Last week, the Department of Athletics, Physical Education, and Recreation (DAPER) announced that eight of 41 varsity sports would no longer be offered following the end of this academic year. Citing the need to reduce its budget by 15 percent over the next three years, the varsity cuts are intended to help DAPER to shave off nearly $1.5 million in costs. The cuts; which eliminated varsity alpine skiing, golf, men and women’s gymnastics, men and women’s ice hockey, pistol, and wrestling; were met with significant student opposition in the weeks leading up to the announcement.
Unfortunately, the need to eliminate eight sports arose due to a destructive level of administrative inflexibility and short-sighted financial planning on the part of the MIT administration. The administration must re-evaluate the prioritization of budget cuts across Institute departments and understand that some departments can afford to make cuts which others cannot.
DAPER is a department which cannot be asked to make the kinds of budget reductions expected by the Provost and the Chancellor. From a student perspective, the programs offered by DAPER amount to much more than the dollars it takes to fund them. Varsity sports are a valuable aspect of community for the 20 percent of students who participate in them and a source of school pride for many more. Indeed, the MIT varsity pistol team, which will no longer exist following this year, has claimed two national championship titles in the last 5 years by defeating competitors like the U.S. Army and Navy.
The cuts threaten MIT’s varsity program as a whole — members of the 33 teams who survived understand that it may have simply been an arbitrary metric on the “Health and Vitality Report” which saved their squad. To many students, sports play an important emotional and social role in their lives.
The same cannot be said for other departments and programs at the Institute. While it is regrettable, divisions like the MIT Libraries can be forced to shutter small operations like the Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences library and the Aero/Astro library without having a severe impact on student life. Furthermore, services like MIT Dining can and should be significantly restructured to save costs. Last fiscal year, MIT subsidized $513,000 in losses to MIT Dining services.
MIT made those payments despite research which indicated very few students were content the MIT dining system as a whole — there were high indicators of dissatisfaction in the infamous consultant’s report to the Blue Ribbon Dining Committee, leaked this past February. In contrast, DAPER has been asked to cut $485,000 from its budget which supports services students genuinely enjoy.
Disparities like these must be examined by Dean Colombo, Chancellor Clay and other administration officials in the context of the budget cuts they have asked valuable departments like DAPER to make. It is simply not true that every department should have to make the same 5 percent per year budget reductions in order for the process to be “fair.” This is true not only in terms of the role some departments play in student life or academics, but from a long-term financial planning perspective — the MIT administration must consider how cuts might affect our public image or relationship with alumni.
Alumni who generously gave to MIT in years past are now seeing how their donations were directed towards the quixotic obsession with building our endowment rather than supporting critical aspects of the MIT experience. Despite what the administration might think, the best way to encourage future donations is prove they use those dollars for worthy causes — not by announcing drastic cuts and hoping alumni will “step up” to fill the gap.
It is entirely acceptable for the university to cut departmental budgets when the interest collected on our now $7.5 billion endowment is not what it used to be. However, some cuts, like asking DAPER to shave off $1.5 million, are very public, high-profile and emotionally charged decisions which will affect alumni perception of the Institute.
Already, the AP, New York Times, and Boston Globe have reported on the varsity cuts — MIT is the most publicly esteemed university to make such drastic sports reductions thus far. Members of the senior administration must realize that the 5% per year figure need not, and should not, apply universally. It is the professional obligation of the administration to waive in part or in full the budget cuts they have asked DAPER to make. The difference should be subsidized through the endowment or by making major changes in failed departments like MIT Dining. Only by doing this can MIT hope to restore alumni confidence, support a valuable aspect of student life, and re-establish itself as an innovator and a leader in harsh economic times.
Dean Colombo, Chancellor Clay, Provost Reif — The ball is in your court.