President Martha E. Pollack turned down a University Assembly resolution requesting greater transparency for University finances, provoking “surprise” from U.A. members at a Tuesday meeting.
The assembly resolution, passed late April, pushed for the reinstatement of the Budget Planning Committee. The now-defunct U.A. committee used to be tasked with reviewing University finances and making recommendations on a wide swathe of issues — from tuition, financial aid to enrollment, according to the resolution.
Provost Michael Kotlikoff, along with other University administrators, supported the committee’s reinstatement when the resolution was first being considered, according to current U.A. President Matthew A. Battaglia, grad.
“The intent [of the BPC] was to provide community feedback. In essence, they would sign a non-disclosure agreement and work with the administration to see the budget and provide comment,” Battaglia said.
Pollack explained in an email in May to the previous U.A. President Gabe Kaufman ’18 that she declined the non-binding resolution because the proposed committee’s authority “go beyond providing input and veer into policy setting, which must remain within my purview and that of the Board of Trustees.”
Assembly members said Pollack’s decision was unexpected but not deal-ending, with Battaglia expressing his intention to clarify that the committee’s recommendations are strictly non-binding to address Pollack’s concern that the body may overstep its boundaries. Pollack herself urged the U.A. to consult University administrators to submit a “revised resolution that I could accept.”
“At least in my mind, I always knew that the committee was advisory so I think I was a little surprised by the President’s response. I think we didn’t explain it to her particularly well. I would be optimistic about it going forward,” said Prof. Robert Warren Howarth, David R. Atkinson Professor of ecology and environmental biology and U.A. vice chair for internal operations.
The President’s decision to at least provisionally turn down greater financial transparency provoked amongst U.A. members a larger conversation about the opaqueness of University finances in general.
“Overall financial arrangements and future of the university … is very unclear,” Prof. Richard Bensel, Gary S. Davis Professor of Government. “The impact of Cornell Tech, or what looks like the shifting of money away from social sciences to other parts of the University, all of this is imagined as well. And none of it, no one, as in the central administration, has ever come clear on just what this looks like.”
U.A. Faculty Representative Prof. Ellis Loew, biomedical sciences added that “the big problem that goes way, way back is the hesitancy of central administration to give us the figures that you need to have a meaningful discussion.”
The original committee was in place between 2006 and 2009, according to the resolution. The committee existed “on paper” but was under-staffed until it ceased to exist as a result of the consolidation of U.A. committees in the early 2010’s, according to Battaglia.
“This was a standing committee that had been in effect. It had membership from all of the constituency, so all we did was revive it. It was something that had worked, has worked,” U.A. Ranking Member Linda Copman said. “It seems very likely we can figure out a way forward.”