The Faculty and the Budget

By Burgan, Mary | Academe, March/April 2001 | Go to article overview

The Faculty and the Budget


Burgan, Mary, Academe


IF THERE IS ONE ACTIVITY that higher education administrations guard jealously from faculty review, it is the budget. A few enlightened college and university administrations are willing to open the budget for faculty discussion; they actually invite those faculty members with fiscal expertise-from the economics department or the business school, for example-- to aid them in adding things up and making decisions. But most administrations prefer to shield the budget and the process of making it from the inexpert, prying, and trouble-making eyes of faculty.

In an era of open records, many budget numbers have become available, but interested citizens of the academy need to know how to persevere in getting them. Salaries of the five highest-paid employees at private institutions are required to be filed by law on Internal Revenue Service (IRS) "990" forms, which can now be scrutinized online by the general public at . One legendary school preferred to pay the IRS fine for failure to list top administrative salaries on the form rather than to let out the explosive information that its president had the second highest salary in the country!

Faculty salaries at public institutions tend to be matters of public record. But getting usable numbers can be difficult even at a state university. There is a temptation for budgetary officials to delay, obfuscate, and make access difficult. Early in the open-records era, one school so opposed the statemandated publication of salary data that it responded to faculty requests by issuing the institution's entire budget in an unwieldy, foot-and-a-half-thick printout. Those faculty members who wanted salary figures had to dig for them. And to make the digging harder, the administration chained the budget book to a desk in the affirmative action office, refusing to let the figures be copied except by hand.

This kind of stinginess with information has dissipated to some extent at schools where the publication of budgetary data has now become routine. But it lingers at many private institutions, and especially at smaller schools, where individual salaries are as closely guarded as medical records and frequently for the same reason-- fear that the facts are shameful. Thus it is no surprise that many administrators continue to be grumpy about the AAUP's annual salary survey-even as they use it in their own budgetary planning. …

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