Rubbing Elbows with the Board of Trustees
By Peter Tang '10
It’s that time of the year again, when sunshine, warm temperatures and happier moods all make a return to students’ lives. I can’t help but feel the excitement of a wonderful second-half of a spring semester teeming with possibility. However, the arrival of spring also means the arrival of the Amherst College Trustees to campus for their weekend meeting at the end of March — this week, to be exact. The Trustees will engage in conversation with the administration and faculty committees, as they give the campus their sense of the College’s future direction.

A crucial part of the many meetings crammed into the Trustees’ two-day schedule will be the open lunch meeting held on Friday March 26 at 12:30 p.m. in Valentine Hall. All students are invited, and I sincerely hope many students will show up. It is here where all students are afforded an opportunity to speak directly and candidly with the highest level of decision makers at the College — an opportunity that many of our peers at other institutions do not have. The raw, ground-level experiences of students put faces on the policies of the College. It helps all members of the community understand the challenges the College faces while also giving students a chance to understand how the College works. Spring, then, brings both joy and duty to all at Amherst.

Over the last semester, students have really begun to feel the effects of the budget cuts made last year. While no one particular issue is a back-breaking one, the cumulative effect of higher copyright costs, changes in service levels and hours and an increase in the size of the student body has taken its toll. Students’ irritation is heard campus -wide, as they express complaints about various inconveniences and opinions about how the College can, and should, do better. While I applaud the faculty, staff and administration’s efforts to minimize the impact of these cuts, the lines at Valentine, the frustration of limited course selection and the shortage of opportunities for student employment persist.

Budget issues aside, there are lingering issues that the College community continues to discuss. As we bring together a diverse community, we continue to struggle with fostering an academic and social environment that maximizes the possibilities that such diversity can bring. The recent decision by the administration in relation to fraternities has brought the issue to the forefront of the student body’s consciousness, as the College continues to navigate the implications of the Trustees’ 1984 resolution regarding fraternities. The Physical Plant continues to receive attention as the Trustees begin to make progress on the renovation of Merrill, but other facilities are beginning to outlive their usefulness. All of these concerns existed before last year’s crisis, and as we begin to lift ourselves out from the worst of the crisis, it is time to give some thought to them once more.

I sincerely hope that students will seize this opportunity to engage in dialogue that can make a meaningful impact on all aspects of this campus. By giving your own insight and by hearing the Trustees’ perspectives, all parties will come to realize where the College stands as it pursues the creation of a more perfect Amherst. Sign-ups can be found on the AAS website, and end on Thursday.

Several weeks ago, the College announced a smaller loss of its sizeable endowment than was expected. This good news relieves some of the tensions that were felt throughout the College in the past year, as the future of the College seemed just a bit brighter. By all means, take the breather, and let us all feel a bit more relaxed. However, when the Trustees arrive back on campus in mid-October of the following academic year, and participate in a lunch with students, it is my hope that all students of every background make an effort to be there.

It is easy in such a quiet moment after such great anxiety to believe that all is well, that we may return to the dreamy nature of our lulling Amherst bubble. This is unequivocally not the case. As President Marx hammers home in many venues, the $37 million in cuts for the ’09-’12 academic years, along with our more stable financial position only buy us time to discuss future budgetary corrections.

Jide Zeitlin, Chairman of our Board of Trustees, noted in his August letter that we must rethink our cost structure. Whatever changes these may be, student input is evermore important, as upperclassmen can provide wisdom gained through years spent here, while underclassmen will feel any effects the longest. We can be sure that our faculty, administrators, staff and Trustees will be debating the future of Amherst. As such, why shouldn’t students do the same?

These longer-term issues aside, everyday issues of academics and student life, some of them the results of budget-driven changes, while others from pre-crisis times, remain pertinent. From casual dinnertime chatter to full articles and editorials in The Student, it is clear there are many things that trouble students. Course availability, the quality of scientific and musical education, overcrowding throughout the College, the functions of our athletic program and affordability of Amherst are but the tip of the iceberg in student concerns. Our administrators and managers can only tell so much of the story to our Trustees. Only students have the on-the-ground stories that convey the effects of policies. It is in a moment like the one we find ourselves in on Oct. 16, when powerful ears make themselves available as an audience, that such concerns should be expressed. Over a standard Valentine lunch, talk about how a friend had trouble finding a good fourth course, how our musicians struggle to hone their talents in the confines of existing facilities or how a floormate fears for their ability to continue coming to Amherst. For that matter, talk about the lunch itself and how long you stood in line to get it!

The effects of policies enacted from above are hard to gauge without the primary input of those who live under the policies. When the AAS sends out the email asking for your participation in the Oct. 16 lunches, I hope you sign up to advance the interests of all students. Have a good lunch and tell a good story. How hard can it be?

Issue 19, Submitted 2010-03-24 02:59:36