The Future of Financial Transparency

In the past few weeks, the Brandeis administration has become much more transparent about the financial situation that the University is facing.  This has been both frightening and relieving; frightening, because the picture is quite bleak, and relieving, because at least we know what the picture looks like.  Overall, however, the result has been very positive for the level of the campus dialogue.  We can speak of the challenges facing us in terms of dollars and cents and know that our conversations have some basis in reality.

Yet changes can occur in the financial world quickly and with little warning.  Our future may look much more dire or more secure several months from now, and there is no guarantee that we’ll get the same level of information that we have been given so far.  We can hope that the administration continues at this increased level of transparency, but they may not feel the same pressure to do so.  While it would be nice to believe that the current wave of student activism will not break, there are any number of things that could find the student body becoming less vocal — summer vacation, a lull after the major cuts for 2009-2010 are finalized, just plain activist exhaustion.

Our best hope is that the administration has reached the same conclusion I have: that financial transparency benefits all of us.  As we’ve been working on the same page, the unproductive paradigm of students versus administrators is giving way to a circling of the wagons founded on the understanding that we’re all in this together.  Of course, there’s still room for debate — Rose Art Museum, anyone? — but the administrators have, to their credit, open pathways of involvement for students in decision-making, and the students have, to their credit, contributed in thoughtful, substantive ways.

Therefore, I think it is time for the students to ask for a promise of continued financial transparency, and I propose the following as a part of this:  Every month, Brandeis should release a short document to the entire community updating all of our major financial statistics and putting them in an easily understandable context. This does not have to be a time-consuming task.  The numbers already exist, and I’m sure that they’re tracked very carefully.  In fact, they are guaranteed to come out sooner or later; why not make it as they’re relevant and let us use them for more than just finger-pointing in hindsight?  This practice should continue beyond the current budget crisis; when Brandeis reenters the land of plenty, why shouldn’t we all celebrate together?

This is our University, and we all have a stake in it beyond the very relevant fact that it’s our tuition money that’s being used.  All we’re asking for is an idea of its financial health and the ability to make our contributions to the discussions of its future as well-informed as possible.

Two Important Forums Tomorrow

At last week’s open forum, President Reinharz promised that the dialogue between the administration and the students was just beginning, and tomorrow at 5 in the Levin Ballroom, he will keep his word.  The main complaint that most students had with the first forum was the inconvenient timing; 11 o’clock on a Wednesday is impossible for many students to make.  Thankfully, it looks like that was just a necessity of the schedule rather than an attempt to minimize turnout.  In fact, by holding a similar forum shortly afterwards, President Reinharz is proving that he wants to engage as many of us as possible.

The forum will be structured the same way as the last one, with the same presentation being shown for those who haven’t had a chance to see it yet.  However, the forum should still be productive for those who have, since this will be the first opportunity to ask the administration about the sustained bad press from the Rose Art Museum and about the reexamining of the study abroad decisions.  Provost Marty Krauss will probably have a lot to say about the new Committee on Academic Restructuring (CARS).

The follow-up forum, to be held at 6:30 in the Shaprio Campus Center, should prove to be just as interesting.  Jason Gray has put it together explicitly for the students, and it should help pull in students beyond those currently involved in BBCC, whose core is still weighted towards the established campus activists.  The entire student body faces the threat of deep cuts, and now is a great time to involve underrepresented members of the campus community.  In the e-mail announcing these forums, Jason made it clear that he hopes to encourage activism on the community level, saying “Our greatness lies in a Student Body that speaks up to be heard in the process of determining the future of our University… As Union President, it gives me great joy to speak for you, but even greater joy to speak with you.”  I expect many new ideas for action moving forward to come out of this meeting,

One other interesting statement from the e-mail promises that the forum “will be the predecessor to a series of academic forums that will be held for the entire Brandeis community to discuss proposed curriculum changes.”  From what I hear, these forums will actually be held by the subcommittees of CARS.  That means they will be far more than just Q&A sessions.  Instead, they represent a real opportunity to influence the decision-making bodies that will determine Brandeis’s academic future.  We have moved beyond merely asking for transparency.  Instead of just listening, we will be listened to.

Jason’s e-mail from Monday is below the fold.

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