Constructive Criticism: Examining financial decision-making at the College

September 23, 2015 by The Williams Record Editorial Board

In light of the many construction projects proliferating across campus, we at the Record urge the administration to look more closely at the varying needs of the student body when allocating funds.

Our endowment continues to grow rapidly following its downturn after the 2008 financial crisis, and the College has more money now than ever to spend on capital projects and operating revenue. Among other projects, a bold new plan to renovate the United Science Center for an estimated $200 million begs a cautious examination regarding the best use of this money.

We at the Record believe that the College should explore using the endowment funds to support other worthy causes that directly benefit the student body in addition to or instead of construction. As the cost of attending the College continues to rise at an alarming rate, the College could use the endowment to institute a tuition freeze. The College projects that the cost of tuition and room and board may approach $70,000 within the next decade. A tuition freeze could help students and families plan responsibly for the steep cost of a Williams education.

Furthermore, appropriating money to increase financial aid and to create need-blind financial aid for international students are two additional ways the College could use its surplus of cash to directly benefit students. While we at the Record recognize the generous financial aid system that currently exists at the College, reducing the financial burden for all students needs to continue to be a priority for the administration.

This is not to say that upgrading the facilities and buildings of the College is an irresponsible or worthless endeavor. For a variety of safety, environmental and pragmatic concerns, renovation and construction projects will enhance campus life and be advantageous for both the lives of current and future students and faculty. However, the Record believes that it is important to prioritize certain projects and caution the College against spending money on construction projects just because they are able to afford it financially. These projects cost energy and time and have the potential to inconvenience faculty and students alike.

The College has, however, taken several important steps in the construction process to ensure that long-term benefits outweigh short-term inconvenience. We at the Record commend the College for adhering to rigorous global LEED Gold environmental standards in all future construction over $5 million. This set of green building certifications places the College at the forefront of environmental building leadership. In addition, the College should be praised for striving to become more handicap-accessible as all new construction and renovation projects will incorporate greater accessibility into their design.

The College also deserves recognition for hiring local firms for its construction and building needs such as architecture, material sourcing and physical labor. Engaging with the local community and supporting these firms goes a long way in creating both important financial and social ties between the College and the community.

Finally, it is curious to us at the Record that the College has not chosen to create, renovate or repurpose any dining halls amidst its construction spree. Paresky Student Center was clearly not designed to handle the load of student dining that it currently does. We believe that repurposing the dining areas in Greylock Hall or Dodd House or constructing a new campus dining space to divert traffic from Paresky would maximize efficiency in the dining halls across campus and immensely benefit the student body.

In regard to all of these financial decisions, we at the Record believe that increasing student involvement and transparency in the decision-making process surrounding the discretionary spending of our endowment is imperative. The College’s allocation of funds for various projects should not be shrouded in mystery, and to ensure that students are best served, their interests should be taken into direct consideration.

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