The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Administration discusses student concerns about the economy

By Max Loos

President Brian Rosenberg and several other administrators offered a gloomy but not disastrous forecast for Macalester’s next few years at the Macalester College Student Government-sponsored campus economic forum on Monday, saying that although the economic crisis may not have a large impact on next year’s budget, significant cuts will become necessary in the following years. “At some point, we’re going to have to have a fairly broad communal discussion about what our highest priorities are,” Rosenberg said, echoing an earlier statement by Vice President of Student Affairs Laurie Hamre.

The event, held in the chapel, was a primarily question-and-answer session, with Rosenberg, Hamre, Vice President of Finance and Administration David Wheaton and Provost Kathy Murray fielding questions from the audience about what at Macalester will change in response to the economic crisis.

Laying out perhaps the most notable change, Rosenberg said that tuition increases will be smaller in the next few years, while financial aid funding will increase. It was also discussed that financial aid funding usually increases by about $2 million per year, but it is expected to climb by about $3.5 million for next year, bringing Macalester’s estimated total financial aid expenditures to around $33 million.

Financial Aid Director Brian Lindeman, in attendance, was quick to point out that there would not be a general increase in every student’s financial aid package. Rather, the financial aid office estimated that demonstrated student need would drive the financial aid expenditures up.

That increase in financial aid also means less money for other areas of the budget.

“If you have a million and a half extra dollars going to financial aid, that’s a million and a half fewer dollars you have available for everything else you do on campus,” Rosenberg said.

Still, Rosenberg said he did not believe that budget cuts would have a noticeable impact on student life next year, as most of them have been made in areas that are more likely to affect faculty and staff. The college has instituted a pay freeze for most faculty and the creation of new faculty positions.

“We will try to make those cuts least severe in the areas that affect student life most directly,” he said. Rosenberg later said that all cuts made have been guided by principles of “preserving to the extent that we possibly can the quality of the student experience, taking care of our current faculty and staff and preserving access to the college.” But those principles may have to be amended in future years, he added.

“Now more than ever, we really need to decide what our highest priorities as a community are and try to figure out ways to support those, but with that comes the recognition that we probably can’t keep doing everything,” Rosenberg said, cautioning that cuts will inevitably have to be made that will leave at least some students unhappy.

“There’s nothing we do on a campus like this that isn’t important to someone. We don’t have a lot of stuff that’s just a waste,” he said.

Academic programs would probably receive the fewest cuts, and Rosenberg seemed to think that cuts in potentially cash-saving long-term investments such as the President’s Climate Commitment would be counterproductive.

“It’s important not to lose sight of our goals,” he said, adding that it also makes sense financially to keep such initiatives.

Plans to renovate the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center are also still on track, but potential plans for additional new building projects in the next few years wouldhave to be more cautiously initiated and funded with a higher percentage of gifts and a lower percentage of debt, Rosenberg said.

But while Rosenberg was making it clear that it would be impossible to leave the student experience untouched, Wheaton said that he sees the potential for positive change in Macalester’s economic situation.

“This is a chance to flush out some of the old habits and look for something new,” he said, going on to point out how cost-cutting measures like putting payrolls online ultimately make the college more efficient.

“There may be opportunities here to, in effect, construct a better Macalester,” Wheaton said.

Asked about what creative tools the college has at its disposal to deal with its budget problems, Rosenberg seemed less optimistic.

“The toolbox is not loaded with tools,” he said, but then went on to offery the possibility of the campus being utilized more effectively in the summer.

Both Rosenberg and Hamre asked that students take some time to offer the administration any ideas they may have about how to save the college some money.

“I don’t think any of us that sit on task force on budget or on senior staff think that we have all of the answers,” Hamre said. Rosenberg added that administrators would always be open to student communication, particularly via email.

Owen Truesdell ’11, who asked several questions during the event, was satisfied with the discussion. “It’s helpful to have the administration directly talk to people,” he said. “For me, it’s about seeing that there is a steady hand guiding the college.”

“I’m surprised there aren’t more people here,” said Lauryn Gutierrez ’11. No more than 40 people were in attendance. About half were students.

“It’s so hard to get students to an event like this,” Truesdell said. “We don’t get engaged in discussions about how to keep campus afloat.

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