Columbia’s higher-ups pay lip service to transparency

By Editor-in-Chief

Every year, The Chronicle analyzes and reports on the college’s most recently published Form 990, the financial document all nonprofit organizations must send to the Internal Revenue Service on an annual basis. This form discloses the salaries of Columbia’s highest-paid officials but with a two-year delay. 

As a private institution, the college is not required by law to reveal salary information earlier than the IRS release date, whereas public colleges are inherently more transparent as salary information is public or can be made public somewhat easily through FOIA requests.

The Chronicle has used 990 documents to inform the campus community of the most recently available salaries of its higher-ups for years; however, this year’s Form 990 did not reflect the majority of salaries of the current senior college administration because so many of the former positions have been eliminated or taken by new hires in the last two years.

Because of this information gap, The Chronicle asked the administration to disclose its members’ most recent salaries in the interest of transparency. 

The administration does not technically owe the campus community disclosure of its senior members’ salaries, but such openness would be the morally sound approach considering the college’s current state of deep fiscal cutbacks. However, the administration did not take that approach.

With many students, staff and faculty expressing that they feel undervalued or unsure of their place at the college, it would have been a smart move on the college’s part to show transparency in terms of salary information.

The faculty’s last raise was a measly 1 percent, and the staff union has been asked to forgo cost-of-living raises. 

Those individuals would no doubt appreciate the show of good faith on the college’s part in revealing its salaries.

One would also think that if the college’s administrators were genuinely committed to a student-centered Columbia and a climate of openness, those individuals should have no problems divulging their salaries.

The Chronicle staff made it clear that the request for updated administrative salaries came because that information would inevitably become public and that transparency in this area would likely be appreciated greatly by Columbia’s campus community. 

The request for this information was made directly to Dayle Matchett, chief of staff to President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim, Deborah Maue, vice president for Strategic Marketing and Communications and Cara Birch, the college’s spokeswoman.

The response to The Chronicle’s request for the higher-ups’ salaries was a resounding no. The Chronicle was told that the administration would work with each year’s Form 990 data as it is posted annually, neglecting to display the “transparency” that is so often touted by the college’s current administration. 

The administration’s decision to refuse to provide the most recent earnings is indicative of how the value of transparency has become a slogan that is not honored consistently.

If the college’s leadership truly believes it is doing right by Columbia and all of its community members, they should have no problem disclosing that information and actually acting on their transparent philosophy. 

Such a move would do them no real harm and reassure their community of what its priorities are, which should be the people this administration is supposed to be serving.