As one of the wealthiest universities in the world, Princeton undoubtedly treats its students well: less than half the student body pays full tuition, grants for travelling abroad are readily available, and its per-student endowment is the highest in the country. However with what critics call “one of the most concerning economic situations we have seen in decades,” the financial situations of all universities and colleges are facing unforeseen pressures. However, at the Priorities Committee open council meeting concerning the budget and the financial crisis that took place on November 17, Provost Christopher Eisgruber, chair of the committee, assured students and committee members alike that Princeton’s academic experience would not be compromised. Naturally, he soon corrected himself, “we can’t go through [the economic downturn] without putting into effect some restraints.” It will not be a matter of taking things out of the budget, though; it will just be a matter of watching what goes in.
As it turns out, Princeton’s annual spending plan does not directly coincide with economic cycles. Instead, it features a steady flow into the endowment, which both prevents overwhelming booms during very good financial years and makes provisions for years such as this one. Because of this, Eisgruber explained, “Princeton will be able to avoid the sharp and very painful corrections that its peers are experiencing.” Rather than cutting back on financial aid, which committee members assured the audience remains a top priority for the university, construction plans for renovations and new buildings will be postponed. Instead of firing staff, which affects the larger community, there will be a decrease in the salary raise of one percent, “which when compounded increases very rapidly,” without being so drastic as to keep employees from getting work done. The strategy is to postpone things that can be postponed in place of executing extreme, irrevocable budget cuts. For example, getting new fitness equipment for Dillon Gymnasium is unlikely this year, but this is the most drastic example Eisgruber was able to provide of how undergraduates might be affected by the economic crisis. Even if the crisis were to continue for one or two more years, Eisgruber stated that the committee would then just have to “bring its wings in” for a while to avoid major cuts.
Although undergraduates will experience little to no effects of any budget restraints, graduate student agendas seem to be taking a hit. One representative of the Graduate Student Government petitioned for an increase in graduate student salaries that matched Harvard’s. She argued that economic downturns affect those with low-incomes the most—graduate students included—and that a sufficient salary was necessary for graduate student success. Another representative brought up graduate student travel funds as being part of the general budget, claiming that this was not on par with that of peer institutions. In response, committee members insinuated that graduate students were not taking full advantage of departmental funds, the representative quickly retaliated that there were disparities between departments and that the “demand was above departmental capacity.” Although Eisgruber and other committee members attentively listened to, and even agreed with, the points being made, the bottom line was: maybe next year. Other points mentioned during the meeting included expanding graduate student mental health services, a graduate student dental plan, and making small changes to improve energy efficiency through short-term projects.
Despite the clear need to be mindful of frivolous spending, the Priorities Committee seemed intent on preserving the Princeton student experience. In terms of financial aid, the committee guaranteed that it would step up to meet the needs of qualified students. Rather than making cuts in labor, which makes up the budget’s largest portion, it hinted at saving money in other ways, at being more resourceful with supplies, at taking fuller advantage of departmental offerings. As Christopher Eisgruber said in his final remarks, “We don’t want students wondering what opportunities they missed because they went to Princeton during a financial crisis…We’re making some adjustments in the budget, but hopefully in ten years students will look back and agree that their experience was no different than that of previous Princeton students.”