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November 28, 2017

An Open Letter to Dean Boyer

We need greater transparency and more effective use of the budget.

Dear John W. Boyer, Dean of the College,

It’s only been two months, but I really like what we have going here. We just have so much in common: We both wear glasses, like biking, and spend our time at the University of Chicago. Remember that time you fell asleep during the Aims of Education Address? So did I! 

But there are other times in this relationship where it feels like you really have no idea what I need, financially speaking. Your role as Dean of the College certainly involves many complex, if not immediately clear, duties, so, many of my complaints may fall out of the sight of your sixth-floor office. It’s not that I don’t appreciate everything you’ve provided for us students: University-hosted events on campus with free food, talented performances, and branded apparel. However, it seems that despite generously hosting all of these events free of cost, the University has neglected to provide for some of the student body’s basic needs. For example, I’d love to print this letter out, head over to your office, and nail it to your door 95 Theses–style, but that would involve spending $0.13 per-page at one of the on-campus printers.

I know it sounds petty to complain about 13 cents, but this isn’t just about printing. The University spends significant amounts of money on fun and flashy events like Homecoming, Class Day, or College Kickoff, but has been reluctant to fund essential goods and services for students like laundry, course books, or meal options outside of Hutchinson Commons for when dining halls are closed. These are all relatively small costs, but add up over the course of a school year—especially for the school’s many low-income students. Just last year, College students had to fight for on-campus access to basic feminine hygiene products, and have not made progress in this issue past the bathrooms in Reynolds Club.

And, according to the 2015 fiscal year operating budget, the University has actually been rolling back spending on supplies and services for students since 2005. Just last year, the University cancelled vital shuttle programs providing transportation to airports, and now cheerfully provides links for students to rent their own shuttles or recommends spending up to two hours on public transportation instead. For a school that prides itself on its lack of barriers for students from low-income backgrounds, its recent financial priorities speak otherwise.

To be perfectly fair, I’m no expert on budgeting. How the University manages its money is notoriously obscure, so my claims are based on observation. (For the record, I’ve tried looking it up—it supposedly costs about $0.05 to print a black-and-white page.) Considering how many Nobel prizes we’ve won in economics, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised the University is capitalizing on those eight-cent profit margins.) Regardless, the fact remains that the College prioritizes flashy, unnecessary events—perfect to be featured in University promotional material—over basic student needs.

So, John (can I call you John?), I think we can make things work. If Dr. Phil has taught me anything, it’s that communication is the key to any successful relationship—so just talk to us. Use your status as a campus meme for good. At the very least, be more transparent about how the College uses its funds. Consult with student representatives before enacting major changes on campus, and don’t cut programs that students need. I can’t imagine it’s easy handling the needs of 15,000 students, but we’ll get through this together.

Love,
Krishna Sunder

Krishna Sunder is a first-year in the College.

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