Whitman administration fails to consider student concerns, needs

Derek Thurber

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The Whitman administration has made some terrible decisions in dealing with the economic crisis. These decisions include leaving the director of student activities spot unfilled and cutting varsity skiing. These are unacceptable losses to the student body.

When President George Bridges first announced the economic cutbacks several weeks ago, I was impressed.

In his letter to the students, Bridges outlined how “the College initiated immediate steps in October to reduce expenditures.” Among these ways of reducing costs, the praiseworthy initiatives include reducing executive salaries, deferring non-critical maintenance and increasing financial aid for students.

But then I found out about what they didn’t announce right away.

“If it were true that ‘we continue to advance our commitment to providing a vibrant, diverse and supportive campus environment,’ then we would not be cutting these two important aspects of the Whitman ‘campus environment’––to use Bridges’ own words.”

Later in his letter, Bridges reassured Whitman students that “Notwithstanding the many challenges we face, Whitman is thriving. We are financially sound; we continue to recruit exceptional students, faculty, and staff; we continue to create and sustain intellectually challenging programs of academic study; and we continue to advance our commitment to providing a vibrant, diverse and supportive campus environment.”

If it were true that “we continue to advance our commitment to providing a vibrant, diverse and supportive campus environment,” then we would not be cutting these two important aspects of the Whitman “campus environment”: to use Bridges’ own words.

Whitman needs the position of student activities director. This position has a direct and very important effect on every Whitman student. Deciding not to fill this position made me realize just how detached the administration is from student activities.

As David Changa-Moon was aptly quoted last week in the Pioneer: “I don’t know how they [the budget officers] weighed the decisions that they made, but I feel as though maybe they didn’t have a full understanding of all the services the director provides, and how many of ASWC’s resources that she helps facilitate to get to students.”

Then I found out varsity skiing would not be returning as a sport next year. Outright eliminating a varsity sport like this is not like taking away a program that broadly effects a lot of students a little bit. This is taking a lot away from a very few people who did nothing to deserve it.

In his more recent e-mail to the student body, Bridges defends the administration’s reasons for cutting varsity skiing by referencing a review that he commissioned.

“Despite not reaching consensus on skiing,” Bridges said in his e-mail, “the reviewers noted that practices and competitions were geographically separated from campus, skiing was not a conference sport, and that the demands of travel increased the likelihood that students missed classes (Review Report, p. 7).”

Though I understand that the budget for skiing is much higher than any other sport, this does not justify cutting it completely, as opposed to scaling it down. And the way the administration handled announcing their decision was absolutely ridiculous.

There may not be any great time to announce such a big cut, but telling the team right after winning an important championship and after the transfer application deadline for most schools is unacceptable. If I were a skier, I would seriously consider transferring when such an important part of my Whitman experience was cut. With the timing of the decision transfer would now be too late.

Many skiers have voiced frustration that they will not be able to continue to compete even if they paid their own money to do so. It does not seem fair to deny the option of allowing the team to compete: maybe at a less frequent level: if the individuals pay for themselves.

In times of crisis, Whitman is obviously going to have to make difficult cuts that people get upset about, but they could have done a better job. Instead, they could cut down on the least-used library hours.

Though this is an academic concern that might affect more total people, closing the library from 2-8 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights would have an extraordinarily minimal effect. The few students who are studying at those times could find other places like Maxey hall: which is open 24 hours at no cost: to study.

Even if there is only one staff member paid minimum wage during those library hours (which is probably too low an estimate) this would save 3,240 dollars over the course of a year. Or, what if you only cut between 4-5 a.m. every day to save 1,890 dollars? These are numbers worth looking at.

Or they could cancel some of the capital improvement projects and divert those funds. I would bet there are any number of little cuts like these that would add up to a lot quickly and could be made with less effect to students. And they would not be as targeted as outright cutting the varsity ski team.

I am sure all of these decisions were not made rashly or without considerable deliberation. But, though these cuts are well thought out, that does not make them correct. From my point of view as a student, they are very wrong and even more poorly handled.

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