Topping the charts

By Kaiti Deerberg

Just weeks after releasing a memo about the college’s need to tighten budgets and cut costs, Columbia President Warrick Carter was named the third highest paid private college president in the state of Illinois for 2006-07 in a survey conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Colleges and universities across the nation are required by law to release federal 990 tax forms each year, detailing financial data for even private entities like Columbia. The Chronicle of Higher Education, a publication for universities, collects data from universities across the nation to compare institutions. In the report released in November, Carter was only surpassed in compensation by President Robert J. Zimmer of University of Chicago and President Henry S. Bienen of Northwestern University, respectively, on the list of private college presidents.

“We are right at the top of large and complicated institutions in the state,” Michael DeSalle, vice president of Business Affairs at Columbia, said in response to Carter’s salary rank.

The 990 tax forms included detailed compensation numbers for top administrators and faculty at Columbia. They are released one year after they are filed, so the effects of this year’s budget cuts will not be seen until 2010.

The numbers reveal that Carter and Eric Winston, vice president of Institutional Advancement, both took cuts in their benefits, causing their overall compensation to decrease. DeSalle said this decrease was not actually the case, but he said the cut in pay from 2006-07 was due to bonuses and reimbursements given to Carter and Winston in 2006.

“In 2006, the president received $85,000, which represented bonuses for two years, 2005 and 2006 all paid in 2006,” DeSalle said. “So 2007 does not represent a reduction in overall compensation, it just so happens the timing of the bonuses makes 2007 look smaller than 2006.”

DeSalle said the current IRS forms are broken into three categories for recording compensation including salary, benefits and expense accounts.

Very few vice presidents have expense accounts, and Carter’s expense account solely covers spousal travel and maintenance of Carter’s automobile, which is provided by the college.

DeSalle said that in the past, there have been slight glitches and problems with recording compensation. Money has been recorded in incorrect columns and caused confusion.

“We are looking for better guidance from the IRS,” DeSalle said. “The IRS has created new 990 forms with more columns for recording compensation numbers that will clarify exactly where this money

is going.”

Without the bonus, it appears that Carter’s overall compensation decreased-however, his actual salary increased by nearly $60,000 in 2007.

Full-time faculty and staff are annually awarded a 3 percent salary raise. Vice presidents of the college receive performance reviews from Carter to determine their annual raise. Carter’s annual raise is then determined by the average administrative raise of that year.

Carter is also eligible for annual bonuses determined by the board of trustees, while vice presidents are not eligible for yearly bonus checks.

Carter’s memo alluded to the possibility of suspending next fiscal year’s 2009-2010 raises for faculty and staff if absolutely necessary. Although administration has a different protocol for determining raises, DeSalle said if this action were taken, top administrators would also have their raises suspended.

“We are looking at many options before taking that measure,” DeSalle said. “We have frozen travel, new hires and construction to cut costs.”

After the nationwide release of 990 tax forms, many higher education observers attacked the high compensation numbers for college presidents.

“Honestly, my feeling is that some administrators are overpaid, but most are not. The real problem is the incredibly exploitative arrangements they make for everyone else-faculty, staff and student workers, as well,” said Marc Bousquet, author of How the University Works: Higher Education in the Low-Wage Nation. “That’s why fairness suggests that we should cap administrator pay at some fair multiple of the earnings of the lowest-paid worker on campus.”

Bousquet has written freelance critiques of the unfair pay hierarchy happening at colleges and universities.

During the current economic crisis, colleges across the nation are being forced to re-examine budgets and find ways to cut costs. Bousquet said he fears administrations will try to use troubled economic times to increase their control, cut services and reduce pay. Most of these decisions will harm students’ learning conditions, he said.

“Administrators spend money that should be spent on teaching and learning on building maintenance, corporate partnerships, failed technology ventures, business facilities and so forth,” Bosquet said. “Generous spending on their own salaries is just a fraction of the problem.”

Despite these accusations from higher education critics, DeSalle said the needs of Columbia students should be put first during these hard times.

“As we look to fiscal year ’10, we are looking to keep tuition as low as possible, put more money in scholarships and to carefully analyze ways to reduce cost,” DeSalle said.

DeSalle said that the budget for next year has already taken shape, but the percentage of raises and the possibility of suspending raises is yet to be determined.