On Tuesday, President Teresa Amott and other college administrators held an open forum for students to discuss Knox’s budget shortfall. TKS has called repeatedly this year for more openness from the administration, and we applaud these attempts to inform students of what is going on.
Still, this transparency must not stop here. The state of the college’s finances affects every single member of the Knox community, and the administration has a responsibility to keep that community abreast of what progress is being made towards addressing financial woes.
Initially, we were worried that the student meeting would not fully address all components of the state of the college’s finances and the plans to make up for the shortfall, as it was advertised as a forum on the tuition increase.
Thankfully, issues that are fundamentally interwoven were not compartmentalized, and the forum was comprehensive both in Amott’s initial presentation and during the question and answer session that followed. After all, the tuition increase is only one part of the larger solution to the shortfall, and students deserve to know what other measures are being taken to close the budget gap that might affect their day-to-day experiences at Knox.
Still, it is not clear how the administration plans to continue to keep students informed now that the forum is over, and it is essential that this is done. Plans, no matter how carefully considered, will change as new challenges and obstacles are encountered, and the complexity of those plans is too great to explain adequately in an hour-and-a-half-long forum.
The student body, as it is being asked to pay more, needs to be assured that its tuition dollars are being managed properly and that progress is actually being made towards long-term financial stability. This is not the type of issue where results will manifest themselves overnight; nevertheless, updates on where the college is on the path to achieving those results are crucial for maintaining accountability.
Amott has mentioned that Knox is, comparatively, a very transparent institution. It is not common, for instance, for the student newspaper to be present at faculty meetings, nor for student observers to be permitted at meetings of the Board of Trustees. When one group is better at something than most others, it is tempting to think that there is no room — or no need — for further improvement. This line of thinking, however, is extremely dangerous.
The United States is more tolerant toward its LGBTQIA population than Uganda, but does that mean that there is not more work to be done for equal rights and equal opportunities? In an example that hits closer to home, Knox was better off financially in the 1920s than Lombard College, which would eventually close. It is undoubtedly better off today than some institutions. Does that mean it is financially impregnable?
Transparency is not a box to tick off on a checklist, nor can it be considered in absolute terms (i.e. you have it or you don’t). Transparency holds the administration accountable for its actions, but more importantly in this instance, it shows that the college cares about keeping its students informed.
A $1.2 million budget shortfall and the steps that must be taken to close it will affect each and every student here. Cuts will be easier to swallow if they are not sprung on the student body and if the rationale for them is explained in clear terms devoid of bureaucratic language and PR-coated turns of phrase.
We urge the administration to hold periodic forums in the future for students to update them on what is going on with the budget. For times when there are no concrete results to convey, a page should be set up at my.knox.edu where students an access accurate, up-to-date information on what cuts the college is making.
Balancing Knox’s budget will be a complicated and painful process regardless of how the administration moves forward. Anything less than transparency and accountability from the college will only muddy the waters further and alienate the very group whose educational experiences the administration desires to preserve.