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How to Bleed a State University System Dry in One Easy Step

2 months ago

1254 words

Step 1: Pay the new president more per month than employees make in a year

Can you imagine making $50,000 a month after taxes? Every month? Money that comes from taxpayers and college kids?

We at the Seeing Red Editorial Board cannot imagine making net $50,000 a month from taxpayers and college students. We would wager that the UNL faculty and staff, many of whom do not make $50,000 a year gross, can’t either. This includes lecturers who teach classes, academic advisors who help students stay on track to graduate, departmental secretaries who help us all navigate the bureaucracy of everything in a university, and others. And that’s before we even get into the crisis of adjunct pay and the low wages of our Graduate Assistants who contribute substantially to teaching and research efforts at UNL.

Top pay for Top Gun. Low pay for highly educated experts in their fields

The issue of the pay of the next NU president was raised in the Lincoln Journal Star over the summer, before anyone had ever heard of Vice Admiral Ted Carter or his oh so humorous stories about Tom Cruise visiting Top Gun before filming the movie of the same name. They pointed out that the high end of the salary range being offered, $1.2 million, would place the eventual candidate as the 10th highest paid university administrator, at either campus or system level, in the United States. At yesterday’s Board of Regent meeting, the UNL Faculty Senate president pointed out that the current salary being offered is 40% more than that of Nebraska’s peers’ system leaders. He also pointed out that tenure-line faculty are paid 3.9% LESS than those in peer institutions.

Even Tom Cruise is disappointed in the NU Board of Regents

For those who are not familiar with the ins and outs of university hierarchy, NU consists of UNL, the flagship, Research I University; UNO, an urban focused, community-engaged Research 2; UNK, a comprehensive undergraduate- and masters-granting university; the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture, a two-year college; and UNMC, a stand-alone medical school. The NU president oversees each of these campuses, with a total enrollment of 52,000 students. This may seem big, but relatively speaking, NU is a fairly small university system in terms of both enrollment and number of campuses.

Step 1: Pay him more than peers, including those who are more highly qualified and in positions of considerably more prestige

The State University of New York (SUNY) includes 64 campuses, including four, count them four, university centers, two medical schools, a school of optometry, several specialized campuses, all of the comprehensive colleges, and community colleges outside of New York City. The Chancellor of the SUNY System, equivalent to President in the NU System, Kristina M. Johnson, oversees 90,000 faculty and staff. She earns $560,000 . Incidentally, she has a Ph.D. and served as the Provost at Johns Hopkins University and the Dean of the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University. She was also previously the U.S. Under Secretary of Energy. There is no doubt she is highly qualified for her role in ways Vice Admiral Carter is not as he has not earned a Ph.D., or other terminal degree, nor engaged in the academic side of civilian higher education, nor served in an administrative capacity in a comparable institution of higher education with a land grant mission to serve the state of Nebraska through education, research, and extension activities.

But NU is no SUNY. We have a fraction of the campuses, students, and faculty and staff. Compared to SUNY’s 90,000 faculty and staff, NU has approximately 13,000. Nor is it the University of California System, home to UCLA and UC Berkley, two of the highest ranked public universities in the United States. The head of their system, Janet Napolitano (you might have heard of her since she was previously the Governor of Arizona and the US Secretary of Homeland Security) earned $627,000 in 2018. Now that we’ve established the base salary of $934,600 is out of wack with one of the biggest state university systems and one of the most prestigious systems, let’s get down to some university systems that are more comparable.

Step 1: Pay them nearly double even your closest peer

Our neighbor to the West, Colorado, has a fairly similar University system to NU, with an R1 University (UC Boulder), an urban-focused university (UC Denver), a professional and undergraduate university (UC Colorado Springs), and a med school. Together, they enroll approximately 33,000 students to our 52,000. In 2018, their system president earned $421,974. For those who like this sort of thing, that comes to roughly $12.70 per student per year. If we paid Vice Admiral Carter a similar rate, his salary would be about $658,400. That is 6 times more than the average tenure-track faculty at UNL, many of whom are senior faculty and have been working in higher education for decades. The package passed yesterday, with a base pay of $934,600 comes out to about $18.00 per student per year. In the very same meeting, the Regents approved a 3% increase for room and board at all of the campuses except UNMC. On top of increasing tuition.

One more time for the people in the back

To prove the point, here are a few more of our comparable ‘peer’ systems and the salaries of their systems leaders from 2018:

  • Ohio State Board of Regents Chancellor: $199,321
  • University of Illinois System President: $719,027
  • University of Missouri System: $530,000

The leader of the Missouri System, just to our Southeast earns $7.57 per student, based on their enrollment of about 70,000 students (nearly 20,000 more than NU). He also holds a Ph.D., unlike Vice Admiral Carter. When Dr. Choi’s contract was recently extended, he refused a raise. In comparison, Vice Admiral Carter publicly stated at his community forum in Lincoln that he earned this level of pay because as naval officer, “he and his wife were poor once.” We would thus like to invite every faculty member to share in the comments their stories of being ‘poor once’ during their graduate studies and to discuss what their student loan debt is doing to their personal and professional lives.

Step 1. Keep paying each president even more

We find this compensation level deeply troubling, as the previous System President, Hank Bounds, started his term at NU at $341,250 in 2012-13 and ended it at $556,446 in 2018, a 63% increase during a period in which many faculty did not even see a cost of living increase. In hiring a new President, the salary jumped 68%. That’s before the 11.5% salary hike if he lasts three years (again, faculty have not been getting cost of living increases). If we are to expect to pay the NU president larger and larger amounts not only every time they renew their contract but every time we have to hire a new one (roughly every 5 years, or potentially less), we are putting ourselves in a situation that is going to be unsustainable for a small university system that mainly serves the youth of Nebraska (read, pays in state tuition).

We are sure that the Regents will defend their decision to allocate so much of NU’s money to the new president’s salary by saying that given the market, this is what it takes to get the best candidates to apply and to accept the job. Even this brief comparison to NU’s peers shows that to be false– it’s almost twice the market rate. But it also forces us to ask why “the market” rather than our values, or the university’s mission of educating the students of Nebraska, is guiding the Regents’ decisions about how to spend students’ tuition money and taxpayer dollars.

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