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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Economic diversity is a top priority at Carleton

<r Editor,

We would like to commend Ryan McLaughlin ’08 and Jacob Schak ’09 for their demonstrated commitment to Carleton’s economic diversity as well as their apparent engagement in substantive campus issues such as next year’s budget process, as expressed in their op-ed in April 17th’s Carletonian. The op-ed asks meaningful questions which Carleton students, staff, and faculty should consider not only in planning next year’s departmental budgets, but also when ruminating on what we want Carleton to be. That said, as the two Carleton students who sit on the College Budget Committee, we want to correct a couple of incorrect or outdated claims which McLaughlin and Schak propounded.

Due to the economic climate we are in, the College Budget Committee has been asked to revise Carleton’s budget for the next academic year (2009-2010). This new budget, developed before the printing of McLaughlin’s and Schak’s critique, eliminates the proposed one percent increase in faculty or staff compensation as well as decreases Carleton’s contribution to their retirement accounts by two percent. Nonetheless, McLaughlin’s and Schak’s populist-esque comparison of what was a nominal increase in compensation to AIG’s issuance of million-dollar bonuses is more than a bit dramatic on several levels, including the fact that this miniscule increase is conceivably a decrease (in real terms) given the projections of the many economists that expect inflation from the vast expansion of the global money supply.

Competitive compensation and benefits are also needed for retaining Carleton’s high-caliber faculty and staff members. Though many firms, colleges, and non-profits are not currently hiring, some are, including Carleton as it expands the faculty size by four professors. At the same time, Carleton has lost some of its first-rate faculty to other institutions this year, exemplifying the longstanding observation that though the overall unemployment rate increases in recessions, the job market for highly qualified individuals becomes incredibly fierce. Substantially cutting the compensation and/or benefits would send the wrong message to our staff and faculty, many of whom can leave for more lucrative and less demanding jobs at other academic institutions, NGOs, and the private sector. If such events occurred, Carleton’s educational mission would be considerably impaired.

McLaughlin and Schak also call for the immediate review of all faculty and staff over 55, “as this age bracket receives the most in compensation and has had the most time to accumulate personal savings” and should thus “be laid-off first.” McLaughlin and Schak have not fully thought out their idea. Though older faculty and staff garner the highest compensation, much of their personal savings is wrapped up in supposedly safe retirement funds that the college sponsors, all of which have had their values halved in the past year. Should we punish those most reliant on their retirement accounts for the effects of the financial crisis? If Carleton must do lay-offs, it seems much more reasonable that we first eliminate open positions by implementing a hiring freeze, and then be much more strategic if the College must continue to reduce its headcount.

McLaughlin and Schak next question the administration’s decision to hire four more tenure-track faculty, which is certainly a valid quandary. However, if Carleton did not hire four new tenure-track faculty, one of two things would happen: (1) Carleton would hire more visiting professors and lectures to fill the void, or (2) class sizes would dramatically increase. Under option one, the budget for faculty compensation and benefits would be close to unchanged, while the quality of teaching would arguably suffer. Under option two, Carleton would lose the small classes and personal attention that contribute to both the college’s value and its reputation. Either way, Carleton’s students lose. In addition, the departmental hiring committees for the new positions have commented that this is the most premier recruiting pool (in terms of talent and pedigree) they have ever seen, a product of the economic recession. If Carleton is going to hire four more tenure track positions in its near future, doesn’t it make sense to hire outstanding faculty now that we may not be able to attract in a “normal” economy?

We are not some appointed apologists for the College Budget Committee, but rather the voices of all Carleton students in the budgeting process. McLaughlin and Schak’s priority of economic diversity (and all types of diversity for that matter) is certainly an important value, and one with which we wholeheartedly agree and value when we express students’ sentiments. Though the Budget Committee has increased financial aid by 4.5% while retaining both its loan reduction program and its commitment to admitting 85 percent of students need blind, this may not be enough to preserve economic diversity on campus, let alone increase it during these economically trying times.

However, as we’ve expressed above, there’s not an excess of fat in the budget that we can cut without jeopardizing Carleton’s other commitments. We can increase financial aid by withdrawing surplus funds from the shrinking endowment, but this would impair Carleton’s operation in the not-so-distant future. We can cut faculty and staff compensation (or positions) and top-off financial aid, but such a feat would undoubtedly diminish the Carleton academic experience (presumably the reason students of all stripes and family incomes come to Carleton). And the Budget Committee has already slashed the facilities and maintenance budget, the meetings, entertainment, and travel budgets, and the library budget among other line items, mainly to preserve the 4.5 percent increase in the financial aid budget and minimize the faculty and staff’s compensation losses. Short of a Warren Buffet-type individual donating his or her entire estate to Carleton (which doesn’t seem too likely), we’re running out of options to further increase non-loan financial aid to make Carleton a more equitable place.
Should Carleton students and its administration be more “interested” in economic diversity on campus, as McLaughlin and Schak describe it? Unquestionably, the answer is yes. This is a debate we must have, especially as the ranks of those struggling just to get by in America expand and institutions like Carleton becomes increasingly expensive. However, for the debate to be meaningful, we have to realize that increasing Carleton’s economic diversity has trade-offs that we must more fully consider.


Ben Barclay and Jinai Bharucha

-Ben Barclay is a fourth-year student and Jinai Bharucha is a second-year student

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