Editorial: Budget town hall should be first of many steps toward financial transparency

Although Tufts students are notorious for disagreeing on campus issues, most students agree that tuition should not increase at its current rate. The widespread interest in and pushback against tuition hikes, and the questions as to why they keep happening, have led many to demand increased transparency from the school. Shedding more light on the budgeting process and generating informed conversations about Tufts’ tuition were the purposes of the town hall meeting that took place on Tuesday. In many ways, the town hall was an enlightening meeting that provided a space for productive conversation and engagement on an issue that is often very obtuse to students.

The meeting featured a panel that included Provost David Harris, Executive Vice President Patricia Campbell and Dean of Arts and Sciences James Glaser. All three gave short presentations before taking questions. These presentations provided significant insight into how the budget is crafted, where Tufts’ revenue is coming from and where Tufts’ spending is going. It is clear that Tufts is not operating on a lofty budget; in fact, the School of Arts and Sciences currently has outstanding debt, and as of last month, administrators projected a deficit for this fiscal year.

It was also shown that, although the tuition hikes may seem excessive to Tufts students, they are on par with peer institutions. However, our endowment is much smaller, and the caps on the use of the endowment have recently decreased. It was somewhat comforting to understand that tuition hikes are stemming from lack of revenues and our small endowment, rather than exacerbated spending.

Nonetheless, on some issues it is obvious that the administration is still out of touch with student needs. One such promise is the promise that Tufts meets 100 percent of demonstrated need. A student at the discussion asked why many graduates still end up with thousands of dollars of debt, which is often included Tufts’ financial aid package, if this promise to meet students’ demonstrated need exists. Harris was clearly aware of the issue, and mentioned a new initiative that will seek to close the gap between students’ actual needs and their financial aid packages. But, troublingly, no one on the panel explained why this gap exists in the first place.

There is also room for the administration to be more direct with students. The panel seemed aware that one of Tufts students’ major concerns is too-high compensation for administrative staff and a general administrative bloat. The presentations showed that salaries and benefits do in fact make up a large portion of the Tufts budget, but they did not show how the salaries of administrators have been growing over time in comparison to the salaries of professors and lecturers.

Of course, not all questions or concerns were addressed in the 90-minute meeting. But the goal, for the administration and students to hear each other out on issues that we both deeply care for, was met. The town hall was a step in the right direction, but we should push for much more. We cannot let this effort for transparency simply dwindle: we must protect it and demand more. Only through more detailed conversations can we truly know and influence the decisions that are made on our campus.