Op-Ed: Transparency and the student voice

Tufts prides itself on its students’ activism, self-advocacy for their liberal world view and desire to make the world a better place. Unfortunately, the university also stifles our ability to do great activist and advocacy work to make Tufts a better place. By keeping budgetary, staff and academic decision-making processes and rationale hidden from students, the Tufts administration dissolves the student body’s trust of the administration and Board of Trustees. The administration makes it more difficult to receive student input, as students cannot give informed criticism. While we recognize that certain information is sensitive and cannot be released by the university, Tufts could improve its transparency to match that of peer institutions, the specifics of which will be spelled out in coming op-eds.

To be clear, “transparency” is an amorphous concept, and what it means varies based on what is both legal and feasible for Tufts to dispense. The end goal of transparency, though, should be clear: Tufts community members should all be able to get an informed view of major decisions at Tufts, the rationale for them and the process by which they are decided — from financial decisions to decisions regarding departmental expansion.

A lack of transparency in any hierarchical institution naturally leads to frustration, confusion and anger. First, let’s talk about it from the student perspective: not telling us information regarding specific rationale for budget cuts or tuition increases results in students seeing the administration as their adversary, as having something to hide. This, in turn, makes students more willing to believe unconfirmed rumors about university priorities or spending decisions, increasing student hostility and decreasing morale. We are also rendered less effective at advocating for ourselves and community members when we have less information. We’re unsure whether initiatives or proposals we support are actually realistic given Tufts’ finances, or what makes a proposal viable. When this comes to academic decisions, Tufts students feel as if the university’s decision-making apparatus is a black box, while we are all at its mercy, leaving many people feeling stressed and  academically discouraged.

It’s not just that a lack of transparency negatively impacts students; while the administration is generally the reason for a lack of transparency, they also are hurting themselves by not being more upfront with students. First, as a result of the overly adversarial relationship it creates between decision-makers and students, administrators feel less supported by the community. Second, the lack of transparency indirectly frustrates members of the Board of Trustees and administration by leading to more unrealistic proposals from students — certainly, some requests made by students could be untenable based on the university’s finances. Without transparency, students have to make these proposals in the dark and end up pushing proposals that are impossible for decision-makers at the university to support. The source of the tension here is not any inherent opposition — the problem is that students do not have access to the knowledge that would allow us to make more informed proposals. This isn’t just true when it comes to budgetary decisions — at every level, greater transparency would allow for a better, more mutually beneficial relationship between those who make the decisions and the broader Tufts community.

In this series of op-eds, we’ll be examining many of the ways Tufts lacks transparency and ways in which it could be improved. Specifically, we’ll examine transparency with regard to the Board of Trustees, budgeting processes, and academic and disciplinary proceedings. We hope that this begins the conversation about realistic ways that Tufts could improve its transparency and tap into the great resources that we, as students, can be in making Tufts a better place.