Staff Editorial: Academic budgets ought be cut only as last resort

During the past few weeks, the financial state of our university once again reared its ugly head. Cut programs, faculty salary freezes, and a scathed endowment should leave Lawrentians wondering how stable our academics and university programming will remain during the next year.But there is a greater concern: What are the financial priorities of our university? What is the trustees’ vision for the future?

In particular, it seems that we should be placing more emphasis on maintaining and increasing Lawrence’s academic credentials. The recent faculty pay freeze could make Lawrence less competitive to receive the best possible faculty for open positions, and the massive spending on the construction and annual operation and maintenance of Hiett Hall – especially if it inhibits our ability to hire and retain faculty members – was possibly an extravagant expense given our situation.

Pomp, circumstance, and celebration are, of course, necessary components to any graduation experience – to a reasonable extent. This year’s celebration will also honor President Warch’s twenty-five years of service to Lawrence. While the Warch celebration, its accompanying tour, and commencement weekend are all designed with an eye toward creating new donors and strengthening relations with current ones, and we ought not to underestimate their institutional importance, The Lawrentian hopes that where expenses can reasonably be spared, they will be.

To that end, perhaps the rationing of free, university-offered alcohol served at the senior party ended up serving some sort of fiscal purpose. If this is at all the case, a close eye ought to be kept on trustee and administrative functions as well. While celebrating a hard-earned academic year is important even for trustees, and most trustees faithfully support the Lawrence Fund, trustees and administrators ought to take the lead in modeling cost-effective practices. If a “BYOB” or cash-bar policy at trustee gatherings and reunion weekends would allow the university to bankroll even one deserving faculty member’s pay raise, Lawrence University ought to adopt that policy.

At the same time, Lawrence students want to avoid feeling the financial crunch directly through residence life. Students want better-quality food at Downer and want every hall to have the benefits of Hiett. Other halls are in need of new furniture and better washers and dryers.

Nevertheless, we are of the opinion that Lawrence must place academics at the top of its financial priorities, especially with the recent slip in Lawrence’s rankings. Even with a row of the newest halls, failure to be competitive in recruiting and retaining faculty would only make Lawrence a nice place to live, and not a good place to learn.