University money needs to be seen in new perspective

Universities spend millions of dollars on contractors, but those amounts should be compared to other schools.

Universities are big money. They retain professors, physicians and administrators for hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. They spend millions of dollars a year on lawyers and architects.

And, perhaps most relevant to college students, they charge thousands of dollars for students to attend. But huge figures alone, though daunting and worth looking at, do not mean anyone’s money is being spent unwisely.

All this money is an easy target for recession-impacted students and critics. Do university presidents really need to get more than $500,000 in compensation and benefits, they ask. Did Temple need to spend almost $800,000 in 2006 alone for the services of Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll LLP, one of the most prestigious law firms in Philadelphia?

Beyond that, Temple spent $670,000 in the same year for the legal services of Booth Tucker L.P., in addition to the $481,000 it paid George Moore, who serves as General Counsel for Temple.

This is, simply, big money. It’s easy to doubt the need for a public university to spend that level of funds.

A closer look adds perspective to such large figures. In the same year that President Ann Weaver Hart earned $572,000 in benefits, compensation and an expense account, Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania, earned more than $1.1 million. The chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh, whose position is similar to Temple’s president, earned about $60,000 more than Hart.

Five hundred thousand dollars is a lot more money than most people will ever make, but it’s not an exorbitant amount to run a large university. And while it’s easy to find excess in such huge salaries when we see our tuition going up every year (and outpacing inflation by a significant amount), taking out our anger on the administration is not a productive way to bring change.

The legal services are more difficult to compare. Penn’s IRS Form 990 lists multiple contractors, some of whom were paid more than $30 million in 2006, but none who are listed as providing legal services.
Pitt’s financial forms do not list any independent contractors.

Temple’s highest paid contractor was not a law firm, but it is important to note. AlliedBarton Security Services was paid more than $6 million, and the architecture firm Ballinger Company was paid more than $5 million.

The fact that the Temple administration salaries are not exorbitant compared to their counterparts does not mean more cannot be done to help make college affordable.

It doesn’t make sense that Temple students, and students at any university, are paying more money each year when today’s weak economy means fewer career opportunities.

Stephen Zook can be reached at

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