Widgets Magazine

OPINIONS

Editorial: The Endowment Strikes Back — Now Show Us the Money

Politics revolve around budgets: who decides who gets how much, and when? It turns out this question was pretty important this week if you were a union worker in Wisconsin or cared about the survival of Planned Parenthood. Judging by the lively dialogue on campus about these two issues, Stanford students consider state and federal budget processes to be as worthy of their attention as studying or complaining about the rain. For all this interest in government spending, however, there has been a conspicuous lack of public objection to Stanford’s own budget priorities, even though students often complain about their myriad effects.

Nevertheless, this editorial board urges the Provost to reprioritize the interests of current students by increasing budget allocations to the offices of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education (VPUE) and the Vice Provost for Student Affairs (VPSA).

These two departments house a critical mass of the front-line staff that meet with and work directly for students on a daily basis. VPSA, which oversees Vaden, the Registrar, Residential Educational, our Educational Resource Centers, and Student Activities and Leadership (SAL), and VPUE, which includes Undergraduate Advising and Research (UAR), Bing Overseas Studies Programs, the Center for Teaching and Learning and all Freshmen and Sophomore specific programs, endured disproportionately heavy cuts when the endowment fell, and current students have paid the price.

Take student advising, for example. Faced with the terrifying knowledge that their choice of classes and major will determine the course of the rest of their lives, incoming freshmen are told to consult with a pre-major advisor or Academic Director. However, these advisors are ill-equipped to help undeclared students navigate tough, big-picture decisions. Indeed, survey data have shown that when asked to name one aspect of Stanford that most disappointed them, most students cited the poor quality of academic advising.

There’s no easy answer to the problem of advising, but one promising solution was axed in 2009. Upperclassmen may recall that they used to enjoy the services of Head Peer Academic Counselors, staffers whose positions no longer exist thanks to budget cuts. Rather than making an appointment with an advisor with only distant memories of undergraduate life, students used to be able to walk down the hall and speak with a trained advisor who could relate personally to academic concerns. That more students than ever are failing to declare a major by the end of their sophomore year is just one sign that advising has suffered since VPSA was forced to cut HPACs. While the launching of iDeclare Week has lent a sense of urgency to the problem, it ignores the underlying cause: the need for reinvestment in student advising.

Advising is not the only aspect of student life that has suffered because of cuts to VPSA. Scheduling appointments at Vaden has become more difficult as they have eliminated staff positions. As a result, students have had to wait longer to access professional mental health and wellness services, even after the ASSU named mental health and wellness top student priorities.

Cuts to VPUE have also posed a threat to crucial programs: it may alarm any student who has enjoyed a Bing Trip overseas to know that if BOSP budget officers had not been able to lock in favorable currency exchange rates during a brief dollar rebound, the Bing program may have suffered reductions in its offerings. However, cuts did force the closure of the popular two-week Overseas Seminars, to the dismay of many students who could not otherwise afford to study abroad for a quarter.

Of course, when they cut funding to VPUE and VPSA, the University Budget Committee was in an unenviable position. Stanford’s endowment and annual donations suffered significant losses. The administration even froze salaries. In such an environment, budget cuts were painful but understandable.

However, times have changed. The university’s financial fortunes have improved dramatically within the past fiscal year: the endowment rose nearly 10 percent to approximately $13.8 billion, while Stanford led the world in fundraising, securing nearly $600 million in gifts. As a result, the administration has approved unrestricted allocations to a litany of “high priority” budget items, such as department endowment reserves, financial aid, endowment mitigation, a modest salary increase program, covering costs for new buildings opening this year, and augmenting the University reserve. Why have VPUE and VPSA, which cut more than any other departments when the endowment was down, been left off of the list of budget priorities now that we’re back in the black?

The administration’s preference for long-term stability has consistently trumped the interests of current students. Surely, the administration’s interest in long-term stability is legitimate. However, the lack of student input during the budget process has led to an excessive gutting of programs and services that benefit students now, even as Stanford enjoys a rosier financial position than virtually any university in the world. We deserve better.

About Editorial Board

Editorials represent the views of The Stanford Daily, an independent newspaper serving Stanford and the surrounding community. The Daily's Editorial Board consists of President and Editor-in-Chief Victor Xu '17, Executive Editor Will Ferrer '18, Managing Editor of Opinions Michael Gioia '17, Desk Editor of Opinions Jimmy Stephens '17, Senior Staff Writer Kylie Jue '17, Senior Staff Writer Olivia Hummer '17 and Senior Staff Writer Andrew Vogeley '17. To contact the Editorial Board chair, submit an op-ed (limited to 700 words) or submit a letter to the editor (limited to 500 words) at eic@stanforddaily.com.
  • Agreed

    Let’s look back at the growth of the endowment before: it was jumping 20-25% each year for several years. Of course this was probably part of the bubble that burst, but with a 10% increase in the endowment (which was about the annualized return before), I wouldn’t be surprised if the return is between 15 and 20% this year. Stanford is, yet again, poised to become wealthy enough even to let its undergrads attend for free if it so chose (though we know Stanford won’t do it). Assuming a (modest) 15% return for the next five years, Stanford will be reaching a $30 billion endowment, sooner if the economy picks up even more. It’s high time for Stanford to prioritize undergraduate education; there’s a good reason Stanford lags in some areas relative to its peers.