The paper investigates.
By Robin Happel
Update: Fordham Outdoors Club recently started a petition to keep Botans access free which you can sign here.
Update to update: as of August 23rd, Fordham and the Botans announced that they were re-instating the previous agreement after this petition received over 2,700 signatures. So the currant situation (sorry) is resolved! Thank you to our loyal readership.
This past Wednesday, those of us who actually read school emails over the summer discovered that we will be losing free grounds admission to the New York Botanical Garden. This thorny conflict uproots years of peaceful coexistence between Fordham and the Botans, who are now mutually shading each other, and claiming that the conflict stems from the other side. Acorn-ing to Fordham administrators, the Botans are unreasonably refusing to pay for upkeep of a shared parking lot, and many are not lichen the garden’s decision to leave this arrangement (last plant pun I swear). But, according to the Botans, Fordham’s fee hikes were simply no longer feasible for them. Needless to say, this is a blow to many Fordham students, not to mention our faculty, who are always looking for quiet places to hide from us during finals. But was this simply a case of Fordham and the garden growing apart, or something seedier (sorry not sorry)? The paper decided to dig deeper, and we heard through the grapevine that this conflict is actually an offshoot of a much larger dilemma – namely, the strain Fordham’s numerous building projects are placing on university finances.
Fordham has previously provided our plant friends free use of our parking lot (and, inexplicably, also our gym somehow? Please let the paper know if your gym buddy is a Botans employee and you are now West Side Story-style barred from working out with each other. We are weirdly invested in this.) Rather than paying for overflow parking, according to the Fordham facilities team, the Botans were actually given parking fees, making this a financial gain for them. In exchange, they gave us all free grounds passes, in addition to the regular Wednesday and Saturday morning free periods. Fordham decided to expand the parking lot for football crowds, however, and that’s when the whole deal started to go to seed. A year ago, both parties entered into an agreement in which the Botans would partially subsidize parking in the expanded lot. This August, that agreement fell apart, for reasons that both sides now seem to regret. (The Botans, notably, wants to go back to paying nothing for parking, because wouldn’t anyone?)
As an institutional policy, the paper tries to stay on the good side of anyone with a scarecrow army. So let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the Botans is negotiating in good faith, and truly can’t afford Fordham’s fees. (We believe you! Please do not send one of your corpse flowers to our print shop.) Is it fair for Fordham to suddenly start charging for a service that was formerly free?
It’s worth reiterating that both sides agree this change was recent. As students, we aren’t privy to all of Fordham’s financial ledgers, but several documents from around the time these fees would have first gone into effect may prove illuminating. As many of us remember, the fight for faculty unions on campus centered on the administration’s argument that faculty salaries were driving tuition increases. This was demonstrably false – although we won’t make you study graphs over summer break, charting both side-by-side shows little to no correlation, according to an open letter from the Faculty Senate Committee on Salary and Benefits from late spring of 2017. Additionally, Fordham Faculty United and other activists alleged that the endowment was underperforming, and pay disparities between top officials and other employees account for much of Fordham’s perceived budget shortfall. (More information about the unionization struggle and Fordham’s finances can be found here, as well as the paper, Ram, Observer, and other campus archives.)
Although adjuncts – and now the Botans – are at times blamed for being too costly, Fordham’s penny pinching often originates from more systemic issues. Fordham has in recent years budgeted over a billion dollars for ongoing building projects downtown and, in this light, a parking lot seems like a small price to pay for the goodwill of our neighbors. This is not to say that Fordham necessarily has its priorities in the wrong place – as the old chestnut goes, real estate in Manhattan is almost always a good investment. But the university should be honest about the tradeoffs, and administrators can arguably find a better balance between investor and community concerns. (Editor’s note: we are admittedly siding with the Botans here. Frankly, we are a little afraid of being fed to the plant in Little Shop of Horrors, which may or may not be lurking somewhere like the Mertz Library.)
As many on-campus students can attest, the Fordham facilities staff is already overworked, and many of Fordham’s hourly workers live on a shoe string budget. In a broader context, the falling out between Fordham facilities staff and the Botans shouldn’t be blamed on either side directly, but rather on cost-cutting measures that favor cutting community ties over funding our own services. In the evergreen struggle for a budget that works for everyone, it shouldn’t be up to the garden to subsidize our shortfalls. Fordham should already be funding our facilities team fully, without our neighbors having to chip in. Without the added burden of Fordham’s fees, the Botans could fund more of its global conservation work, expand its education programs, or even splurge a little and save the American Ash. Best of all, it might even bring back the deeply cursed mechanical scarecrows that seemed almost on the verge of gaining sentience when they were last removed. Also, coincidentally, we have until exactly Halloween to take them up on their offer of a membership discount.
Editor’s note: this is a developing story, and may be updated if either side comments, complains, offers to send us corpse flowers, etc. We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.