Thoughts from the Embers: Honesty about finances

It’s no secret that Knox’s coffers aren’t full to the brim. Yet for all of its financial shortcomings, Knox is still able to create an environment in which students are taught to think critically, engage fully and respect every member of the campus community. It is shocking, then, to find out that that respect may not be reciprocated. Last week, Vice President for Finance Tom Axtell announced to the faculty that Knox is facing a $3 million budget deficit, but the college’s tactic with other constituencies, particularly students, has been to say nothing. This move is indicative of disordered priorities, which have placed the outside image of the college above the maintenance of trust between administrators and students.

 

After The Knox Student ran a story last week that included Axtell’s statement, he told The Galesburg Register-Mail that the report was simply “not true.” Axtell has since said on the record that the number is accurate. Yet this does not change the fact that competing narratives exist between what the faculty were told and what the college has told students (so far, nothing). Why the difference?

 

Several faculty members tried to answer that question in Matt McKinney’s story, so we won’t rehash the details here. What we will address, however, is the extreme importance of this issue. The Board of Trustees has, in fact, not yet approved the 2012-13 budget because the “projected deficit was simply unacceptable,” according to an email to the faculty from Dean Lawrence Breitborde. This is something other than Knox’s usual financial woes. And students, just as much as faculty, have a right to be presented with the full truth.

 

 

Knox is built on the idea of treating students as adults. Students oversee large sums of money in the form of club budgets and the restricted fund. Deeply seated institutions such as the Honor Code assume that students will conduct themselves in a trustworthy, mature manner. We are invited to go to administrators with our concerns and expect that they will listen. Yet the administration is being less than open with students about a matter that affects each of us directly in terms of the academic programs we pursue and the campus services we utilize. It is treating us as children poised and ready to panic rather than partners in an effort to make Knox an even greater college.

 

An appropriate course of action in light of the $3 million deficit would have been to admit that it exists upfront to students and then highlight the capital campaign that President Teresa Amott is spearheading to correct it. That would have shown that not only is Knox willing to admit its shortcomings, but it is ready and able to face them head on. A college that can do this is far more admirable than a college that hides information, whether from students or any other group.

 

There are a lot of would haves in this editorial. But one thing is definitive: the information about the deficit is no longer hidden from students’ eyes, and the expectation that it might have stayed that way for longer than a few weeks is laughable due to the size and intimacy of the Knox campus. We urge the administration to be honest with students — not to frighten us, but to illustrate how we are all partners in Knox’s future.

 

At the faculty meeting last Monday, both Axtell and Amott were candid with faculty. We wish that they would respect the student body enough to be candid with us as well.

TKS Editorial Board

Tags:  budget finance Knox

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