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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

They call us Judges, but …

Published: April 5, 2012
Section: Opinions

Brandeis brags that its student body is comprised of judges; however, the actions of administrators contradict this value of student authority. When the board of trustees voted last week to increase tuition 4.1-4.85 percent, Brandeis students weren’t invited to engage in the decision-making process. Instead, two students were invited to watch, and the rest of the us got an e-mail requesting we direct our complaints toward Herbie Rosen ’12 and Andrew Flagel. As with all the important university economic decisions, this one was decided behind closed doors by the self-selecting board of trustees.

The Institute for College Access and Success, a non-profit organization that monitors student debt, found that 70 percent of 2010 Brandeis graduates left with an average of $21,351 in debt. Debt held by American students has doubled in the past 10 years, with a total exceeding $1 trillion, more than credit card or auto-loan debt. Lenders are eager to give student loans because, unlike mortgage or credit card borrowers, students can’t legally declare bankruptcy. Students are indentured for life, even through grinding poverty. Maybe that’s why 4.8 percent of delinquent student loans are held by folks age 60 and older.

Instead of weighing the decision between a functioning pool and increased tuition, too many Brandeis students are faced with the much harder decision of whether to take out more crippling student loans despite the risk of unemployment after college, or leave Brandeis. The board of trustees acted shamefully by putting people into that bind without even hearing their input before rendering judgment.

It is wrong for people to make decisions without the input of directly affected stakeholders. Brandeis students all received an e-mail announcing the tuition hikes with an invitation to voice our concerns in a town hall forum, but it was well after the budget was proposed, finalized and sealed. Does it not seem blatantly patronizing to ask students to voice their concerns now, while we were offered no such option months ago when our voice could actually affect budget proposals?

As direct stakeholders, all students should have a voice in the process of developing an annual university budget from day one. And on the last day, all students should have a vote to ratify the budget. Decisions that affect a person without their say are not legitimate and that includes every single one made by the board of trustees.

Year after year, the board of trustees hikes tuition without our consent. If the 4.85 percent tuition hikes continue, a newborn today might pay $100,000 per year by the time they are 18 years old. Will a Brandeis education be completely inaccessible to our children, or will they be forced to saddle an even greater burden of debt than so many students today? Will only the children of the very rich have access to a Brandeis education?

If we stick up for ourselves now, and pry open more space in the budget planning process for student voice, we win more accessible quality higher education for ourselves and our children. If not, we perpetuate higher education as a right only for the very rich. Now there’s a decision we can make. It’s time to strike the gavel.