A call for budget transparency

The university should make budget decisions and changes more public.

ColtonShawWhere is your tuition going? Let’s assume that very little of it makes its way into the paycheck of your favorite adjunct who probably works at least one other job in their field.

And let’s assume, even if this is a smidgen heretical after the football team’s recent big win against Penn State, you didn’t know that the head coach of our usually hit-and-miss team made $648,000 in 2013.

This year, the university announced a 2.8 percent tuition hike, pushing in-state tuition to $14,398 and out-of-state to $24,704. President Theobald said Temple has “allocated an additional $6 million to student financial aid and ensured that there are no discretionary additions to our budget.”

“I think there is a high level of transparency and access to the budget,” Ken Kaiser, chief financial officer, said. “The student government is a great conduit for that.”

When I proposed my idea of an email system for budgetary decisions, Kaiser said he didn’t really see a demand for the information.

“The budget document that the board itself reviews and approves is right there [online] and anything we would put in an email would be pulled out of the document,” he said, “Quite honestly I think we would take the news release and put it in an email.”

It’s true; Temple does publish a budget online if you are willing to hunt and peck around a fairly long and dense document. It is also true that many students might be willing to do so.

But I would like to see more budgetary transparency between administrators and the students and faculty they dispense information to.

A few weeks ago, Barton Hall was mostly reduced to rubble by a few cranes in order to make way for a $190 million, 210,000-square-foot palatial bookshelf to be completed by 2018.

I understand the sober business decisions behind upgrading our facilities. The ‘Oohs’ and ‘Aahs’ of traversing campus and seeing shiny, glassy buildings on your first walking tour is sure to impress prospective parents and students.

Temple is a public research university boasting a $517 million endowment and a $1.34 billion budget. It is an odd hybrid—“state-related”—in the same vein as Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh. In compliance with Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law, Temple is required to publish an annual report to include the salaries of all officers and directors.

When asked whether or not there was an increase in attention from students as the conversation on student debt continues to get louder nationwide, Kaiser placed some blame on stagnant government funding and rising costs putting an inordinate amount of pressure on students and their families and thus, the administration.

I’m not suggesting the school has nefarious motives or is looking to swindle us, not on a personal, one-to-one basis at least, I think – I hope.

Just like a watchdog press is critical to an informed and empowered citizenry, budgetary frankness is crucial to an engaged student body. Graphic breakdowns of tax expenditures are not uncommon, of course, because it seems a pretty straightforward concept to provide proof of ethical usage of the thousands of dollars someone gives to you.

Quietly publishing the budget in a PDF file on the back streams of the university website is not the same as sending students unornamented data on spending, amidst some of the cutesy emails we already receive.

“If there was an overwhelming amount of students interested, I wouldn’t be opposed at all, but we would probably just put the news release in an email,” Kaiser said.

He suggested a lunch for students interested in discussing the university’s spending decisions. Kaiser said as he could see another administrative email as liable to being lost in the maelstrom of info the university already sends.

The problem with citing a lack of interest is that, unfortunately, most students wouldn’t think the information is relevant to them until it’s in front of their eyes.

Whether increased awareness of our school’s spending habits would lead to more responsible delegation of funds in the future is debatable, sure.

A student body that doesn’t feel it’s being prattled, or worse deceived, is the backbone of a unified, focused push into our future.

Lay your cards on the table.

Colton Shaw can be reached at colton.shaw@temple.edu or on Twitter @colt_slaw.

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