VERBUM ULTIMUM: Informing Decisions

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 11/12/09 11:00pm

The Dartmouth Board of Trustees announced last weekend that the College will implement a series of budget cuts over the next two years that could total $100 million in an effort to address a 23-percent drop in Dartmouth's endowment and a $34-million fiscal deficit ("College aims to cut $100 million over two years," Nov. 9).

The College community should not underestimate the significance of these cuts and the extent to which, despite attempts by the administration to suggest otherwise, the budget reduction will likely result in drastic changes to the proverbial "Dartmouth experience." To put the cuts in perspective, the College spent almost $100 million on financial aid during the 2009 fiscal year.

Last year's budget cuts were basic: Each department slashed its discretionary spending and laid off low-level staffers. This time around we are going to have to be significantly more creative and collaborative: Simple cuts alone will not net us an additional $100 million. The administration should instead look for ways to streamline and improve efficiency where it can a process that requires input from those within the College and from organizational experts outside its confines.

We certainly believe that the greater community should play a role in planning the next round of cuts. Given that College President Jim Yong Kim's experience with Dartmouth is limited, he must seek out the opinions of those who know the institution intimately. That said, the manner in which students, faculty and staff are included in budget discussions must be tailored to ensure productive discourse. Last year, efforts to poll the Darmouth community did not successfully communicate the magnitude of the necessary reductions students, faculty and staff were not given an accurate picture of how much would be saved by shortening dining hall hours, cutting funding for affinity groups or laying off employees.

This year, as Kim's administration seeks community feedback, it must also provide adequate context to illustrate for community members a realistic picture of the size and scope of the challenges ahead.

We are not asking Kim and the Board of Trustees to present a comprehensive, line-by-line budget plan to the public ahead of the implementation of the expense reductions the College must be careful not to stretch transparency too far: a long public comment period would needlessly impede progress. Rather, we are asking that the College be candid and allow the community to offer practical advice that informs the administration's decision-making.

By engaging in frank and informed discourse, we can make Dartmouth more efficient not only in this time of crisis, but into the future as well. These cuts are not going to be popular, but they must be made.

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