Columbia in final stages of finding new CFO

By Brianna Wellen

The college’s search to replace former chief financial officer and vice president of Business Affairs Michael DeSalle has been narrowed down to two candidates.

The two contenders, David Garafola and J. Randall Dempsey, separately spoke before a group of faculty members on May 23 and May 24 to discuss their background, qualifications and field any questions the group had about managing Columbia’s finances.

As previously reported by The Chronicle, DeSalle left his position as Columbia’s chief financial officer and vice president of Business Affairs in January 2011 after 22 years to teach in the Arts, Entertainment and Media Management Department. Patricia Heath has filled in the position on an interim basis since. Now, an assigned committee is looking at two candidates to permanently fill the position for the coming school year.

Garafola, who has served in business administration capacities at other higher education institutions since October 1980, addressed concerns regarding transparency and financial planning.

Garafola was vice president for Finance and Administration at Webster University in St. Louis, Mo., from June 1998 until June 2010. When asked what he has done since his time there ended, Garafola explained that a new president of the university brought in a new administration.

However, it was reported by that Garafola filed a lawsuit against Webster University in January 2011, claiming that the institution terminated him “for complaining about the way the school was doing business.” The outcome of the suit is still pending.

Though Webster University is located in St. Louis, Garafola said he was aware of Columbia’s academic presence before being approached by the college.

“[Webster’s] theater program was very strong as a conservatory program,” Garafola said. “Our school of communication at Webster saw [Columbia] very much as a competitor. You were on the radar screen from that standpoint.”

Since he isn’t well-versed in all of Columbia’s financial planning, Garafola could only give examples of how he handled situations while serving in his previous roles. He also gave general insight about what he has learned while working in the business administration field.

“My philosophy is that you can’t be a successful business officer and not be transparent,” Garafola said. “There are just way too many constituencies. You have to have openness and a transparency that’s there if you’re going to be successful.”

Dempsey began his work with finances while in the Air Force and took his experience to higher education at his alma mater, the University of Chicago, from 1980 to 1984 and again from 1988 to 2001. He then went on to City Colleges of Chicago where he acted as associate CFO, director of budget and planning and consultant. After a three-year run as the vice president of finance and administration and CFO at Prairie State College, he returned to City Colleges of Chicago where he is currently acting controller.

One concern of the faculty and staff was Dempsey’s ability to adjust to the finances of a private institution after working for public institutions for 10 years. Private institutions primarily rely on tuition for their income while public institutions have state grants and property taxes in addition to tuition.

Many faculty members present inquired about specific changes and solutions Dempsey would make to the college’s financial planning if given the position. Though he was unable to provide detailed answers without the chance to thoroughly look over the college’s current budget, he proposed plans for transparency and collaboration in the future. Part of this plan involves having faculty members form a committee along with the president and CFO to ensure all parties are involved in the budgeting process.

“In general, I think the most important thing is that you have key shareholders involved and you keep them informed throughout the process, so by the time you get to the end of the budget process, there are no surprises,” Dempsey said.

The issue of campus security was also brought up in light of discrepancies in the system this past school year, as documented by The Chronicle. In his previous position at Prairie State, Dempsey worked with the chief of police and secured a grant from the Department of Justice to enhance the school’s emergency response program. Should problems with safety and security arise at Columbia, he would employ similar tactics at the college, he said.

Before fully understanding the specific problems of Columbia’s budget, Dempsey plans to take a general approach to the budget process if given the position.

“It would be at least a year before I would even begin to try to say what kind of budget process I would want to have in place,” he said. “Typical budget processes I have used in the past tended to be a blend of top-down and bottom-up, in that the budget office would generally have a lot more access to projections for revenues.”

The new CFO is expected to be announced sometime this month.