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Is the SA Actually Considering A Useful Resolution?

I often get asked why MetaEzra doesn't cover the activities of the Student Assembly. It's an easy question to answer: because often the concerns of said body boil down to petty politics and are immaterial to the well-being of students and the important changes that are actually occurring on campus. (Like concealed carry resolutions that are clearly against New York State law or the right of private associations of students to associate with whomever they please.)

But today's Sun article today on a resolution for the University to disclose administrative salaries caught my eye, because it deals directly with an issue that impacts all students: tuition.

Resolution 12 would urge Cornell to disclose salary and benefit information for all University administrators listed in the Cornell Annual and Financial Report and make the information available for public viewing online. The bill also requests a disclosure of the University’s specific policies regarding performance-based compensation, as well as a ratio of the president’s total annual compensation to the compensation of all other employees.

But regardless of how the S.A. votes on the matter, it remains unclear how much influence the resolution will have. Because the University is recognized by New York State as a private institution — even though it operates several statutory colleges — it is not required to disclose its employees’ salary figures, as would be required of a public institution, according to Nelson Roth, deputy university counsel. Roth added that he does not believe that the University’s official policy to withhold such information would change, though the ultimate decision would be President David Skorton’s.

The resolution was proposed by Andrew Brokman ’11, a representative at-large in the S.A. Brokman said that the spike in undergraduate tuition, which increased 7.9 percent for the land-grant colleges and 4.5 percent for the endowed colleges, combined with a general rise in administrative salaries, was the main impetus for the bill. He added that he was disappointed that while administrative salaries rose, those for faculty actually declined.

“Publishing administrative salaries would ensure that Cornell becomes more fiscally responsible, as it would be more responsive to financial pressures,” the resolution states. “The Annual Report on Executive Compensation will help to clarify the fiscal state of the University and will contribute to a more transparent human resources allocation, which is, by far, Cornell’s largest expenditure.”

It's encouraging to see students take initiative in understanding how the University is run, and just where, exactly, their tuition dollars are going. As the challenges of the coming decade lay ahead of us, it is going to be up to the University, and its myriad constituents, to demand transparency and effectiveness in its policies.

If I could improve the resolution in one way, it would be to expand the disclosure to employees beyond the senior administration: average employee salaries for the rank and file administrative, professional (faculty and non-faculty), and support staff should also be included in any disclosure.

One of the reasons why tuition increases continue to outpace the rate of inflation is due to the growth of non-academic staff; non-academic professionals and managers have grown at a rate three time the rate of faculty over the last decade. While Cornell has seen an increase in faculty by five percent, white-collar, non-academic (e.g. not research related) employees have seen an increase of 14 percent.

Now granted, a lot of these new employees may be critical for such efforts as the University's capital campaign or as mental health counselors to students. But any clear comprehension of the fiscal challenges of academe requires us to understand why this growth is needed, what these employees are doing, and how much they are getting paid.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on September 21, 2010 (#)

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