The Examiner is a column dedicated to discussing and examining campus issues and the Macalester experience.
The inauguration this year was not only a big ceremony as it usually is, but unique in that it marked the welcoming of Macalester’s first Latinx and female college president, Dr. Suzanne M. Rivera. Spread over many days and across events, the focus was on giving the community some space to officially welcome a new president in a celebratory gathering and to get to know her better. It was also designed to be an opportunity for people of the community to come together. I want to highlight the different avenues of allocating financial resources in the inaugural budget with regards to accountability in identifying priorities and supporting them even in years where there are special, rare events bringing the community together.
I emailed the Inauguration Committee to ask about the process of planning this event as well as the budgeting specificities. Andrew Brown, the chair of the committee, emphasized the importance of such events especially in creating spaces for meaningful community interactions during the pandemic. With reference to the budget, a committee was formed by the board of trustees several years ago, before Dr. Rivera was selected as a president. The $400,000 amount people have been quoting was presented in the budget presentation last spring and a little over half of it was used for the events of last Thursday through Saturday. Brown clarified that the largest budget items were primarily for the post-ceremony events on Saturday with COVID specific precautions such as the tent and COVID guideline-compliant performance spaces being the most expensive.
Many students understood the significance of the ceremony, in part, in encouraging donations from alumni and other investors. Some understood that the donations played a role in compensating for the amount spent on the ceremony itself. However, one must challenge the decision of spending a significant amount of money and at the same time holding a fundraiser to support the variety of needs of students and departments on campus. I think that part of the inaugural budget being used to at least match the intended collection amount is one way to be accountable in prioritizing and spending towards our most important needs.
It is important to understand the process of who gets to plan these events as well. Much of the context of planning that Brown offered on behalf of the inauguration committee focused on how events were planned by the committee, and not by the president. I think it is important for the president to be part of the process so that the inauguration is a space where the president’s values are reflected. It is significant in understanding the role of the president and what informs their visions about the college. In addition, as mentioned before, the budget was developed by a board appointed committee several years ago. But did this committee, no matter how experienced and well-intentioned they were, have a holistic understanding of the context of the event now? I find it unlikely, because of its challenging nature, that anyone would have fully understood the extent to which the pandemic and racial violence in Minnesota inform our college context today. This is why I think it is also important to see opportunities to engage and contribute to the local community especially because we cannot think of community building at Macalester in isolation. Given the number of anti-racist organizations putting in the effort on the ground, environmental groups that have been fighting against Line 3 and now other climate struggles and the homeless population in the Twin Cities, there is ample opportunity to support these community efforts.
Some of the resources have been reserved specifically for a long term investment in community building and implementing a new, well-informed vision of the college’s future. One of these plans include the Strategic Planning Committee. I was looking over the detailed description of Strategic Planning Volunteer Champion Role and I appreciate the acknowledgment of the effort the position requires. The common thread between roles and expectations is outlined as engaging the community with the future of the college. I do not think this is unique to a new vision but rather a basic expectation of college leadership. It is valuable that explicit efforts are being planned. However, currently the document reads that if any of the selected champions are students who receive need-based financial aid, funds will be made available. I believe there is value in compensating all champions and providing additional support to those on needs-based financial aid. People have unique financial needs and restrictions which must be addressed equitably, so understanding that financial and other forms of compensation will only add to how invested champions will feel to apply.
In her inaugural address, President Rivera,while talking about belonging and access, said, “It means grappling with uncomfortable questions and taking a hard look at our traditions, processes and decisions … Each of us needs to assign ourselves the job of Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer in every single thing we do.”
I believe that rethinking our vision as a college community comes from a place of responsibility and not hostility. This is why we must cultivate and continually focus on a culture of accountability. In the specific context of big events this can often reflect on where the resources are being channeled and with what impact. What does that mean as board members, senior leadership, student, staff and faculty roles? This piece focuses on my personal examples for the different avenues that this inaugural budget, and others like it, can support. My intent was to share different directions that I do not think were covered and if they are already ideas someone has thought of and worked towards implementing, it must be made more accessible to the community at large to be fully aware of how we as a college are supporting our identified priorities.