The Student Assembly will vote on Thursday to request an Annual Report on Executive Compensation from the University’s Department of Human Resources.
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.
“When you read about what’s going on in higher education in general, it makes you feel as though the administration should be more accountable to students in its compensation policies,” Brokman said.
The University currently files tax returns that include compensation information for key administrators and the top five highest-paid employees, but the forms do not provide any explanation regarding why these employees are paid that amount.
“I feel as though core info is lacking,” Brokman said. “[The administration needs] to provide a philosophy to go along with the numbers.”
Brokman pointed out that corporations justify administrative salaries to their investors through a proxy statement showing what executives get paid compared to executives in similar corporations.
“Similarly, the University administration should justify to students, especially because taxpayer money and grants fund a significant part of the University,” Brokman said.
“If we find out that administrative salaries jumped at Cornell as compared to other institutions, it would be something you would want to know,” he said.
Brokman also noted in the resolution that public institutions such as University of California-Berkeley, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, University of Virginia, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and many others are still able to retain and recruit top administrators, despite their public disclosures of compensation.
“I’ve been thinking for a long time about the resolution, and I can’t think of a reasonable reason to reject it,” Brokman said. “It’s a call for transparency — it’s hard to argue against more transparency.”
Brokman said that he had already spoken with Vice President of Human Resources Mary Opperman, who informed him that she would not have a problem providing the philosophy behind certain compensation policies.
Opperman was not available for comment on Monday.
“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.”
According to S.A. President Vince Andrews ’11, since the S.A. does not have legislative oversight over the administration or executive compensation, it is only capable of making a recommendation to Skorton. He added that if the bill passes on Thursday, Skorton will have a month to issue an official response.
“The S.A.’s greatest power is its ability to demand a response from the administration,” Brokman said. “It might not hold great weight, but they have to respond and be reasonable in their response.”