Budget Transparency at Dartmouth College
On February 4th, 2010 more than 400 people gathered at a candlelight vigil to protest impending layoffs at Dartmouth College. I accompanied several other members of the Student Labor Action Movement to the rally so that we might show our support for Dartmouth’s jeopardized staff and allied students. The experience was especially personal to me because I grew up in Lebanon, New Hampshire, a town adjacent to Hanover where Dartmouth is located; the trek to the area was familiar, as were many faces at the rally.
I unexpectedly ran into Lisa, the mother of a high school friend of mine, who expressed personal concern about the possible repercussions of layoffs. She works at Dartmouth’s medical center, and was worried that her oldest son, also an employee of the university, might be one of the first to be laid off. Later, Nancy Vogele, the priest at the church my family attends, gave a speech about the hardships she has seen in her ministry, and predicted the expansion of these problems should Dartmouth cut the positions of its lowest-paid employees. Any number of positions cut can have disastrous effects on the community. The diversity of speakers at the rally spoke to the broad impact of the university's fiscal crisis: workers, union leaders, community members, students, and faculty all spoke passionately against Dartmouth's impending layoffs. In addition, Dartmouth students garnered 75 faculty signatures on a petition denouncing these cuts.
This activism directly prompted action on the part of the university's administration. Four days after the vigil, President Jim Yong Kim responded to demands with a detailed statement of prospective budget cuts. An initially notable difference between the actions Dartmouth and Harvard have taken with respect to their fiscal crises is the willingness of Dartmouth administrators to sacrifice their own salaries in order to save the jobs of others: President Kim, Vice President Steven Kadish, and Provost Carol Folt have all taken 10% salary cuts, an action which top Harvard administrators have not taken.
Furthermore, the message breaks down Dartmouth's cost-saving measures into several distinct categories and clearly identifies every layoff. Such transparency has thus far not been witnessed in Harvard's communication with the community of students, workers, community members, and faculty affected by its layoffs. For example, compare Dartmouth's correspondence to Harvard's current source of disclosure of the steps it plans to take in closing the rest of its budget deficit, the FAS Planning website. This site makes no mention of recent and ongoing cuts affecting Harvard's workers. Like its peer institutions, Harvard must adopt a new attitude toward transparency and communication with the community it affects in its reactions to the financial crisis.