As we discussed in another editorial this week, President Thomas Katsouleas’s Connecticut Commitment program — which promised to help all Connecticut students with family incomes under $50,000 to attend UConn for free — was recently put on hold.
The program was announced to much fanfare at President Katsouleas’s inauguration as he promised to fundraise private dollars to support the program’s expenses. Although this program was supposed to be supported by privately raised funds, its pause raises serious questions about how the next year or so of deficit-minimizing cuts will play out. UConn’s yearly budget problems are longstanding, but the lack of dining and housing fees due to COVID-19 has caused the deficit to balloon to somewhere between $76 million and $109 million.
The first question it raises is: How do we know the university’s priorities? In other words, what will the university cut first? Will non-tenured professors, graduate students and dining workers be cut before sports teams, for instance? Which academic departments will be first on the chopping block? A large chunk of UConn as we know it could be gone or dramatically changed over the next year; it seems reasonable for students, faculty and workers to understand why certain budget items were prioritized over others.
“The first question it raises is: How do we know the university’s priorities? In other words, what will the university cut first? Will non-tenured professors, graduate students and dining workers be cut before sports teams, for instance?”
The second question is: Why are these decisions being made without significant student, faculty and worker input? While students have two representatives on the Board of Trustees (one graduate student and one undergraduate student), that is hardly proportional to our financial contributions to the school (to say nothing of the fact that the university would simply not exist without us). Workers and faculty have it even worse, holding no seats on the Board of Trustees. There is probably no way to avoid some cutbacks in the coming months, and likely years, but we can and should ask for some level of control over these cuts. If we are about to embark upon a serious reimagining of the university, that should be done by the people who make up the university — the students, faculty and workers — not by an unelected and unaccountable Board of Trustees and their appointed administrators.
Now more than ever, as UConn faces a massive, COVID-19 induced budget deficit, it is critical that transparency and democratic decision-making are at the forefront. That could mean adding student, faculty and worker seats to the Board of Trustees and releasing detailed budget plans for public consideration. It could even mean some form of referendum voting. Whatever that may look like, it’s clear that the current murky and top-down decision making structure is untenable. Cuts will affect everyone, so it’s only fair that their implementation be collaborative.