By Conner Wickland
There are a lot of parallels between the Republican-led federal government and the WU administration in how they approach difficult problems. They both talk big about cutting costs for working families, and then stack ever increasing budget demands on the shoulders of these same families. This administration spends and spends without paying any attention to the needs of the students, and groups like the Associated Students of Willamette University (ASWU) that are meant to represent us let them walk all over the student body financially.
I don’t think it’s a controversial statement to say that the government is spending too much money. Each year we run a deficit, adding to the public debt and draining money from future budgets. The amount the government will spend on debt interest this year is $332 billion, according to the Office of Management and Budget projections. That’s $332 billion a year that could be spent on unemployment benefits, Medicare coverage, veterans’ care, education costs, the defense budget, energy and environmental policy to combat global climate change or to provide housing for lower income people. Instead, it is spent on not defaulting. That number will continue to grow as the national debt does.
You would think that a Republican government, running on fiscal prudence during the Obama presidency, would make steps to at least balance the budget, if not start to pay off these debts. Instead, what happened in deliberation is an easy but horrifying decision on the part of both major parties.
Republicans came to the discussion proposing increased military spending, both to invest in new equipment for soldiers currently fighting and increased care for those coming home. Democrats responded to this, allowing it to pass with their own call for an increase of $131 billion in domestic spending. Both sides got what they wanted in this “bipartisan deal”, but the debt continues to balloon, at a rate of $1.7 Trillion over the next 10 years, and the nation continues to pay the price. According to Andrew Van Dam of the Washington Post, the only time the government spends this much is when we are trying to recover from economic disaster. By spending as if we’re in a recession, we are hampering our ability to fight the next one. Additionally, as tax revenues shift more of the burden to middle-and-low income families, and as inequality continues to rise, it is clear that the less privileged in society as going to bear the brunt incurred by reckless spending policies.
Lastly, these easy budget decisions come with harms outside of overspending. As Democrat Nancy Pelosi protested in Congress, this budget ignores many other issues outside of its bipartisan guise. There is still no answer on immigration in this deal. There is no answer for DACA, and no rest for American Dreamers. However, the decisions made by a large majority of congress is to throw money at their problems, and ignore anything that cannot be solved by borrowing more.
We see a similar battle, with a similar outcome, raging on our own campus. Again, it is not a controversial statement to say that college should be more accessible and more affordable. Both the administration and the students seem to share this goal, with programs geared to help first-generation students, minority students and the like. Ask any one of the numerous students around Willamette with a “Sanders 2016” sticker on their laptop about why they supported him, and you’re bound to hear something about making college more available to all.
Yet, the decisions made recently spit in the face of that goal. Continually rising tuition costs increase student debt for those attending college, and drive potential students from low-income backgrounds away from Willamette and higher education in general. It’s easy to talk about how underprivileged kids should be able to go to college. But when it comes to making that easy talk a reality, both the administration and ASWU fail to defend these students.
When the administration decided to increase student fees to $310, they made it out to seem that this was a student informed decision. At the same time, ASWU praised themselves for this administrative decision, thanking their own members. For some students, namely those who can afford it, a fee to regain basic healthcare is worth it. But for many others, it is not, and those voices have been ignored by both the administration and ASWU.
In addition to those who simply cannot afford more and more fees every year, those with serious health concerns are also ignored. Bishop will still only offer basic services, so trips off-campus will remain a part of life for many. The proposal then seems even more ridiculous, considering that these students are burdened with an additional $310 fine for healthcare that doesn’t meet their needs.
ASWU President Jack Wellman and the ASWU Senate play the same role here that that President Donald Trump is doing nationally, signing off on poor decisions and then touting them as great victories for the people. They can publicly parade themselves all they want, but the fact of the matter is that the student body will suffer from these decisions made by the administration without consulting the people it affects. Current students become even more burdened by debt, while those less privileged than us are shut out from the opportunity for higher education and those with pressing medical concerns are left out in the rain.
Students who can afford tuition increases will not be fazed by an additional charge on their account, especially given that a $310 charge is little compared to the outrageously high price of tuition. But decisions like these, continually made over time, are precisely why Willamette University is increasingly an exclusive campus. More costs mean less affordability, and if we are to fight for diversity on campus and enable low-income kids to become Willamette students, we need to have these tough discussions that weigh the options. We need an ASWU that considers all options and fights for all students, current and future, instead of one that engages in premature celebrations to save face from the fact that the administration has walked over all of us.
These budgetary issues are not the end of fiscal debates, either at Willamette or in the chambers of Congress. Spending on individual programs always looks great. Giving more money to educate kids, or funding healthcare on campus is good — nobody is debating that. But problems arise when these decisions are made without student input. It is clear that increasing costs will not solve many problems with Bishop, and at the same time create new problems with college affordability. When it comes to funding Bishop, or funding anything on campus, we cannot continually increase costs without a discussion about its effects.