President salaries should not be immune to cuts

With faculty, staff and school programs at public universities across the country facing funding cuts because of decreased tax revenue amid the lingering recession, students will likely see increased tuition rates in the fall.

With that in mind, it’s unreasonable that most university presidents’ salaries aren’t as vulnerable to the dynamic economy as others who work at and attend major institutions.

A survey released Sunday by the Chronicle of Higher Education found that the average salary for presidents at the nation’s 185 largest public research universities during 2009-10 was $440,487, which, despite the rough economic environment, was an increase from the previous year.

Nearly a third of the presidents earned more than $500,000, which included salary bonuses and retirement packages. For example, University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman earned $783,850, Penn State University President Graham B. Spanier received $800,592 and University of Central Florida President John C. Hitt made $800,703.

After contract negotiations that ended in December, USF President Judy Genshaft saw her salary increase to $745,000, according to the St. Petersburg Times.

But Universities are now facing significant funding reductions as part of proposed bills in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, in addition to cuts at the state level.

The Florida House and Senate have released proposals calling for as much as $320 million in higher education funding cuts that may be signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott in May.

USF proposed raising tuition and cutting spending as a result.

Many university presidents have acknowledged that they’re being unfairly compensated while their schools face cuts.

University of Missouri President Gary D. Forsee declined a $100,000 performance bonus and E. Gordon Gee of Ohio State University, who has the highest salary in the nation at $1,818,911, gave $300,000 in bonuses to scholarships, according to the Chronicle.

In February, Genshaft said she will donate $1 million over five years for study abroad programs and other university-related travel, which gave her national publicity and praise, but also illustrated how the president may be getting paid more money than is necessarily needed.

Funds from USF and private donors that comprise Genshaft’s salary easily could have been redirected to all types of important programs, such as help for students to study abroad, if USF didn’t follow the national trend of not cutting or increasing salaries.

University presidents have an important job, but that doesn’t mean schools must not consider touching their salaries regardless of the economic environment.

At least some understand this concept.

Presidents in the University of California system saw their pay cut 10 percent last academic year, according to the Chronicle.

Presidents are right to give back some of their excessive salaries, but universities shouldn’t create a scenario where they may have to do so to avoid their pay looking gluttonous while other school funding needs aren’t met.