Since the onset of the pandemic, the University has continued to prioritize its own financial health over the needs of the people it exists to support.
In 2020, the University implemented austerity measures to mitigate projected financial losses due to COVID-19. The measures, which included suspending employer retirement contributions, furloughing staff and enacting hiring restrictions, directly impacted students, faculty and employees with little warning.
Despite this projection, the University’s endowment flourished during the last fiscal year, growing by roughly $2.5 billion.
Of course, the University wasn’t the only one worried about its finances at the onset of COVID-19. Unemployment increased dramatically during the pandemic, and close to 40% of all households in the U.S. reported facing financial hardships.
During a global emergency that impacted all of its constituents, Hopkins chose to maintain its endowment at the expense of employees and students. Many are left wondering why the endowment fund was not utilized during this time of crisis.
We’re glad that these stringent austerity measures are no longer in place. However, removing them does not undo the harm they caused.
Those directly impacted by the University’s actions were upset that they did not have input into its decision to enact austerity measures. Dining staff protested the suspension of pay for furloughed employees, and over 600 faculty members signed a petition to University President Ronald J. Daniels calling for shared governance of the University.
This lack of constituent representation in University decision making is exacerbated by the fact that over the past few years, the Board of Trustees has exercised its power with little to no accountability.
Bodies like the Homewood Academic Council, composed of elected faculty members, and the Student Government Association (SGA) have little to no authority over decisions being made. Who is really calling the shots at the University? It’s obviously not students or employees.
Daniels claims that the University aids in keeping democracy alive. The situation on campus hardly adheres to these ideals: We lack both a recognized graduate student union and faculty and student representation on the Board of Trustees. Hopkins should follow the lead of other institutions and give the people it serves a seat at the table.
It can start by recognizing Teachers and Researchers United (TRU) as an official graduate student union and addressing its demands. These include extending financial and time support to graduate students and providing funding for master’s students who are ineligible for the $5 million Hopkins extended to PhD students. We stand with TRU as well as graduate workers at other universities fighting for support from their institutions.
Additionally, we demand more transparency from the University and Board of Trustees in their decision-making process. The Board’s agenda hasn't been updated since the 2018-19 academic year. Even the outdated information that is available is only a brief “sample of the topics discussed.” The Board’s records are sealed from public view until 50 years from creation.
We deserve a baseline of transparency given that the Board has the power to appropriate our endowment funds. Hopkins should take the initiative to publish more updated information on the University’s finances, including the endowment and expenditures. We've already implored the University to let us into the room. By including students and faculty as voting members on the Board of Trustees, the University would provide these important stakeholders a voice in decisions.
Without input from the entire Hopkins community, the University will not address the needs of its constituents. Isn’t that the point of the Board in the first place?