Kim: It’s All Stacking Up

When a school is making this much money, it is unconscionable for students to constantly be left out to dry.

by Sheen Kim | 7/30/21 4:00am

“This too shall pass.” So seems to be the logic of the institution: if you leave students in a constant state of limbo, they will forget what has already passed. But students see this and resist: calling on College President Phil Hanlon to resign, demanding compassionate mental health policies and stressing the need for an expansion of the housing supply. And as some students have noted in these opinion pages, this problem goes far, far deeper than the surface relief that changes in both administrative policies and personnel can provide. These problems are rooted in the historical, callous indifference of the College and the institution itself — its austere policies and the choices it makes — or refuses to make.  

Observe the sheer amount of money the College gained during the pandemic, all while it instituted cost-cutting measures for its losses. When the pandemic was at its worst, the College’s endowment “grew to a record high of $5.98 billion” and its “investments yielded a 7.6% return, up slightly from [2019’s] 7.5% return.” Despite the circumstances, the Board of Trustees chose not to change its meagre 4% distribution rate  — the amount of money taken out of the endowment to be used for operational expenses, still a hefty $240 million — for this fiscal year. Furthermore, the gain from the endowment does not include capital from large donors, such as the $2.89 billion brought in by President Hanlon’s “Call to Lead” campaign..   

Despite these returns and a switch to online learning, Dartmouth refused to decrease its tuition. In fact, tuition increased by 3.9% percent, bringing it to $57,796. Meanwhile, students reported reductions in their financial aid.  

Dartmouth cites budget shortfalls as the reason for its austerity, claiming its strategy hinges on long-term returns — but for what? For whom? A long-term strategy may benefit the future of the College, but it leaves current students to be forgotten, collateral to profit. 

In the face of this gain, it is unconscionable for Dartmouth students to be left houseless. Over 200 students received only a couple months’ notice that they would not be granted housing on campus this fall, and even after lotteries and other band-aid fixes to a longstanding housing problem, 93 students remain in the dark about their return to campus. 

But, lest we fall into the trap of the numbers game, it is not just 93 students lacking housing. It is also international students who have had their status in the U.S. threatened due to visa issues caused by having to take a fall term off; students who do not have the means to drive to campus and would have to rely on a bus that does not run on weekends or after 6:30 PM; low- and middle-income students who cannot get walkable housing when prices are $2,350 a month for a single-occupancy studio a 10-minute walking distance to the Green; and students who may be unable to graduate on time due to major requirements and no remote class offerings. It is 93 students who find their plans and livelihoods derailed by the school yet again. 

The College recently announced plans to have a new undergraduate residential hall open by the fall of 2023, but it remains to be seen if the College will renege as it did in 2018. Even worse, the $5,000 housing lottery payouts that incentivized 200 students to withdraw their fall housing request impacted students’ financial aid and effectively did not give students any financial recompense — yet another example of the school’s disregard.

Housing is just one such immediate example of the stunning normalization of the College’s failure of individual students. There is so much more, much of which has been the focus of students’ experiences and writings for the past weeks.

This is a history of systematic neglect that seems to repeat itself again and again. It is not normal for students to die by suicide, influenced by the school’s callous policies and lack of care and resources. It is unconscionable for student workers to go largely ignored and for wages to stagnate as tuition and board costs continue to rise — working 20 hours a week at $15/hour for a term makes around $3,000, not even enough for a ~$3,523 dorm room. It is absurd that students must advocate for compensation for lost income during mandatory quarantines, and that Dartmouth employees received a mere $1,000 bonus before taxes in lieu of an annual merit increase. This is a stark contrast to the gains of other students and workers around the nation, such as the Union of Grinnell Student Dining Workers, which won wage increases to a minimum $10.00 an hour — as compared to Dartmouth’s $7.25 minimum wage — and bonuses of up to $1.25 an hour and just cause employment. And once again, it is not conscionable for tuition to have increased throughout all this, as a withdrawn lawsuit argued. 

If you see demands from students for their humanity to be recognized as the complaints of entitled students, you have already fallen into the trap. When administrative officers are making upwards of seven figures and major initiatives are bringing in ten figures, it is unconscionable to claim that even a single student can go ignored.

Alongside the criticism of the College, there have also been arguments in its defense: that the school is limited in what it can do, that the school suffered losses that it is repaying gradually, etc. 

Is it really? Much of what has happened is a result of Dartmouth’s inaction and penny-pinching, and so we land squarely in the multiple crises that we are in now. Perhaps it is time to stop waiting. To continue defending the College’s inaction is to invalidate those who have gone too long ignored while the College gains. This too shall pass, perhaps, but we cannot let it. 

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