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.


One thought on “The Future of Financial Transparency”

  1. An excellent idea.

    In the same vein, perhaps they will see the light in releasing a list of endowment investments, so that we can see where it is likely we’ll be in the future. The secrecy of the University’s investments obviously did not contribute to profitable returns this time around, and perhaps greater public scrutiny could have averted some of the losses we are now experiencing.

    Before, we were told to trust the investors to make the most money for the University (not to mention take into account ethical considerations). Given the current state of the endowment, that didn’t happen. I know, I know – everyone’s in the same place; no one could have predicted the financial crash; there was nothing to be done to save our investments. Maybe so, but without transparency there was no chance such warnings could have been made.

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