This week, SGA heard a petition for an update to Barnard’s anti-discrimination policy, and viewed a presentation about Barnard’s finances in the past year. 

Cw: mentions of antisemitism.

We’re back for another week of SGA coverage! As usual, the meeting opened with introductions and external announcements from the council members. 

Tirzah Anderson BC ‘21, SGA President, announced that Dean Grinage had sent out an email informing students about the accommodations that will be available for students observing Ramadan.

Vivian Todd BC ‘21, University Senator, reminded everyone that SGA elections are ongoing and that the voting link was recently emailed to the student body. Students who received an email in the middle of Monday have not yet voted in the election.

Myesha Chowdhury BC ‘23, Sophomore Class President, invited students to check out @barnard_baha, which is holding a fundraiser with a care package for finals.

Solace Mensah-Narh BC ‘21, VP for Equity, wished everyone a happy Arab American Heritage Month.

Parker Watts BC ‘22, Representative for Inclusive Initiatives, wished solidarity to the graduate students’ union.

Norah Hassan BC ‘21, Senior Class President, reminded seniors to be alert for emails that contain information about deadlines for things such as yearbook photos.

Bannon Beall BC ‘22, Representative for Food and Dining, seconded Tirzah’s announcement about Ramadan accommodations, inviting students to reach out to her if they needed help securing dining accommodations.

Carmela Casabury BC ‘23, Representative for Wellness, invited students to participate in an April 7 event about health resources on campus, in partnership with ThirdSpace and Furman Counseling Services. Check out @barnardwellness for details!

The announcements session concluded with the reading of the community agreement. 

Two students, Shaqed Tzabbar BC ‘24 and Leeal Kahen, then approached the representatives to present a plan to petition Barnard to change the language in their anti-discrimination policy to include a new and more specific definition of antisemitism. Citing the recent antisemitic incidents at Columbia and Barnard, such as graffiti of a swastika, the students argued that Barnard should update their language in order to acknowledge and commit to combatting antisemitism as a form of hate.

The proposed new language defines antisemitism as “a form of bigotry that targets Jews, their property, or their institutions and manifests in many forms. Classical antisemitism is defined as religious discrimination and demonization. Modern antisemitism takes classical antisemitism and places it in present-day contexts such as social media and current events.”

Tzabbar and Kahen then listed some examples of how antisemitism can manifest: by accusing Jews of disloyalty to America; by suggesting that Jews are greedy, manipulative, and necessarily affluent; and by denying the events of the Holocaust or making irresponsible comparisons to the Holocaust.

Speaking for a group of university students that has worked on this initiative, Kahen and Tzabbar expressed that they felt that changing the language of the Barnard anti-discrimination policy to include this updated definition of antisemitism would serve to protect Jewish students on campus by guaranteeing them safety in the university’s eyes against instances of antisemitism.

Avalon Fenster BC ‘24, Freshman Class President, noted that the students’ proposed definition focused on religious discrimination against Jewish people. Citing her own background as an ethnically Jewish person, she asked why the definition didn’t touch more on the kind of antisemitism that targets Jewish people for their ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

Tzabbar responded that that definition of antisemitism was embedded in the definition that the students were proposing, and that the resolution that they wanted to send to the university encompassed this kind of antisemitism as well.

Bex Allen BC ‘21, Representative for Academic Affairs, wanted to know how the proposed definition was formulated and who was involved in that process. Tzabbar replied that a survey had been sent around inviting students to participate in writing the resolution, and that around 80 people ultimately participated in formulating the statement. 

Solace Mensah-Narh pointed out that Barnard’s anti-discrimination policy is different from Columbia’s, and asked how the students behind this initiative thought Barnard specifically was failing in its policy of addressing antisemitism and hate. Tzabbar responded that it wasn’t the wording of the policy that was failing as much as the implementation of the policy, but that they hoped that by adding a specific definition of antisemitism and putting forth a statement specifically condemning antisemitism, Barnard would be able to take the first step in improving how they combat antisemitism. The students also proposed the creation of a subcommittee that would specifically investigate antisemitic hate on campus and how it could be prevented. 

Bex Allen then asked why the students chose to prioritize changing the language of the policy if their real issue was with the implementation of it. Kahen said that the Jewish students on campus deserved more support than they currently are provided with, and she hoped that Barnard releasing a statement showing support for them would be the first step in that process.

Tzabbar and Kahen concluded by saying that they wanted SGA to release a statement in support of the university students’ initiative to change the language of Barnard’s anti-discrimination policy. The representatives thanked the presenters, which ended the open floor portion of the meeting.

Next up was a presentation about Barnard’s finances, given by Eileen Di Benedetto, CFO and VP for Finance, and Clifford Rotbert, Director of Budget and Planning.

They began the presentation by outlining the College’s budget strategy, describing how, despite the stresses of the pandemic, Barnard remained committed to being fiscally responsible with the goal of meeting students’ financial and academic needs without overspending. Unlike other universities, Barnard has been able to offset the losses incurred by the pandemic while simultaneously expanding financial aid offerings, maintaining staff’s benefits, and balancing the budget for Fiscal Year 2020.

