Administrative accountability can foster transparency

By Editor-in-Chief

Every year, when Columbia’s Form 990 tax records are released, The Chronicle writes its annual “highest-paid” article—a piece that details how much the college’s top administrators are paid, including base salary, bonuses and nontaxable benefits such as healthcare.

As reported in the article on the Front Page, this year was no exception. Detailing former President Warrick L. Carter’s final year at the college, as well as the final year for several members of his cabinet, the highest-paid administrators typically pulled in more than $200,000 in total compensation.

Though Carter has long since left the college, the figures presented in the Form 990s are disturbing.

When I see that Carter’s total compensation was $677,098 during the 2012–2013 academic year, I can only see how many students had to pay tuition to fund it—30, using the current cost of tuition.

But Carter’s total compensation is not outlandish when compared to other private liberal arts colleges. It is actually pretty mediocre when placed against institutions like DePaul University, whose president, Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, hauled in $856,169 during the 2012–2013 academic year.

Often at The Chronicle, the editors and reporters encounter students who bemoan the predictable tuition increases every year. And those same staffers encounter administrators and faculty who deliver the cookie-cutter response that tuition increases are just a part of higher education.

But when does it end? Will the cost of tuition keep increasing until this generation pays $100,000 per year to send their children to college? And when do students stop carrying the financial burden? 

As detailed on Page 13, the entire Renegades Student Athletic Association only receives $8,000 annually from the college. Even though the program has grown in recent years, that figure has remained stagnant, despite the addition of several teams. What is more infuriating is that students are required to pay out of pocket to participate, some as much as $200.

 The standout person in the article is Aldo Guzman, director of Student Activities and Leadership, who said his department would cut from its own budget before reducing funds to student groups. It is an attitude that more members of the college should adopt. 

Looking at the list of highest- paid administrators, I have to wonder if—and hope—the college’s current administration would do the same thing. 

The Chronicle asked for the current administration’s compensation information, particularly President Kim’s. Seeing as it will one day be public knowledge, we wondered if he would be willing to disclose it for our Front Page story. Despite meeting with representatives from the offices of Business Affairs and Marketing and Communications and repeated requests for comment since Sept. 30, the college never answered our inquiry.

 It is hard to believe that a college is transparent when that is the kind of response it delivers to its student newspaper. Transparency is promised, but it is a buzzword that is overused.

 It is a cop-out term that has become disingenuous and carries little meaning these days.

 Instead, members of this college community—students, faculty and staff—need to start throwing around the word accountability, and that includes a transparent budget, one that is not released 18 months after the conclusion of the fiscal year.