Letter to the Editor

David Ranscht

Dave Broker deserves a few kudos for attempting to embody Ralph Nader’s concept of civic-mindedness, espoused during his recent visit to Lawrence. Broker is trying to avoid “growing up corporate,” as Nader put it, and I admire that – to an extent.
However, his four-week tirade has emphasized rage and disappointment over reason. There is a difference between civic-mindedness and a baseless compulsion for some idealized “change,” and this is a distinction Broker has failed to make.
In part one, Broker took issue with the fact that students and trustees don’t have equal input into university decisions despite both being sources of revenue. It’s true that Lawrence tries to make its trustees happy, but when they contribute as much to the university as they have and surely will continue to do, who can blame Lawrence?
It’s ludicrous to demand that Lawrence listen to its students over its trustees, especially when trustees subsidize our education. A frequently cited – but true – statistic is that our tuition costs would be 20 percent higher without trustee and alumni donations. I wouldn’t exactly say they are neglecting our interests and livelihood.
If you or I decide not to pay Lawrence, they have the right to get rid of us. But losing trustee donations is a far greater blow, and I’m sure Lawrence would rather lose my $40,000 a year than the six-digit contributions they get from trustees.
And in any case, accountability to the tuition payers is far from absent; that’s why we have course evaluations and are encouraged to fill out tenure reviews. Moreover, trustees’ service to the university provides long-term stability, something students simply can’t provide in four or five short years.
In part two, Broker proposed an LUCC oversight committee that would have the power to subpoena administrators. This isn’t “Lord of the Flies,” but it seems that’s what Mr. Broker wants – let the kids run everything themselves! Thankfully, Broker’s turn with the conch is over. He has conflated wanting power with deserving it; merely buying a Whopper doesn’t award me the right to manage Burger King’s business plan.
Part four’s complaints, particularly about the Viking Room, can be explained with a simple economics lesson. The VR closes earlier because so few people are there, especially on weeknights. If the cost of paying a student bartender for that extra hour exceeds the four drinks he or she makes in that time, obviously it’s better to close.
While uniqueness is certainly important, some canonized idea of “the Lawrence difference” still must be subject to common sense. It’s true that the VR was set up under the direction of “we, the students,” but that plan isn’t as successful as we might hope: The VR suffers net losses annually. I understand the argument that the purpose of the bar isn’t to make a profit, but one certainly couldn’t say the purpose is to throw money away either. Money saved on operating costs with reduced hours can be applied instead to other university projects that will also benefit students.
As far as blackboard vs. whiteboard goes – is this honestly a point of contention? There’s a disparity of importance between “we need institutional revolution” and “which one of you moved my whiteboard?!” It sounds like Broker ran out of grandiose or conspiratorial criticism and has degraded to bemoaning change just because it’s unfamiliar. And moreover, the whiteboard is what made Lawrence unique? Not even the fact that we have a bar on campus?
I won’t say I have never been frustrated with a university decision, but there are institutionalized means of spurring change far more effective than the uninformed mudslinging Mr. Broker has, for whatever reason, decided is the only option. “The Lawrence Difference” may not be used anymore, but let me quote the new university slogan: “This is Lawrence.” It certainly is, and Mr. Broker, I thought we were better than that.
-David Ranscht ’10