Friday, July 20, 2007

Breaking: Napster for Less than $750,000/Year at Penn State

Last month, during a State Senate Committee hearing on Sen. Domenic Pileggi's Right-To-Know legislation, Graham asserted that the citizens of the Commonwealth already know enough about Penn State's finances.
First, perhaps you are not aware, but Penn State already opens its financial books to you and the public. The online version alone represents 5,000 pages of budget detail. In fact, every year, as required by The Higher Education Fiscal Information Disclosure Act, we deliver detailed reports on our finances to the General Assembly and post the same information on our Web site. These reports (described in detail in an addendum) answer nearly every conceivable question about how we spend taxpayers' funds except for the individual salaries of our employees.
I've discussed this testimony in a previous post. Here is a list of what the University reports to the General Assembly.
  • The academic and administrative budgets for current and prior years including revenue and expenditures;
  • The number of employees by academic rank and number of administrators, and staff;
  • The median and mean salaries of administrators, faculty and staff;
  • The non-salary compensation of administrators, faculty and staff;
  • A statement of the institution's retirement policies;
  • A policy statement on reduction of tuition for employee's family members;
  • Service contracts including legal, instructional, management accounting, architecture, public relations and maintenance;
  • A list of goods and services in excess of $1,000; and
  • A list, by unit, of expenses of travel.
You can find what the University posts online here. Although Penn State is required to report "[a] list of goods and services in excess of $1,000", they don't put this list online. So much for Penn State's commitment to transparency.

Fortunately, this info can be found elsewhere, Each year since 1996, the Joint State Government Commission uses the data reported by Penn State and the other state-related universities to prepare a document referred to as the Stairs Report. I've just discovered that they now post these reports online. Here are the links to all of the past reports. (When I get sometime I'll put these links over in the righthand column.)Each report deals with the previous fiscal year. My first impression is that these reports are much easier to navigate than the stuff Penn State places online, but that is only half of it. While the Stairs Reports don't have the entire list for each year, the reports do have the list for each years largest contracts . From 1995 to 2003 all contract of $500,000 or more are listed. From 2004 on, only contracts of $750,000 or more are listed.

Here is a conceivable question, how much has Penn State been paying for Napster? The 2004-2005 academic year was the first full year of the Napster service. This is covered by the 2005 Stairs Report. Napster isn't listed amongst those services for which Penn State has paid $750,000 or more in this or subsequent reports. This tells us that the University has been paying less that three quarters of a million dollars for the Napster service. But is it $499,999, or $1001? These reports don't tell us.

In my next post, I will use these reports to get a partial answer to another previously unanswered question about the way that Penn State spends our money. This one, I am sure will get everyones attention. Stay Tuned.

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