Statistics lend credence to SDS’ protest

Though rude, the protest brought administrative overcompensation to the fore.

Maureen Landsverk

Anyone who attended Convocation during Welcome Week heard it. Most arenâÄôt sure who said it or what the actual message was, but the general public reached a consensus that the protest was, in short, a garbled distraction. In reality, the scene that unfolded during University of Minnesota President Bob BruininkâÄôs speech was poorly planned and essentially ineffective in getting the point across âÄî a point that may have been met with public approval if it had been organized respectfully at all. As it stands, the manner in which the four members of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) presented their argument was thought of as both immature and distasteful by a majority of those who witnessed its pitiful outplay. While the demonstrators may have gone about protesting the wrong way, the foundation of their argument remains a valid topic of dispute: the unnecessarily high salaries of school officials and the motivating force behind such compensation. Though emptying thousands of fliers on a confused audience and unfurling banners only an owl could read was a bad decision, the message they were trying so feebly to convey is a growing issue âÄî one followed nationally by the New York Times and The Chronicle of Higher Education. Specifically, SDS was protesting BruininksâÄô weighty annual compensation of more than $730,000. The Chronicle reports that the median compensation of University presidents has risen 7.6 percent since 2007, fast approaching private collegesâÄô whopping annual average of $500,000. A more interesting statistic is that in many cases, presidential salaries arenâÄôt even competitive with other school officialsâÄô, especially coaches. The New York TimesâÄô review of private universitiesâÄô pay scales found University of Southern California head football coach Pete Carroll earned over $4 million in the 2007 fiscal year, while USC President Steven Sample was paid a quarter of that figure. Our own basketball coach, Tubby Smith, signed a contract allowing him more than $13 million over seven years in December 2007. If youâÄôd like to review the 100 highest-paid university officials, go to www.mndaily.com/sites/default/files/top100.pdf. The list only includes base salaries, not the millions in perks those topping the list receive. During a meeting of the Board of Regents, member John Frobenius addressed the issue with an air of nonchalance: âÄúIt seems to me that weâÄôre basically bouncing back and forth with Michigan for the third and fourth place position in compensation, with both California institutions in the lead. Among salary and compensation, weâÄôre basically in the middle among competitive institutions.âÄù So, with apparent controversy and a culminate concern for justice in compensation standards, who really has the final say in these matters? According to the University of Minnesota Faculty Compensation Policy, the decision is made by representatives from the Senate Committee on Faculty Affairs, an organization currently made up of 23 members, 17 of which have voting power, only two of which are students. Tenure is a factor in determining a reasonable salary increase, though the decisions of compensation committees do not often exhibit a standard of rational fairness. President Patrick Callan of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education summarizes his perspective in a recent New York Times article: âÄúIf faculty is getting 2 percent raises, I donâÄôt see why senior administrators who are already high-paid should get much larger increases. It reflects a set of values that is not the way most Americans think of higher education.âÄù Indeed, many of us hold our officials in high esteem, both as successful role models and ethically sound individuals. Though compensation statistics may look inconceivably huge, the Star Tribune reports that Bruininks, who ranks seventh among university presidential salaries, has publicly frozen his salary along with 40 other top administrators at the University. The projected savings for this fiscal year is $500,000 alone âÄî an admirable step towards slowing the steep increase in tuition, but some actual reductions could be in order. The response to the financial report in the Chronicle of Higher Education has been immediate and unexpected. Presidents of colleges nationwide, including the University of Pennsylvania and Washington State University, have taken pay cuts or redistributions totaling $100,000 in some cases. This may sound like a generous contribution but with background information it tells a different story. According to the Daily Pennsylvanian, University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann received a salary increase of 41 percent in 2007, soaring above the national average. Raymond Cotton of Mintz Lenvin Law Firm estimates the average increase in university presidential salaries to be 10 percent annually. From room and board rates to tuition costs, all aspects of higher education are perpetually on the rise. During these times of economic instability, the public scrutinizes and attempts to reduce expenses, subjecting administrative compensation to magnified scrutiny. And when statistics speak so loudly, scrutiny is appropriate, though administrators may disagree. But disagreement is resolved by asking questions, and questions are answered through persistence. We as a student body must act as investigators, as watchdogs of university finances. We should question them in a civil manner and, by doing so, get the results our determination warrants, and our tuition bills require. Maureen Landsverk welcomes comments at [email protected]