget is cut doesn't mean that program isn't important, or that its full budget won't be restored after the economy gets back on track. Rather, it simply means that the program is not as important as other expenditures, like financial aid or professors' salaries. And that is, I think, something we can all agree on.