The good, the bad, and mediocre of transparency in higher ed

February 24th, 2012 by Amy Categories: Colorado, higher education No Responses
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I had a simple mission. Find out how many employees were making above $100,000 in total compensation in Colorado’s institutions of higher education. I also wanted a two year comparison so that I could see how much, if any, employee compensation had increased.

More importantly, this turned out to be an exercise in transparency and attitude. Which institutions were cooperative and helpful? Which were not?

Thinking this information already might be centralized, I sent an inquiry email to Chad Marturano, Director of Legislative Affairs for the Colorado Department of Higher Education (DHE), on November 29, 2011:

Hello Chad –
Does the Commission on Higher Education maintain a database on compensation for state universities’ and colleges’ employees? If not, do you know where I would go to get such information?

I look forward to your response.

Thank you.

I’m still looking forward to the response. Turns out DHE does have quite a bit of information such as a decade of tuition and fee increases, but nothing on compensation.

Beginning on December 8, 2011, I began sending out Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) requests to the University of Colorado (all campuses), Colorado State University (all campuses), Colorado School of Mines, University of Northern Colorado, Metro State College, Colorado Mesa University, Western State College, and Adams State College.

For several institutions I included a request for details of overtime pay. Below is an example of the CORA I sent. Following are links to all the CORAs.

December 8, 2011

Colorado State University System

Office of General Counsel

410 Seventeenth Street

Suite 2440

Denver, CO 80202

To the Office of General Counsel Colorado State University System:

Pursuant to the state open records law, Colo. Rev. Stat. Secs. 24-72-101 to 24-72-402, I write to request access to and a copy of a list of all employees by position with total compensation over $100,000 for all CSU campuses. This includes, but not limited to, salaries, bonuses, insurance, travel allowance, retirement contributions, cell phone allowances, and over time payments for 2010 and 2011. Also, all “end of year” summaries for overtime paid to all departments and/or to all employees for 2008-2010, or any spreadsheet or document that tracks overtime by department and/or by employee.

I prefer the information be in electronic format if possible.

If your agency does not maintain these public records, please let me know who does and include the proper custodian’s name and address.

I agree to pay any reasonable copying and postage fees of not more than $75.00. If the cost would be greater than this amount, please notify me. Please provide a receipt indicating the charges for each document.

As provided by the open records law, I will expect your response with three (3) business days. If you choose to deny this request, please provide a written explanation for the denial including a reference to the specific statutory exemption(s) upon which you rely. Also, please provide all segregable portions of otherwise exempt material.

Thank you in advance for your prompt attention to this matter.


Amy O Cooke

Director, Colorado Transparency Project

Independence Institute

13952 Denver West Parkway

Suite 400

Golden, CO 80401


Link to CORAs:

Adams State

Colorado School of Mines

Mesa State

Metro State

University of Colorado (all campuses)

University of Northern Colorado

Western State College

Responses: The Good, The Bad…

The information requested was a matter of open record so nothing should have been denied. But this is not so much about the actual information, rather the attitude of the institutions when asked a question about how they spend money.

The Good:

Mesa State could not have been more accommodating. They even invited me to come visit their campus. They seemed genuinely sincere in wanting to make sure I got all the information requested. Seriously, as a mom, I want my high school senior to attend Mesa because they were so nice about providing information. Amazing what a little kindness can do.

Metro State sets the gold standard for transparency in salary information. The Denver based college provides several years worth of salary information including name, position, salary, and percent increase on their Web site. Proof that it can be done if an institution truly believes in transparency.

Adams State*, Western State, and the University of Northern Colorado were also cooperative with the CORAs. None seemed put out by having to provide information that is a matter of public record to a citizen who requested it. To them, I say thank you for your attention.

*I did not get Adams State response scanned in time for this report. I will provide an update with a link. The fault was mine and not that of Adams State, an institution, which happily provided most information requested.

The Bad:

School of Mines was just arrogant (response here). Esther Henry, Associate Counsel, instructed me to go to the school library to get the salary information. I wondered if that is the standard operating procedure for those who live and work on the Western Slope – just drive hundreds of miles to get information that is a matter of public record.

Ms. Henry told me that to get information on overtime by department Mines would have to develop a program and it would cost me $679.24.  What Ms. Henry didn’t know is that I already had the figure in aggregate by institution (Higher Ed overtime figures):

  • 2008 — $75,855
  • 2009 — $79,177
  • 2010 — $65,565
  • 2011 — $39,768

So I know that Mines had the information, but the institution chose to be difficult. This is typical tactic to keep information from citizens.

Colorado State University chose not to be helpful either. Rather it provided a list of those making over $100,000 in the CSU system and then referred me to “page 4 of the policy” on open records. In other words, we won’t help you by forwarding the request. Also, CSU won’t accept email CORAs. I had to send it via certified mail.

Finally, CSU asserted, “as to the second portion of your request relating to all “end of year” summaries for all overtime payments, CSUS has no such document.” Maybe CSUS doesn’t have it, but someone does and yet CSU chose NOT to be helpful. I know this because, once again, I did have the figures in aggregate:

  • 2008 — $6,396,989
  • 2009 — $7,348.222
  • 2010 — $6,361,543
  • 2011 — $6,900,866

Wondering why the figures for CSU were so high? Me too. They finally provided an explanation and revised figures, which tells me CSU had the information in the first place.

The Mediocre:

CU finally did give me salary information and a formula for figuring benefits but it wasn’t easy. Frankly, while they claimed to embrace transparency, they didn’t seem sincere. Links to the response is below. Feel free to peruse the compensation reports, would love to hear your feedback. Warning: they are lengthy.

I still haven’t received a response about why employee salary funding sources appear to transpose between “state funding” to “non-state funding” from one year to the next.

FY2011-2012 University of Colorado Compensation Report

Personnel Roster salary information by employee number

CU Website on salary information


Honestly, no institution provided all information requested as I envisioned it but some truly wanted to understand what I was asking for and provide the correct information. Others, such as Mines and CSU, were arrogant and appeared to be indifferent to a request for information from a Colorado taxpayer.

This exercise highlights the deficiencies with Colorado’s open records law. It is subject to interpretation by the responding government agency and thus it gets to decide what information to release.

Making more information available online would help alleviate this problem.

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