The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

A Deficit Without Communication

How a lack of transparency leaves students with the right to be upset.
A+Deficit+Without+Communication
Nathaniel Rodwell-Simon

Browsing the Reynolds Club posters, one can’t ignore Divest UChicago, UChicago Against Displacement (UCAD), and Students for Justice in Palestine’s (SJP) work to put UChicago Board of Trustees’ funding on full display. Reading further, one learns UChicago is investing in Palestinian genocide and environmental degradation, gambling and losing $20 million on cryptocurrency. And then, just a moment later, you might receive an email, reminding you to get your second-year formal tickets to the rented-out Adler Planetarium.

 Only considering what is visible, UChicago manifests as an uncaring institution, gambling away or immorally investing its money, while student groups with far fewer funds and manpower organize within their community to get by. It’s overwhelming to comprehend. But given countless boards and committees that control funding, students may only know what they witness. Consequently, a facade of endless money, a real budget deficit, and a lack of transparency from the University lead to justified anger and calls for communication.

 And it’s not just what’s tacked up. No one can miss the quad’s art installations and memorials—SJP began its quad encampment on Monday, April 29. Every organization, it seems, is unionizing and striking. Almost losing a job I had been working for months, I was forced to rely on funding to continue research when the University imposed a hiring freeze. The duck pond’s never getting fixed, or at least the deadline has been pushed from Summer 2023 to an unknown time frame. WHPK’s budget has been lowered to $20,600 from pre-COVID funding at $50,000 to $60,000, stripping the historic station down to the bare bones of streaming equipment upkeep.

 And alongside this endless stream of cuts, there’s extravagance. I have been to expensive brunches hosted by the Institute of Politics (IOP) and put up in the Beverly Hills Marriott for a career trek—notably an almost $300/night expense—where nearly three hotel staffers rushed to open doors for us and we were bused to and from venues that were a ten-minute walk away. The Model United Nations of the University of Chicago (MUNUC) hosted another conference and flippantly distributed merch so I could rep an RSO for which I’ve never attended a meeting. I have seen 20 meal boxes go bad on a pride flag-painted bench and dining halls dump fifty vegan sausage patties, only to look up and see UCAD posters collecting mutual aid for South Side families. This, of course, isn’t a complete narrative. But what I see, read, and ultimately lack, is what I know.

 Clifford Ando, a classics professor in the College, notes that the University’s resolution to the deficit has not been—and will not be—neutral. In (West Virginia) Chicago is happening to you. The fight for the modern university, Ando argues that budget cuts and continued underfunding in humanistic research and the arts indicate that the University “[has] gone far down a road in which both research and teaching are assessed according to their susceptibility to be instrumentalized in pursuit of narrowly economic, possessive individualist ends.” The University appears to privilege career-based organizations and events over the arts, humanities, and the humane.

 So, amidst the hazy and sparse information accessible to us, UChicago seems to be fumbling for more cash but refusing to give up a certain appearance of endless money, suggesting that their decisions are misplaced and driven by a capitalistic approach. And though that’s not the complete story, it’s hard to know what else to think when College Programming and Orientation gives me a rain jacket I’ll never use, but the University makes no move to back out of deadly investments.

 My individual experience leaves me angry, but the ultimate problem is transparency. As one organizer put it at a recent SJP rally, “UChicago has the transparency of a lead curtain.” Running a university requires thousands of employees and committees. Any decision that affects such a mass cannot be made lightly. No department would ever ask for less money, and organizations have to spend their surplus or lose it. The complexity of budgeting makes UChicago’s funding almost impossible to navigate, but it is precisely what limits students’ perspectives.

 The Maroon’s and other publications’ coverage of the deficit tends to stick to addressing the clinical and economic—more costs than revenue, budget cuts, and hiring freezes. UChicago strives for a competitive spot amongst the Ivies, but maintaining such a reputation is costly, leading to overspending and an ultimate deficit.

UChicago’s public information is similarly limited to the clinical. One can find budgeting and financial distributions, try to understand Mozilla Firefox spreadsheets, or attend town halls, but would be hard-pressed to find a response to students’ calls for divestment or inexplicably cut budgets. One would hardly know where to turn. There are an endless number of boards that allocate funding: student government and the Annual Allocations Committee, various grant and funding boards, academic departments, University Theater, etc. Cries for divestment or prioritization of the arts and humanities feel nebulous. And while it’s apparent that the administration is addressing the deficit, it’s difficult to understand what they’re cutting and why. All we can parse, as Ando explains, is that it’s not neutral.

