ASW Senate passed a resolution during its first meeting of the semester Nov. 18 urging the Westminster College administration to publicly release its budget for student review. The legislation is in response to the 1.9% tuition increase announced for the 2021-22 academic year.
The request comes despite the fact ASW has not yet publicly released its budget to the student body.
Tristan Palmer, principal author of the resolution, said he drafted the legislation after hearing concerns from students across campus — especially as the announcement came during the same semester an 8.5% tuition hike was implemented.
“Many expressed concerns that with such a high tuition increase for this year, signs of improvements across campus should be obvious, but many of the students couldn’t identify improvements,” said Palmer, senator of the School of Arts and Sciences. “Since it is my responsibility as a senator to listen to other students and ensure their voice is heard, I immediately started writing the resolution.”
It’s unknown exactly how funds from student tuition and endowments are allocated, as the college does not publicly release its budgetary information. Instead, it releases a general common data set on the school’s website outlining historical tuition prices and scholarship information.
Because Westminster is a private institution, it is not required to release this information.
“Private institutions like Westminster do not receive public funding to operate and therefore are not required to publicly release budgets,” the school said in a statement to The Forum. “President Dobkin has been very transparent in discussing the college budget with faculty, staff, and ASW leadership while maintaining the independence [of] our community values.”
In his resolution, “WS 2020.F01: A Resolution to Request the Yearly Budget for Westminster College to be Published and Available for Student Review,” Palmer argued that other Utah universities — like the University of Utah, Utah State University and Utah Valley University — all publish their annual financial reports.
These reports include information on the schools’ revenue and expenses, such as “supplies,” “compensation and benefits” and “utilities,” according to statements released from the U.
On the other hand, Palmer argues the Westminster administration is too vague in its justification for tuition increases — citing reasons such as new options for customized majors and research opportunities.
Calls for Westminster to publicly release its budget aren’t necessarily new. When the administration announced an 8.5% increase for the 2020 Fall semester, students organized a silent protest outside a weekly faculty meeting demanding transparency in how funds are allocated.
“Also, there have been calls for the college to release its budget for years, with renewed calls due to the 1.9% increase,” Palmer said. “I figured now would be a good time to create a resolution to produce a formal request for the College to release an annual budget.”
The senator said it’s crucial to publish the budget because it promotes transparency and trust between the administration and students.
“By releasing an annual budget, the College hopefully removes the fear that student’s money is being abused,” Palmer said. “When students can see that their money is going back to support them, they’re more likely to believe that any tuition increases are implemented not out of a desire to fill pockets, but to aid in learning and future job seeking.”
Because the resolution passed, ASW President Obaid Barakzai will present the request to President Beth Dobkin during their regular meetings. Resolutions passed from ASW don’t have the power to make administrative decisions — however, they present concerns that student leaders want to address.
The request for Westminster to publish its financial information comes even as ASW has not yet released its official budget to the student body.
This is typically done near the beginning of the Fall semester. However, Barakzai said there were challenges transferring funds from the previous ASW board which has caused a delay.
“COVID made it even harder to update the budget sheet and to get things done as everyone, including the staff involved in the accounting process, was learning how to navigate all the funds fully online,” Barakzai said. “Thus, we didn’t share as much about our budget and if we did, that would be misleading [because] students would have the projected budget in mind and then would be confused with the new real budget.”
Because of the delay, Barakzai said the budget was recently finalized and shared during the ASW Senate meeting last week. The student board will decide what information to share from the budget during its final board meeting of the semester.
This information can be expected from ASW either at the end of the Fall semester or the beginning of the Spring semester, according to Barakzai.
“We have just waited to share for all the right reasons,” he said. “We are doing our best to be as transparent as possible with sharing our budget publicly and our policies and procedures while being mindful of the delays due to the […] challenges, reasons, and COVID-19.”