Opinion

Is President Brian Rosenberg Rich? A Brief Investigation

Anna Schmitz ’14

My phone lit up this morning with dozens of Whatsapp notifications as I sat in a work meeting and attempted to concentrate. When I left the meeting, I immediately checked my phone and saw that it was a group chat with my four closest friends from my 2014 Mac graduating class. But there were no Facebook screenshots of the latest person in our class to get married, or collective screaming over a new Robyn single. Instead, the buzz was over a recent Mac Weekly interview with President Brian Rosenberg. Specifically, it was over the spot in the article where he states “I’m not rich.”

Huh. I was pretty sure that he was.

I certainly wasn’t a math major, but it seemed like this was a question that could be answered with Macalester’s 990 form and some simple arithmetic. (A 990, for anyone who isn’t a turbo-nerd, is a tax form for nonprofits where they’re required to list top employee compensation.)

I logged into Guidestar, a website that compiles nonprofit tax documents, and clicked over to the 2017 990 PDF. There it was, a few pages down. President Brian Rosenberg: reportable compensation of $580,799 and “estimated other compensation” of $214,865.

Well, jeez. A total compensation of $795,664 seems pretty rich to me. It also seems pretty rich according to the Global Rich List calculator, which puts his income in the top 0.01 percent globally. A New York Times calculator puts his compensation in the top one percent nationally. But we got some additional context from the interview, so we can dig a little deeper.

We’ll take President Rosenberg at his word that benefits are adding 20 percent to his salary. That brings him down to $636,531.20. I plugged that into a tax calculator, and it looks like the take home with that salary is $392,304, which works out to $32,692 a month. To put it another way, President Rosenberg could swipe into Cafe Mac for brunch 3,110 times a month. He could pay my rent 64 times in a single month (President Rosenberg, if you’re reading this – please feel free!). Not that he needs to worry about rent, of course, because he receives his housing from Macalester.

But wait! He’s donated “close to half a million dollars.” That seems like a lot, right? Perhaps we should reconsider! Well… perhaps not.

Let’s say, for the sake of easy math, that President Rosenberg’s take-home salary for the past 16 years has worked out to an average of $350,000. He was presumably making less at the beginning (not to mention those pesky benefits inflating his salary!). That would mean that he’s earned 5.6 million dollars over the course of his 16 years at the college. Let’s round up the amount he’s donated to $500,000. That works out to… 9 percent of the total money he’s had in his pocket. And, well, the total amount he’s received — even after that donation — is still over five million dollars.

Here’s where the math gets us: President Brian Rosenberg is rich. In fact, he’s REALLY rich. He’s rich on a global scale and on a national scale. As he notes in the interview, his compensation isn’t abnormal for a college president. President Rosenberg, by all accounts, has done a tremendous job as a fundraiser for the college — a major part of the president’s role. And so the issue of “normal” compensation is complicated, and it’s one that he is not individually responsible for fixing. And my math here isn’t necessarily to say that he should make less.

It’s to say that we can’t have an honest conversation about money and about morality when the people who are making the most keep trying to tell us that they’re just like us. If you’re making over $700,000 a year, you have an obligation to say that you’re rich. You have an obligation to say that the distribution of wealth in this country is inherently unfair, and that you have benefited from that unfairness. Further, you have an obligation to donate your money (and not just back to the hand that feeds you), and to be transparent about the amount that you donate.

Macalester students are looking to you, President Rosenberg, as a model for how to lead lives of honesty, morality and service. You have an obligation to lead them.

December 6, 2018

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