Feb 122009
Authors: Jim Sojourner

In a move toward greater financial transparency, CSU administrators released the university’s inaugural Financial Accountability Report on Thursday, signaling a break from the heavy opacity of former President Larry Penley’s administration.

Following Penley’s abrupt resignation last November, Interim President Tony Frank announced his plans to increase fiscal transparency and communication, and cut half-a-million dollars in administrative funding that could possibly be reinvested “in the University’s academic core.”

The accountability report represents one move toward Frank’s commitment to financial transparency, presenting a monetary breakdown of the 2008 fiscal year, including an overview of total university revenue and expenditures and an annual comparison of the university income and spending trends over the past five years.

Frank said the report is vital to informing and gaining the trust of taxpayers, donors, students and other stakeholders,particularly given the dismal economic climate.

“We hope [the report] will demonstrate that we are good stewards of the public trust,” he said. “As a public entity one of the most important things we have is trust.”

However, student leaders, faculty and state lawmakers critical of Penley’s controversial financial philosophy said in the months leading up to the president’s resignation that trust was in increasingly short supply during his tenure.

While the report does show Penley’s success in bulking-up the university’s revenue stream, his business-oriented approach to education drew fire from critics who said his financial practices lacked transparency.

The former president came under further scrutiny when Penley overhauled top-level administration, adding more than a dozen vice president slots with robust budgets and salaries, while the academic colleges and library grew at a much slower rate.

In order to address “some concern and much confusion about how university resources are being earned and expended,” Vice President of Finance Allison Dineen was quoted as saying in an online statement posted Thursday on CSU’s Today@Colorado State Web site, “it became apparent that providing annual financial information . on a stand-alone basis would be beneficial for the campus community and general public.”

Of note in the report, since the 2005 – 2006 academic year, CSU has relied heavily on state fee-for-service contracts and the Colorado Opportunity Fund, with little support in the form of state appropriations.

Colorado is one of the lowest ranked states in terms of higher education funding.

Both CSU’s revenue stream and operating expenses have increased steadily since 2004.

To assist in educating interested members of the public, Frank said the university will also be offering “Budget 101” sessions on March 2 and 3 at the Fort Collins Hilton.

These sessions are designed as a short introduction, Frank said, in order to foster understanding of the university’s finances and encourage involved citizens to participate in CSU’s annual budget hearings.

“We’d like to see as many people involved as possible,” Frank said.

The full Financial Accountability Report can be accessed at busfin.colostate.edu/finstmt.aspx.

Enterprise Reporter Jim Sojourner can be reached at tips@collegian.com.

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