Sep 282008
 
Authors: Aaron Hedge, J. David McSwane

In his five years as CSU president, Larry Penley has substantially overhauled university administration — adding 11 vice president- and provost-level positions — approved hefty salary increases for top-level administrators, more than doubled athletics funding and increased administrative budgets by tens of millions of dollars, university reports show.

The drastic overhaul and top-loading of administrative budgets has, for the first time in school’s history, put more financial support in administration than instruction.

“The sum total of what all the VPs spend now is more than the total of all the colleges,” said Tony Frank, provost and senior executive vice president.

Frank said the flow of tuition and state dollars into administration ultimately helps students by bringing more police to campus, financial aid for poor students and funding for things like online registration through RamWeb.

Since Penley’s arrival in 2003, the combined budgets of the president and provost has topped $130.1 million — up 62 percent — while the budgets for the academic colleges and the library have seen a much slower growth, hitting about $143.5 million this year, a 32 percent increase, according to annual budget reports.

For fiscal year 2009 alone, the budgets for the office of the president and the provost experienced a $19.5 million increase, according to annual budget summaries.

During that same time, the president has pushed for large tuition and fee increases to support the financially bereft school, which Penley said was “in dire straights” to concerned student government leaders in spring 2007 after a failed attempt to drastically increase tuition at the state Capitol.

The president has saturated the offices of the president and provost and offered handsome salary increases for those positions throughout his tenure.

Frank, who received a $30,000 raise this year, said he “definitely brings a bias” but that CSU is following a national trend of increasing the salaries of top-level administrators.

“We’ve tried very hard to maintain competitive salaries. I think it’s a legitimate concern to have,” Frank said. “There’s no doubt that VP’s salaries have gone up at CSU.”

The budget line for the president’s office has more than tripled — spiking about $1.7 million — but the figure reflects a movement of the offices of Equal Opportunity and Diversity and Alumni Relations under the president, officials said, which accounts for about $1.3 million of Penley’s roughly $2.6 million budget.

“There are a few things funded out of the president’s office that aren’t new to the university,” Frank said.

And amid a bevy of firings, hirings and expensive buyouts of athletic coaches, funding for the struggling Athletics Department has more than doubled, up 135 percent — from about $2.1 million to $4.8 million —- since Penley’s arrival.

Responding to the drastic increase in administrative budgets and athletics funding while tuition and fees skyrocket, CSU’s chief spokesperson, Brad Bohlander, said:

“I think a realistic view of that is most of the money that goes to the VPs goes down to the students one way or another.”

“In reality, everybody’s budget has grown,” he added. “Yes. We have invested more in athletics and administration — two areas that have been under-funded for years, but it’s not like we’re going over to engineering and taking their money.”

But funding for administration comes from the same pot that feeds the academic colleges — commonly referred to as the “general fund,” an aggregate account of primarily tuition and state dollars.

Since 2003, resident undergraduate tuition has risen 52 percent, and fees have climbed at 73 percent — a trend that has drawn harsh criticism from student government, some faculty and state legislators.

Scott Moore, an associate political science professor who specializes in state and local governments, called the increased spending in administration while tuition and fees increase “a bit of a mystery.”

“These are highly paid positions. My question is what do these people do? And what are they doing that wasn’t getting done before?” he said. “If you add six more faculty positions, it’s easy to see what they do, but what do new administrators do for the university?”

“If I were a state legislator, I would want to know where the money is going,” he added. “It’s still a state institution; it’s not Proctor and Gamble.”

Bohlander defended the increases as administrative spending has taken historic strides, saying CSU continues to remain affordable compared to peer institutions and that the university ranks on the lower end of institutional spending.

Many programs and operations that benefited students used to come out of the budgets of individual colleges, he said, but are now “centralized” in administration.

But John Straayer, a long-time political science professor, criticizes the administration and charges Penley with neglecting the instructional side of the university.

“I don’t think it comes out in the wash,” Straayer said. “As the burden has been shifting more and more on students, large chunks of that money aren’t going to the instructional side . I think that’s questionable.”

“Where is the academic core of this place?” he added.

In his fall address, Penley boasted bringing nearly 90 new faculty lines, but the increase in faculty indicates a rebound from a downward trend that started when he arrived, according to university fact books, bringing the number just past the highest recent total in 2001.

“Fewer of our classes are being taught by tenured, tenure-track faculty,” Frank said. “That’s bad. We need to work on that.”

And as CSU continues to play second-favorite in the battle for scarce state funds, and Colorado ranks dead last in funding for higher education, the president promises to spend more time on the road competing for private and federal research grants, which elicit fanfare, but don’t bring any financial relief to starving academic programs.

Meanwhile, significant chunks of institutional funds — more than $45 million in 2008 — have been diverted to research projects to bolster projects like Penley’s “green university” campaign, according to fact books and annual expenditure reports.

University officials say CSU has improved across the board in Penley’s five years as president and that the influx of high-level administrators illustrates a “stronger organization” than that seen under for former CSU President Albert Yates.

Straayer, who has taught at CSU for 41 years, strongly disagreed.

“That’s just give me a break — to say that Yates’ 14 years were a failure, that Penley is fixing it, that’s just false in the highest degree,” he said.

Rep. John Kefalas (D – Fort Collins) said he plans to meet face-to-face with Penley and faculty council to ” make sure CSU is demonstrating the highest level of transparency.”

“For me, the bottom line is that we don’t put all of this on the backs of students,” he said, adding that overall he is “very pleased” with Penley’s leadership of CSU.

“I think my role as a state legislator is to hold people’s feet to the fire and make sure we are not packing one side at the expense of another,” he added.

News Managing Editor Aaron Hedge and Enterprise Editor J. David McSwane can be reached at tips@collegian.com.

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