April 9, 2010

Dartblog: 1 ; SSWS: 0

I just happened across the blog of the Students Stand with Staff group, and found a gem of an entry.

In it, the anonymous poster critiques Joe Asch ’79 directly for an entry he wrote for Dartblog a few days ago. In his article, Asch stated – quite reasonably – that budget reductions of consequence will result in layoffs, either at Dartmouth or at one of the many companies who supply her products. After all, less money is less money by any other name. If the economy has less cash, there is less funding to pay employees… ergo, layoffs.

The SSWS reply is remarkably clunky in its reasoning. The author first claims that “Layoffs are not the sole component of our argument.” Perhaps not, but more than half of your events are centered on avoiding layoffs. Pressuring the college to avoid laying off staff has been the central tenet of your organization from day one.

Another frustrating point of the post is the title: “We’re a School. Not a Corporation.” Really? No way.

Dartmouth is not a corporation technically, no – although it is incorporated as a 501(c)(3). The issue isn’t what is Dartmouth, it’s how you run Dartmouth. The College, for all of our grander ideals, has a balance sheet. If you spend more than you take in, you eventually go bankrupt. The College is no different. The “ebb and flow” of the business cycle that the SSWS author decries isn’t, as s/he would suggest, an optional component of fiduciary policy. When the market tanks and returns on investment fall, you cut back.

That’s not corporate culture. It’s just common sense.

The SSWS populist uprising wants Dartmouth to be more “efficient” and thereby avoid layoffs – despite the fact that (a) 95 percent of cuts are made before layoffs are considered; and (b)$25,000,000 (of a $100m structural deficit) is already being saved by making the College run more efficiently. How much more does SSWS want?

Either way, the SSWS blogger misses the train entirely on Asch’s point. The Dartblog entry makes a purely economic argument – that Dartmouth is part of a larger economic system, and that cutbacks lead to layoffs. As Asch aptly writes, “If it is true that every time that we cut the College’s budget, we affect someone’s life somewhere — and it is — then by the logic and morality of the SSWS group, we should never cut a penny anywhere.”

Point is: SSWS missed the point. In the future, they should actually address the arguments instead of spouting platitudes. When I was Speaker of the Dartmouth Political Union, it was frustrating to watch when a debater would speak right past the point of another party. The budget debate is a serious one, and arguments like the SSWS blog entry confuse the process and distract from substantive issues. In this round of SSWS versus Dartblog, I give the point to the latter.

The College is struggling and everyone – even the evil Asch – hates laying people off. But SSWS is making it worse, not better.

(Coming soon: SSWS on governance and education.)

Image courtesy of The Dartmouth.

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