The College’s spending does not align with its speech

Graphic by Carrie Clowers ’18

Graphic by Carrie Clowers ’18

BY JULIA SIENKIEWICZ ’20

 I’ve been an ardent supporter of Hillary Clinton since I saw her speak at the State Department when I was 12. Hearing that she signed a financial deal with the Democratic National Convention (DNC) broke my teenaged heart, and enraged me. Then more information came out, showing that while questionable, the deal wasn’t illegal or financially compromising, and the same deal was signed by Sen. Sanders’ campaign. Regardless, the revelation that the DNC was millions in debt was surprising to me, as someone who assumed that all these political machines had cash to spare. 

In many ways, the DNC’s and Clinton’s willingness to accept money for their own gain reflects a similar attitude toward Mount Holyoke and other institutions’ willingness to accept unethically-obtained finances. That is, while the DNC was accepting money from the Clintons for their own campaign, Mount Holyoke College too has a history of sourcing its endowment from unethical means, like divestment.

Money has enough power in our society to influence every facet of our lives. Money, politics and education are becoming increasingly more connected. “Capitalism” might be a simple explanation for this phenomenon, a reductive way to place blame on a large and complicated system, but we need to address and critically examine why these financial connections are so compromising in our political candidates and in our institutions.

The entanglement of money and access to resources is a problem increasingly prevalent in most aspects of higher education today, if not all. Paying College Board fees, taking Advanced Placement tests, paying Pearsons and other preparation services and dealing with application fees adds up. The amount of money that goes into creating an impressive college application is appalling. After spending so much on an institution such as Mount Holyoke, we should have access to how that institution spends its money. 

This continues as we go through school: students are expected to take “resume boosting” unpaid internships and take out heavy loans to pay for college, or register for an online language lab and the shell out cash for the newest edition of a course textbook. The amount of financial sacrifices we are expected to make increases as we take greater risks and set our sights higher: pursuing a post-graduate degree may become even more of a financial burden, as the proposed GOP tax bill cuts financial assistance to graduate and doctoral students. 

The spending of money was ruled to be free speech by the Supreme Court in 1976’s Buckley v Valeo. In some ways spending money is a form of communication; spending money on college and test prep services communicates the value one places on higher education. However, as it applies to institutions such as Mount Holyoke, that speech is given greater weight.  

Just recently, the push to force Mount Holyoke to divest from fossil fuels was rejected unanimously by the Board of Trustees. While I agree that we should not divest immediately, as that is financially risky, the unanimous rejection of it without a potential plan to gradually divest was disheartening. If money is indeed speech, then half of Mount Holyoke’s endowment communicates a lack of concern for the planet as a whole and the future of the institution.

How Mount Holyoke chooses to spend its money sends a message to students, alums and the larger world we inhabit. Improving our facilities and providing generous merit aid to students is not enough to show that the College’s spending aligns with its speech. 

We need to critically examine where our money comes from and where it is going, have that information be made free and available to the public and continually hold the Board of Trustees and administration accountable when they receive money from companies and institutions that don’t align with our values as a college. As financially contributing members of the College, we all have the right to know if Mount Holyoke is going back on its word.

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