March 14, 2003

Going Corporate: College Presidents Command CEO Salaries

I find myself increasingly impatient with the academic culture warriors. You know the ones I mean: the people from both the left and right ends of the spectrum who continue to argue -- with a level of vehemence that seems inversely related to the continued relevance of their grievances -- that the biggest threats to academic freedom and academic standards stem from the politicized antics of their ideological opponents (whether on the right or the left, as the case may be).

Get with the program, people. The biggest threat both to academic freedom and to academic standards is the corporatization of the university. And when it comes to the concerns of the "culture wars," the corporate model can basically be seen as an equal opportunity menace. Are you concerned about issues of diversity in such areas as student admissions, faculty hiring and curriculum development? Or are you rather interested in resisting recent moves toward a more multi-culti university in the name of a traditional liberal arts curriculum that you fear is in danger of disappearing? Whether the former or the latter, let me assure you that your concerns are equally irrelevant to the new breed of corporate managers. What they want to know is, What will it cost? and, How will it sell?

Don't believe me? Spend some time browsing through the articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education's "Money and Management" section. For a truly instructive example of corporatization, I especially recommend its collection of eye-opening articles on college presidents' salaries. "The Growing $500,000 Club," for example, informs us that while, "until 2000, no more than a dozen presidents of private colleges made that much money in any given year," in 2001 "the number of top leaders earning over $500,000 annually more than doubled." But perhaps even more significant than the high salaries for presidents of top-ranked private universities is the growing trend toward enormous compensation packages for the presidents of public universities. An article entitled "Private Funds Drive Up Pay of Public-University Presidents" offers the following interesting examples:

"John W. Shumaker, the new president of the University of Tennessee system, will be paid as much as $734,000 annually. Mary Sue Coleman, who in August became the first female president of the University of Michigan system, will earn $677,500 a year. Evan S. Dobelle, president of the University of Hawaii System, receives $599,500 annually. And Mark A. Emmert, chancellor of Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge, received a pay raise in July that more than doubled his annual compensation, from $284,160 to $590,000."

Among the questions this raises is the one posed by Derek Bok, who asks "Are Huge Presidential Salaries Bad for Colleges?" His answer, in brief, is Yes, they certainly are. "The influence of money," he argues, "is already too strong on many campuses, distorting priorities, distracting faculty members, and eroding academic values. Lavish salaries for campus CEO's will only tend to make the problem worse."

Now, I don't have a problem with generous compensation packages for college presidents. But as with most things in life, it's a question of degree. Once we get over the half million per annum mark, and even up into the range of 750,000 to 800,000 dollars a year...well, I think we should all be asking some questions. The more so as this growing trend toward CEO-type compensation for college presidents occurs alongside a growing trend toward adjunct and part-time faculty (a wrong in itself and a very real, though indirect, threat to the maintenance of a full-time tenured faculty).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at March 14, 2003 04:11 PM

I'll be damned! And here I thought I was the only person that saw what was going on here! Beind a non-traditional sencond-time-around college student I am terribly distressed at everything I see going on! Spread the word!

Posted by: Jim at August 18, 2003 04:05 AM

Why is it a problem if college presidents make as much as CEO's? You should spend time advocating that public school teachers get a pay raise too. The MORE IMPORTANT ISSUE is who we value in society. We should value the educators of our children just as much as we value our business leaders and celebrities. It's been high tiem that we do so. Get over it!

Posted by: Simone at October 19, 2003 07:05 PM

I'd say it's a problem for the same reason it's a problem when CEOs get paid that much -- it's not a free ride, and it usually comes at the expense of the lesser-ranked employees. (That villa in the pension package is probably equal to giving a $1000 raise to several hundred workers at the lower levels, or paying for their health care for a few years.) Moreover, on a purely personal note, I find the discrepancy between the lowest paid tier in any such company -- the majority doing the most work -- and the highest -- the handful of people doing mostly figure-head-type stuff -- to be obscene, pure and simple.

I also don't think that paying a college president an extravagant salary is the same as "valuing an educator of our children." If that logic was really operating here, it would be the adjuncts and public school teachers who'd be getting that pay, not their supervisors (who rarely have much to do with the daily in-class responsibilities of actual teachers). Trickle down rarely (if ever) happens in the corporate setting -- why do you assume it would happen in the academy?

Posted by: Rana at October 20, 2003 12:18 PM