Every year, The New School publishes an annual financial report in an attempt to make public the institution’s inner financial workings. At a university town hall meeting on March 20, hosted by President David Van Zandt and Provost Tim Marshall, one audience member requested that the report offer greater specificity in its language and details of just where, precisely, the university’s money is spent.
“I wonder if it could be possible that the annual report could give more detail on the expenditures side,” stated a member of the audience to Van Zandt. “Right now the statement of expense is quite summarized.”
Although in theory the annual report is a helpful idea, its language is far too broad. It’s nearly impossible for students, faculty, or anyone with an interest in The New School’s well-being to keep track of how the university spends its funds.
All of the university’s expenditures, over $275 million in 2010, are conveniently packaged in an easily digestible formula. Currently, the report stipulates that The New School spends its money across four categories: “institutional support,” “instruction and research,” “student services,” and “academic support.”
But questions abound. For example, do salaries for professors or administrators fall under the 37 percent allocated for “instruction and research,” or the 25 percent for “institutional support?” They could also fall under “academic support” — there is no way of knowing, because the report does not specify. These figures do provide some insight into how the university is functioning at a financial level, but the university community deserves to know more.
At a school where more than 90 percent of the operating budget comes directly from student tuition and housing fees, the student body, as well as all members of the university community, are entitled to financial transparency. The yearly annual reports suffice at a basic level but do not cut to the core of the issue: the university does not make it easy to find the financial truth of the university.
For those sufficiently determined, The New School’s yearly 990 federal tax forms have been made publicly available by organizations like GuideStar and the National Center for Charitable Statistics. You can find, for example, that in 2009 31 employees received a collective total of $11.6 million in compensation.
There’s another way of looking at the $11.6 compensation figure. If you compare that number to The New School’s annual report from the same year, you could calculate the percentage of the university’s entire expenditures those salaries make up.
What you couldn’t find, though, is how the university prioritizes its spending.
If we don’t know the specifics of where the money goes — whether for administrative salaries or rent on buildings — the community cannot gauge the university’s priorities.
No one is claiming that Van Zandt is sipping $2,000 champagne in his office and flying private jets to Chicago Bulls games. But we do think that given The New School’s financial state, the president’s salary, and the salaries of all other chief administrators and faculty are vital information — and that all members of the community should be able to find such information with ease.
And not just salaries. Research spending, building maintenance and marketing expenditures are important figures too.
As in so many institutions of higher learning across the country, money is tight at The New School. But that is all the more cause for transparency. How the university spends its money should be known not only to the administration, but to the student body whose money, truly, keeps the water running.