University presidents across the United States likely aren’t eating Ramen noodles, Easy Mac, Spaghetti O’s or any other staples of financially strapped college students this evening.
As detailed in a recent New York Times article, more university presidents than ever are making $1 million a year or more in salary and compensation. By some accounts, said increases reflect a national shift in the attitude of university governance. As one educator quoted by the Times put it, more colleges and universities are characterized by a “corporate mindset” both because of compensation and because of the top-down management style indicative of it.
As with many issues, administrator and executive compensation at universities is a tricky one, and it’s hard to fairly come out totally in support of or against it.
As with any industry, pay for university administrators should reflect the skill, stress and intensity level of their duties, granted they’re doing the job correctly and effectively.
In the context of universities, the reasoning behind paying university presidents hefty salaries is that said presidents theoretically attract the grants, donations, research and professors that make the university stand out as an academic institution.
Here’s the caveat that makes supporting the CEO reasoning a bit problematic, though: University presidents have a massive support staff that help them attract the grants, donations, research and professors that make a university stand out.
It’s not a one-man or a one-woman show, thus it’s hard to justify increasingly hefty raises to the top administrator at a university without quantifiably proving his or her worth.
Consider a hypothetical situation involving USF to understand this point. President Judy Genshaft makes $581,475. There’s nothing inherently wrong with her making this salary, but if it were raised to exceed the million-dollar mark – as is the case with other universities – eyebrows should also be raised.
Sure, positive things have happened under Genshaft’s administration, and reports indicate more and more colleges cannot keep key administrators on board without compensating them competitively, but major shifts like boosting research and faculty development are more directly linked to Renu Khator, who is leaving USF to hold the presidency and chancellorship at the University of Houston. Khator, along with soon-to-be provost Ralph Wilcox, spearheaded efforts to make admissions standards higher, ultimately improving the make-up of the student body.
Although this happened under Genshaft, the fact remains that she, like other university presidents, is not solely responsible and should not be credited with every success at USF. As such, super-compensation packages should be questioned unless a set of criteria to determine the effectiveness of targeted administrators is developed.