Novicoff: Oh, the Problems They Could Solve (If They Actually Cared)

Dartmouth’s administrators take home bloated salaries; perhaps, they could deign to spend some pocket change on actually fixing the College’s problems.

by Marc Novicoff | 10/28/21 4:00am

Dartmouth is short on cash, or so it seems. Last year, the College cut the budget of its study abroad programs by 45% and permanently shuttered two of its five libraries. This year, the College is struggling with “labor shortages,” which they refuse to resolve by offering higher wages. The labor shortage is so bad, the College argues, that the students should excuse food lines that stretch down the block and Living Learning Communities where the students live with mice, exposed wires, no shower heads and a floor so tilted that items roll across the room.

Meanwhile, mental health remains a chronic issue. Currently, there are 13 mental health counselors on staff for an alarming ratio of one counselor for approximately every 350 undergraduates. This is the reality students are faced with despite the fact that just last year, three freshmen died by suicide. In the weeks and months that followed, students have repeatedly urged Dartmouth to make improvements to its mental health infrastructure. 

Another chronic problem at Dartmouth is student debt and financial aid: According to Dartmouth’s figures, 37% of the Class of 2020 took out student loans and saddled themselves with an average of $23,850 in debt.  

All of these problems are inexpensive to solve relative to the College’s extreme wealth. That the administration continues to refuse to solve them — while paying themselves extraordinary sums — demonstrates either greed or ineptitude. The exact amount of money needed to solve these problems is not totally clear, but I think we can get a pretty good estimate by examining the available data. 

According to the College, both the library closures and the study-abroad budget cuts were executed in order to cut costs. The Guarini Institute runs an annual deficit of about $600,000 and Dartmouth’s libraries were asked to cut $2 million between 2018 and 2022.

I do not believe I can figure out how many dining employees we need to cover the “labor shortage,” so I’ll give the Dartmouth administration a generous estimate and say they are 50 full-time employees short. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, food service workers in New Hampshire as of May 2020 earn an average of $28,290. Let’s say Dartmouth needs to pay double that ($56,580) to attract people during the nationwide labor shortage. So, to hire 50 full-time dining employees, they need $2.8 million per year.

I don’t know a lot about carpentry or mice extermination, but a three-star hotel in Boston costs up to $638 per square foot to build. Generously, let’s say each crumbling Living Learning Community is 4,000 square feet; this puts the costs of building two entirely new buildings at about $5.1 million. We’ll use this as our estimate, and since Dartmouth is only doing renovations, fixing the LLCs should cost, theoretically, even less. 

On to the counselors. Say we want to double the number of mental health counselors. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says their average pay in the state is around $84,000. To be generous, let’s double that. Hiring 13 more counselors would cost $2.1 million annually at that rate.

Finally, student debt. Assuming the Class of 2020 was roughly normal, 37% of each graduating class borrows money for an average of $23,850 each. That amounts to about $10.2 million each year (at a class size of 1,150) to make sure not a single Dartmouth student graduates with student debt. 

So, in total, to solve these six problems, Dartmouth would need to find approximately $22.8 million. While that number might appear large, it is important to put it into the relevant context: Dartmouth’s budget in the fiscal year 2022 is $1.2 billion.  

Solving all of the problems I listed would cost roughly 1.9% of next year’s budget. 

Or, without touching next year’s budget, we could look to the endowment instead. In fiscal year 2021, the endowment rose 46.5%, gaining $2.5 billion dollars and making the total endowment roughly $8.5 billion. Solving the six problems mentioned in this article would cost the College less than 1% of this year’s endowment gain

Or without touching the endowment, we could look to our generous donor class. Dartmouth just announced that its fundraising campaign “The Call to Lead,” launched in 2018, has surpassed $3 billion raised. Sure, much of that was already earmarked, but I think we could spend $400,000 of that to keep two of our five libraries open, if the administrators actually wanted to. Maybe $10.2 million of this enormous number could be used to just end student debt at Dartmouth. 

However, instead of solving any of these problems, the College administration spent $71,999,000 on itself in salaries and benefits for those in “administrative support” and “development” last year. This is a number 120 times the “deficit” run by the study abroad programs — which is only a “deficit” in the sense that College President Phil Hanlon runs a $1,300,000 “deficit” by virtue of being employed by the school.

It is a curious question what this $71,999,000 for the administration actually funds. An administration so weak that it allegedly tolerated decades of sexual misconduct against graduate students, leading to a $14 million settlement? An administration so amateurish it had to pay students $5,000 each to forgo housing because it didn’t fix the housing shortage it has had for 50 years? An administration so exceptionally incompetent that it couldn’t cut sports teams in a manner that didn’t violate the federal discrimination law it has an entire compliance office dedicated to?

Perhaps the administrators could lay out their daily duties in such a way that justifies their kingly wages, but I am fairly certain they aren’t worth all that money. We should instead put some of that money towards the problems the administration claims it can’t solve. 

There is no reason we should have a “staffing problem.” There is no reason we should have a study abroad budget problem or a library budget problem. There is no reason we should have a mental health counselor problem. There is no reason students should live in such squalid conditions or graduate in debt. All of these problems are easily solvable with a fraction of what we spend on the administration, or a fraction of the endowment gain, or a fraction of the money we raise in a year.  

These are all problems that are created and nurtured by the administrators who run our college, and whose brazen acts of greed and/or ineptitude amount to a kind of legalized theft. Do not buy into their excuses, and do not believe that new administrators, or more diverse administrators, or administrators who got PhDs in “college student personnel administration” will suddenly be on our side. Demand they cut their never-ending bloat and pay the small sums that could solve the problems on this campus.

Marc Novicoff is a member of the Class of 2022. 

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