Regents formally approve Rachel Croson as next UMN provost

Several regents voted against the contract, citing frustrations with the rising cost of administrator salaries.

The Board of Regents convene for their October 2019 meeting at the McNamara Alumni Center on Thursday, Oct. 10.

Nur B. Adam

The Board of Regents convene for their October 2019 meeting at the McNamara Alumni Center on Thursday, Oct. 10.

Dylan Anderson

The University of Minnesota Board of Regents approved a more than half-million dollar contract officially installing Rachel Croson as the next executive vice president and provost.

The approval did not come without detractors, as four of 12 regents voted against the contract, saying it is too expensive. No regent questioned whether Croson is qualified for the position, rather expressing dismay over how the cost of administrators in general is rising.

However, the majority of regents supported the move, saying President Joan Gabel has the right to build her own team. The deal puts Croson’s pay near the middle of other Big Ten schools, and is what the market demanded, Gabel said at the meeting. The base salary is the same as what the University of Wisconsin-Madison gave its new provost last year.

“I believe the most important investment we make is in our people,” Gabel said. “The package that we have proposed for Dr. Croson is right where it should be for an institution like us. But we’re not getting just right where we should be, we’re getting someone exceptional.”

With a base salary of $495,000, the deal includes an additional $30,000 deferred retirement contribution and $20,000 in the form of an endowed professorship. This is an increase of about 26 percent from her current Michigan State University salary, where she serves as dean of the College of Social Sciences.  

The base compensation is steeper than current Provost Karen Hanson’s salary, about 12 percent more when considering deferred pay.

Several regents made a comparison to athletics, as they approved contract extension for football coach P.J. Fleck last month worth $4.6 million a year. 

“A different set of compensation parameters, if implemented, must be applied consistently across the University and, dare I say, including athletics,” Regent Mary Davenport said. 

Regent Vice Chair Steve Sviggum made a comparison to Wisconsin’s recent hire of a provost for the same base salary, noting the hire’s similar previous experience to Croson and that the hire was a man.

“I’m sitting here, and I’m thinking ‘I’m going to offer a woman less for comparable worth, than a man doing the exact same job with the exact same experience?’” Sviggum said. “Not me, I’m not going to do that.”

The conversation extended outside the boardroom though, as yesterday 11 Republican members of the Legislature sent regents a letter saying they are “concerned and alarmed” by the size of the contract. 

“The current administrative excess and bidding wars that drive those costs ever higher is unsustainable and is disrespectful to the Minnesotans who fund the University with their tax dollars and the students who are subjected year-after-year to increased tuition costs,” the letter reads.

The letter echoed some regents’ comments, expressing dismay with how higher education administrators salaries have inflated over time. In 1994, the provost was paid $125,000, though Gabel said the job Croson will step into is much broader than what was asked of the provost 25 years ago.

“I think you pay for what you get,” said Rep. Connie Bernardy, DFL-New Brighton, chair of the House higher education committee. “I feel strongly that the provost position isn’t the position to try to overhaul the whole system.”

Regent Michael Hsu said he disapproved of the contract’s salary, moving to direct Gabel to renegotiate the deal. He presented “best practices” used by the University of California-Berkeley, saying a renegotiated deal should follow these guidelines. His motion failed.

“I look at [the best practices Hsu presented] and you know what it tells me? We were paying Dr. Hanson, a very capable provost, about a $100,000 less than what we should have been paying her,” Sviggum said.

When compared to provosts at other Big Ten institutions, the pay is not an outlier, sitting below the average base salary of almost $510,000, according to a College and University Professional Association for Human Resources survey.

Regent Darrin Rosha, who voted against Croson’s contract, said if they want to reverse the course of inflated salaries it needs to start with the provost.

“We are setting policy by this decision,” Rosha said to his fellow regents. “In the future, just be sure, when people are asking who is responsible for what is happening in higher education, and the dramatic increase in cost. I hope that you have the respect to raise your hand.”