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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Thursday, February 29, 2024

Op-Ed: Transparency and the university budget

When housing prices increase, where does the money go? Why are we in a deficit, and what is the university doing to change it? Decisions made on our university’s budget are often obscured from student view. While of course there are some aspects of university spending that should not be disclosed to students, such as work-study salaries, and professors’ salaries, it seems that both students and administrators would benefit from more transparency regarding university budgeting. The core factors in the experiences of students and faculty at Tufts, from academics to housing, deserve transparent budgets that reflect their importance to those here at Tufts.

We realize that even the university’s most senior administrators may not know the answers to all student concerns. However, even outlining what budgetary information can or can’t be shared and why would ease tension that exists between students and administrators. More transparency regarding budgetary spending would have a multitude of benefits for students’ perception of administration and the student experience more broadly. First, students would not see the administration in a negative light as we often do now, because we would not feel left in the dark or frustrated with answers that can easily be reduced to 'it’s just the way it is.' Second, there would be less backlash from students to university budget decisions because students would understand why certain decisions are being made, leading to less frustration and animosity towards administrators. In short, we could and would trust our school’s spending more.

The Tufts administration would also benefit from more budget transparency with students — students would be able to ask for more pragmatic, targeted changes if they knew more specifics of the budget. Furthermore, the administration would be more apt to focus on budgetary decisions that make the largest impact on student voice. Spending would be more efficient in improving Tufts’ quality if the administration took information students provide directly into consideration. Actually hearing student voices that are informed about university spending makes for better budgeting practices.

Taking the administration’s word for why they do what they do does a disservice to their relationship with students. There is much to be gained for both students and administrators from having more clear communication and justification for the university’s spending priorities. As the university increases enrollment, it should be able to communicate to its students why enrollment increase is the solution to our university’s deficit. Furthermore, we should know what the university is planning to do to offset the costs to student resources that the increase in enrollment will cause. For example, what is the long-term vision for housing given the expectation for large rent increases in the surrounding area? How is financial aid going to account for fulfilling the 100 percent demonstrated need of these new students? We should know how the construction of the Cummings Building will be different from that of the Science and Engineering Complex to prevent a further dive into austerity. It is not just our university’s budget that is at risk: It is the lives and college experiences of its paying customers — the students — and the community members, like our dining workers, who depend on Tufts for their livelihoods.

The large budgetary changes that the Board of Trustees and other parts of the administration create that affect student life ought to be communicated to the student body. Ideally, this would be done through a formal process where individuals can request information about the university’s budget, and the university would be required to respond either with the information itself or the justification as to why the information cannot be communicated. When the university makes a financial decision that students may find objectionable and feel they cannot explain or justify to the Tufts community, they must at least communicate why some information cannot be shared. In the long term, this transparency should grow into true communication between students and administration regarding budgetary spending, so that not only is spending more efficient, but it is also in line with what students expect from our university.