For Fiscal Year 2021 (which runs from May 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021), Barnard’s expense projection is $209.1 million. Of this, salaries and wages are expected to take up 41.8% of the budget; employee benefits, 15.1%; Financial Aid, 19.1%; OTPS (including the annual fee paid to Columbia), 18.5%; Debt Service, 5.2%; Contingency, 0.5%. 

The money for this budget comes from tuition and fees (which make up 71.2% of the college’s income), endowment spending (8.3%), private gifts and grants (7.4%), auxiliary enterprises such as the housing plan and the dining plan (7.3%), federal and state grants (5.6%), and other sources (0.3%).

The presenters then described the new pandemic-related costs that appeared in the budget for the 2021 fiscal year. Barnard spent a lot of money supporting students, by replacing the income that should have come from the summer earnings requirement in 2020 (which amounted to 2.6 million), by transferring financial aid for students who found off-campus apartments (3 million), by funding SASA and the CARES Act (1 million), and through the Consolidated Appropriations Act (2.4) million. Barnard also spent a lot of money in costs relating to the coronavirus pandemic; the college spent over 5 million in testing costs for faculty, staff, and students, and 2 million in additional remote learning-related costs, such as supplies for faculty and students. The college also faced a significant loss in revenue from retail tenants whose business suffered during the pandemic.

For the 2021-2022 academic year, Barnard’s financial goals include enabling a safe and full opening of campus and housing, maintaining need-blind admissions, and achieving a balanced budget.

Because the Francine A. LeFrak Foundation Center for Well-Being was a fully-funded gift from donors, it will have no impact on the College’s operating budget. As for the CARES department, it will be funded by a gradual reallocation of resources over time.

The presentation then shifted into an overview of Barnard’s endowment. Its market value as of June 2020 was 356.6 million, a number that has increased over the past few months, to approximately 400 million. In the 2020 fiscal year, 17.7 million will be from the endowment, constituting about 8% of the total budget for the year. 8 million of this is specifically dedicated towards financial aid. Most of the college’s endowment is held in perpetuity, meaning that Barnard can’t decide to take any amount of money that they want out of the endowment to fund their initiatives.

The endowment is governed by the college’s Board of Trustees’ Committee on Investments, which is composed of professionals in the field of investment, who are actively engaged in the oversight and management of the endowment. The endowment is managed under an Outsourced Chief Investment Office model, based in Arlington, Virginia. Some institutions (like Columbia, for example) are able to manage their endowment in-house; however, Barnard is too small to allow for that. Asset allocations on the endowment are approved by the Committee on Investments. 

The presenters showed a graph of Barnard’s endowment value over the past 10 years, showing that there has been a steady increase. To put this in perspective, they showed a bar graph comparing Barnard’s endowments to those of other liberal arts colleges comparable in size and prestige, such as Williams, Swarthmore, Smith, and Vassar, among others. Of about fifteen notable liberal arts colleges, Barnard’s endowment is by far the smallest. Barnard’s inability to support a no-loan financial aid policy (as some of these other colleges offer) is explained by the comparative smallness of its endowment.

The college provides over 40 million dollars annually in financial aid, only eight million of which is taken out of the endowment. The rest has to come from fundraising, which is largely supported by senior and alumnae giving. In the past year, the Senior Fund was allocated for the purpose of supporting first-generation, low-income students during the remote learning crisis. 

The presenters then invited the representatives to ask questions. Emily Ndiokho BC ‘22, VP for Policy, asked how the endowment was able to grow in the past year, despite the pandemic. Di Benedetto explained that the increase is mostly related to gifts that have been coming in and returns from investments; despite the stock market crisis last spring, by June the market had actually picked itself back up, allowing the Barnard endowment to expand.

Solace Mensah-Narh asked if the presenters could provide more clarity on what the endowment is invested in. Di Benedetto responded that the trustees actually don’t allow information about the specific investments to be shared, but that the endowment is invested across asset classes, such as private equity and hedge funds. Mensah-Narh pointed out that this lack of disclosure was likely to create distrust within the Barnard community, but Di Benedetto only replied that she would share that feedback with the trustees.

Danielle Hopkins BC ‘21, VP for Finance, asked what the biggest takeaway had been from the recent financial aid focus groups. Di Benedetto said that the information from the focus groups was inspiring the financial aid office to think about how they could make the process of receiving and redeeming financial aid awards less stressful and less confusing for students, and that she was working with administration to implement changes toward that purpose.

Tirzah Anderson pointed out that SGA has its own endowment, as a self-governing body, and asked if it would be possible for them to have any transparency about where that money was invested. Di Benedetto replied, not unsympathetically, that she would only be able to share details about the types of assets into which the endowment is invested, not the minutiae.

Audrey Pettit BC ‘22, Junior Class President, asked how the budgeting committee determines how departmental funding is allocated. Di Benedetto explained that the committee receives requests from each department and, after sizing the budget, decides how to equitably distribute resources, meeting each department’s needs.

Finally, Solace Mensah-Narh asked Di Benedetto how she sees the overall importance of equity in her role. She replied that, when considering the budget, she always prioritizes supporting each student’s financial and academic needs, making sure that there is enough funding for the various campus initiatives that provide resources and promote equity. Joking that her role is “to make everyone equally unhappy,” Di Benedetto asserted that she viewed equity as a fundamental part of her job.

The representatives thanked the presenters, and the meeting ended. 

Benjamins via Bwog Archives.