Content warning: This op-ed mentions sexual assault.
When Reagan started his crusade against welfare, he referred to Linda Taylor, his example of all that was wrong about government assistance programs. He propped her up as an example of “welfare queens” in low-income neighborhoods, who were supposedly collecting tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of dollars in government assistance while living in luxury. With taxes too high, he looked for a scapegoat, an unsympathetic character — a taxpayer-leech. Reagan’s narrative of welfare spending was that it was largely being lost due to waste, fraud and abuse, therefore costing the taxpayers their hard-earned money.
Back in the 1960s and ’70s, people complained about veterans leeching off the system by utilizing the G.I. Bill. In the mid to late 2000s, wasteful military spending became the target of scorn for many Democrats. This isn’t to say that these examples are the same, but the comparison is clear: When people are upset with how their country, their community or their school is running and feel they are not getting their money’s worth, they turn to a scapegoat who seems unsympathetic.
At Tufts, that scapegoat is the ephemeral “administrators.” I understand that this stance may come off as hostile toward those complaining about Tufts’ rising tuition or lack of adequate support for students from low-income households, so let me be clear: Tufts must address these problems, and I support all those who actively point out ways in which the decision-makers at Tufts — the Board of Directors, or the “University Leadership,” as the Tufts website calls them — can improve the structural problems that exist at Tufts. But simply criticizing fat-cat administrators for having salaries that are too high without specifying which administrative positions are unnecessary and what qualifies as “too high” a salary, as a recent column in the Daily has, is one of the worst ways to effect any type of helpful change.
The article discusses the rapid increase of administrators on college campuses and the lack of improvement because of these administrators. They discuss the diseconomies of scale colleges have as they get larger, as if this is a bad thing. The reason schools get more administrators is because as schools get larger, there are more specific needs for students. Expanding programs for sexual assault prevention and assistance, student assistance services, finding donors and distributing finances all are goals that schools should aim for as they expand. Tufts’ departments often fall short in programs like these, to be sure. But to claim that the problem is that we have too many administrators and they are paid too much is incredibly problematic when student groups (often rightfully) demand more and more from administrators every year to improve life at Tufts.
Ultimately, my point is simple: Criticize useless spending at Tufts in a specific way. Criticize a lack of transparency in the posting of salaries and administrator roles. We should demand that the Tufts website post the salaries of our highest-paid employees that are already publicly available through IRS filings, but are nearly impossible to find. The website should also have a page that very clearly maps administrators to their ultimate job’s purpose — many administrators are very difficult to find through the main website, and their roles should never be obfuscated — they are here to help us.
I have another point to make, which I imagine will be much more controversial: I don’t give a damn about tuition increasing. Why shouldn’t students who are from high-income households, such as the 77 percent who are in the top fifth of the United States pay a slightly higher tuition, and use those extra tuition dollars to help students from lower-income households? I recognize that with the financial aid system we have intact right now, this would not be helpful for many students, as many students are from households that are deemed out of the range of financial need, but the point is that raising tuition on those who can afford it helps those who need the assistance. In the meantime, students from privileged backgrounds need to have the uncomfortable conversations with their families to ask them to donate to Tufts, specifically for financial aid. I know that it’s difficult, and will often be met with “I already pay enough for you to go to that damn place!”, but on the chance you can convince your parents or other family members to donate, it’s perhaps the most concrete way to improve financial aid at Tufts.
I get it. Tufts decision makers often make decisions that are antithetical to what we believe Tufts ought to do as an institution. All those decisions need to be called out. But creating a boogeyman for rising tuition in “fat-cat administrators” isn’t going to change anything. If there’s one thing I full-heartedly agree with from Luke Murphy’s column, it’s that students must voice their concerns. But these concerns have to be specific and thoughtful, rather than reminiscent of political campaign attacks. Attend the town hall on Dec. 5. And when you do, have something specific about the administration or the way Tufts spends its money that you want to criticize. “Administrators” are not the problem. Tufts’ problems are an amalgamation of hundreds of smaller problems that can be fixed one bit at a time. Let’s start chipping away.