 Without clarity, all I know are posters that tell me the UChicago Board of Trustees has connections to Big Oil, that MUNUC is hosting another conference and handing me a sweater vest because I spun a wheel, and that the University values its reputation amongst the Ivies more than the arts and humanities. There is so much excess in some spaces and fading funding in others. Consequently, what comes across is an inability to part with an impossible and excessive lifestyle that parades wealth but undercuts its morality and care for its students.

 The University could be making divestment plans as I write this. Financial decisions are multi-level and layered and take years. There is much more unknown than known, but that’s the issue. Without clarity or communication, there is only perception. There is a limited way to understand the University’s spending save for experience. And students have a right to be enraged without concrete evidence of deliberate and equitable plans for budgeting. Communication could only help. Calls for change feel futile. Moving in place is infuriating. There is so much I don’t know, but I at least know why students are mad.

Camille Cypher is a second-year in the College

 

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Nathaniel Rodwell-Simon
Nathaniel Rodwell-Simon, Deputy Photo Editor, News Reporter
Nathaniel is a first year in the college studying history and Education and Society. He is a News Reporter and Deputy Photo Editor for the Maroon.
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Comments (5)

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  • J

    Janis Froehlig / Jun 30, 2024 at 1:37 pm

    They’ll always try to grind you down with trying to make you feel less-than, Camille. They’ll say a 1000-page report is incomplete, ‘their’ stratosphere is none of you business, what’s right in front of your eyes, if they acknowedge its realness, is irrelevant. It’s how they keep their circles small, shush out what they see as unpleasant detritus. They’ll roll out an astronomical math formula as if complexity justifies their cruel self-import, or if I dare call it out, supremacy, that which dumps out pans of food within a few city blocks of panhandlers. It may or may not be true that bottom lines can be maintained without some essence of bind exploitation. We’re about to figure that out. I believe (words not chosen lightly) the University of Chicago can answer its imperative to lead in this expansion, that which your call for transparency begins to articulate, can be smarter about the unknown future of enough of us walking through the world with courage, conscience and compassion (like the courage to put our real names on our written work.) You go girl–got your back.

    Reply
  • B

    Bob Michaelson / Jun 21, 2024 at 5:54 pm

    As the Hyde Park Herald pointed out recently, “As of the beginning of this year, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported, the U. of C. is running a $239 million deficit.” This suggests that the twenty-five-odd members of the UofC’s Office of Investments – who no doubt are well paid, and who are led by VP and Chief Investment Officer Andy Ward, a Booth School MBA, and who is no doubt very well paid, are doing a less-than-stellar job. That is consistent with the conclusions of a May 21, 2024 report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research that Ivy League and other major universities get poor endowment returns since they invest in risky asset classes including hedge funds, private equity, and venture capital – and returns are further weighted down by the significant fees they pay to active managers – such as the UofC Office of Investments. The CEPR report suggests that on average the universities would do better with a simple 70 percent global equities, 30 percent bond mix, and not bear the cost of active investment management.
    But the UofC is certainly not going to do something as reasonable as that. For one thing, the Chair of the Board of Trustees is himself heavily involved in dirty (fossil fuel) private equity, as are many other trustees. I can guarantee that those people are not at all interested in divestment!

    Reply
  • T

    Thomas Paine / Jun 17, 2024 at 6:51 am

    Complete lack of research for this piece. RSOs are funded by student fees, which are controlled by student government. The university’s money and student government’s money are completely separate buckets of funds, and they have different governance structures. Also, this ignores fundraising by individual RSOs. Author needs to take a finance course next time before writing something like this.

    Reply
  • A

    A Uc parent / Jun 15, 2024 at 9:03 am

    Behold: the incoherent ramblings of a wokester. If anyone can distill a coherent thesis from this logorrhea, I’m all ears. So this is the sort of critical, rigorous inquiry my tuition dollars are going towards

    Reply
  • A

    Alum / Jun 15, 2024 at 7:21 am

    Do, Camille, focus on your scholarly pursuits. I can’t recall ever caring or wishing to know the school’s financial pursuits or investment portfolio. How is it even your business? An institution of learning in its infinite grace has opened its gates to you. Your role is to study, not to play an “activist” on a permanent cosplay summer camp of screeching. It’s not too late to switch majors, if you’re a grievance studies kind of gal – I recommend science-y things or classics/foreign languages.

    Reply