Students Should Ensure that College Priorities Remain Balanced Amid Budget Cuts

Last May, the Board of Trustees of Pomona College adopted and approved a budget for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, an important step in the college’s financial planning process. For the preceding six months, the Budget Planning Advisory Committee (BPAC) met to provide suggestions and guidance to the Board of Trustees and the Pomona administration about the ways in which the college could and should save money.The discussions of the BPAC, especially those that seeped out into public forum, showed concern for maintaining the “core” of the Pomona College experience. Their decisions, it appeared, were based on careful thought and long considerations of the priorities for the college.

Although, as the name suggests, BPAC can only advise the college administrators on a course of action, their advice comes heavy with reason and deliberate action. They found savings targets in almost every area of the college, and did so deliberately as they did not consider any part of the college experience at Pomona to be less significant than any other.

Following the Board’s approval of the budget, it has come to the attention of The Student Life that the final budget for 2009-2010 does not achieve all of the savings targeted by BPAC. Overall, the committee targeted $5 million of savings from the budget. In the budget approved by the board, the college realized $3 million in savings.

These savings are certainly significant. However, it is important to realize that the savings were not achieved equitably nor according to the proportions set down by BPAC. This is to be expected. There were items in the budget which the administration later found they could not remove, and others, such as faculty salaries, where expenses increased despite their efforts to save money.

It would be inane to suggest that the administration be required to meet the cuts that BPAC set out. It would also be inane to think that the overall cuts should be scaled back to the degree of the least aggressive cut. However, we should be wary of where our priorities have drifted following the realization of our budget.

If the budget reflects a large cut in some areas and an increase in others, that indicates that our priorities have changed from what BPAC set out to do. Consider the $400,000 cuts to the student labor budget. The reductions—when taken hand-in-hand with $377,000 worth of cuts in faculty salary expenses, mainly through reducing sabbatical replacements—demonstrated that although student wages were by no means the top priority of the college, the cuts would be balanced out with the cuts elsewhere in the budget.

This is clearly no longer the case. The priorities we set when the BPAC made recommendations are, implicitly, no longer the same. In adjusting the budget, we have adjusted the priorities of the college. These adjustments have now been made ad-hoc based on the practicality of the line items in the college budget. This is no way to make serious decisions about the future of the institution. These changes call for a greater and more in-depth examination of the way in which we make budget decisions. Budget recommendations and spending should reflect the priorities of the college. When they drift away from our priorities, we are simply failing to act in the way that we have decided is best.

When the college shifts priorities, we should take notice, and we should take action. We should be sure that the priorities of the college are in check with the priorities of the student body. There is a clear need to reexamine the actions that the college took last May to ensure that they align with the priorities that BPAC put so much effort into defining and arranging. We must be sure that the student voice is not drowned out in the procedural realities of Pomona College. We must be sure that input to the budget is meaningful and effective, otherwise our budget planning, priorities and aims will quickly become a farce.

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