The Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate released a report on Dec. 9 calling for greater transparency surrounding the University budget.
Calling the University budget “among the most secret of secrets,” the four-page report recommends that the administration provide adequately detailed information on budgeting and staffing levels across the University.
According to the report, very few details about the University budget are publicly available beyond what is required by law or accounting standards, and the senate budget committee has requested for over a year that the University provide more information to faculty about details including the history and current status of budgets and staffing of the FAS. The committee has not received written responses to its requests, according to the report.
“In the past year, we have been told in meetings that these data are confidential; that revealing them would impair the ability of the administration to run the University; that defending and explaining the budget would waste the time of administrators; and that discussing budgets would promote a zero-sum mentality,” the report states.
The senate unanimously approved the report at its Dec. 8 meeting and emailed it to all FAS faculty the following day. The report was prepared by the Senate’s seven-person Budget and Finance Committee.
William Nordhaus ’63 GRD ’73, an economics professor who chairs the budget committee, said Yale’s secrecy around questions of its finances make it difficult for the senate to do its job.
“The senate is centrally interested in participating in planning for the FAS, and particularly for Yale College,” Nordhaus said. “This involves analyzing plans for the improvement of teaching and research, along with discussion of competing priorities. It is not possible to analyze these issues without information about budgets for teaching, faculty, scholarships, teaching fellows, buildings and the like.”
The report also states that this past November, the University added a document called the Yale University Budget Book, Fiscal Year 2017 to its financial website, unannounced and containing “minimal information” about the University budget and the budget of the FAS.
Vice President for Financing and Chief Financial Officer Stephen Murphy said he and University Provost Ben Polak decided to post information about the 2017 budget online this fall, as well as information on the endowment spending rule, which is one of the most frequently asked questions at presentations. Murphy said he believes that this was the first time in at least a decade that more budget information was made publicly available to faculty, students and staff.
The report compares Yale’s budget transparency to that of Stanford University, which the report described as a peer institution of comparable size, complexity and structure. According to the report, the freely available Stanford budget report on its website contains 156 pages of thorough and organized information, with details of its budget’s history dating back to 1996. Nordhaus said Yale’s budget reports should aim to look more like the full reports provided by Stanford.
“Budget transparency and information are essential for informed discussion of University priorities by students, faculty and other members of the Yale community,” Nordhaus said. “Without such information, people cannot see where the dollars are going and cannot hold the administration accountable for fundamental decisions on the direction of the University.”
The report concludes that Yale’s lack of available budget information is a concern both in itself and in comparison with other major universities like Stanford. The senate’s official recommendation suggests the University prepare and distribute complete “current, historical and prospective” information on budget and staffing levels in the FAS and other units — such as West Campus, collections, libraries and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences — as well as make available the allocation of endowment funds, restricted funds and fund balances.
In the Dec. 9 FAS-wide email, FAS Senate Chair Emily Greenwood emphasized the importance of transparency in shared governance. For example, Greenwood wrote, faculty does not currently have access to information about the FAS budget and therefore finds it harder to evaluate strategic planning. Greenwood added it is troubling when decisions important to the FAS academic mission are “couched in budgetary terms, but the budget itself remains shrouded in secrecy.”
“The senate has been working for a while to improve communication and cooperation between the faculty at large and the administration, and we feel there is goodwill on all sides and we are making progress,” mathematics professor and budget committee member Yair Minsky said. “I expect that, after the discussion initiated by this report, the Provost’s Office will make a strong effort to put in place tools that will make the budget available to the community at large, not just once but as part of an ongoing process.”
Murphy said he and Polak are strong supporters of making more budget information available and have worked for the past several years to discuss the University’s budgets with deans, department chairs, faculty, staff and student groups.
Murphy added that having more budget information available will help the Yale community better understand the University’s finances and foster discussions about spending. He said he and the Provost’s Office plan to make more budget information available in the future and are working to do so in the coming year.
Dean of FAS Tamar Gendler told the News that she looks forward to engaging in further conversation with the FAS Senate about how to learn from other universities’ practices.