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Friday, Jan 28, 2022

It’s time for Middlebury to open the books

<a href="" rel="attachment wp-att-53980"></a> <span class="photocreditinline"><a href="">Sarah Fagan</a></span>

While the phrase “open the books” may be reminiscent of an elementary school teacher and a reading circle, Middlebury Open the Books is asking our institution to open its financial books as a means of accountability. Originally used as an attempt to hold governments accountable, opening the books has since grown into a nationwide movement for transparency on college campuses, calling for community involvement in regard to institutional finances. 

As of now, there are some things we do know. There are legally mandated annual audits, along with reports from the Senior Leadership Group, that require a shrewd financial detective to decipher. For example, the operating budget section of the annual audit details the sum of budgetary expenses on salaries: $132,689,000 in fiscal year 2020. However, what we don’t know is the distribution of those wages, meaning that we can’t know how many people employed by the college are receiving less than a livable wage — or what disparities may be present along lines of gender or race. Therefore, we can’t determine if Middlebury is living up to its promise of prioritizing “the health and well-being of our people, and of Middlebury as a whole” through staff wage continuity, as the administration announced last spring. Financial transparency is contingent upon open access to this information.

The details of what gets funded — in terms of not only individual salaries but also departments and programs, stock investments and even clubs or student programming — are necessary to reach a community-driven, ethically sound future. 

The key to getting there? An opening of our books in the creation of a website or annual reporting system that would allow for students, faculty, and staff to examine how we allot our money and make sure those decisions align with our community values. Lacking full transparency means the students and employees of Middlebury College are operating at an information deficit in regard to decisions of our administration. 

To contextualize our efforts, Carnegie Mellon's “Open the Books” campaign is a useful example. Their 2002 report clarified that “an open books policy means that any interested member of the Carnegie Mellon community could gain access to portions of the actual budget of the University that are covered by the policy.” A 2016 AP investigation discovered that “out of 50 public and private universities asked to disclose their investments, 39 schools with combined endowments of $255 billion refused to provide a single record.” 

Carnegie Mellon is not alone in these efforts — Clemson University and Penn State have both opened their budgets and created spending transparency websites. Unlike Middlebury’s current annual report, which is difficult to navigate and limited in scope to only a couple dozen pages, these institutions have opted for prominent websites that include thousands of pages of information.

Following in the footsteps of Clemson and Penn State, Middlebury Open the Books asks our administration: Will Middlebury commit to making its financial decisions and records publicly accessible to our community?

Because financial decision-making profoundly impacts all of us, increased access to this information must be made available to the Middlebury College community. Only an understanding of what decisions are being made — and by whom — will allow us to determine whether our community’s values are being undermined or upheld. 


Middlebury Open the Books


The Middlebury Open the Books Campaign is a coalition of students, faculty and staff calling for radical financial transparency at Middlebury College.