- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

Tahlequah Daily Press, Aug. 11, 2014

University pay disparity hurts faculty, students

When NSU officials announced they were seeking a 5.9 percent tuition and fee increase for the fall semester, you could almost hear the collective intake of breath from hundreds of students, who were already just scraping by.

The hike sounds steep, but comparatively speaking, it’s a pretty good deal. Even with the increase, NSU is still the second-cheapest public university in the state. But just think how much more affordable NSU would be if it trimmed some of its bloated administrative budget, and passed on the savings to students. And imagine how many more students would be attracted to this unique and eclectic campus if officials opted to hire more full-time professors, rather than cutting corners with a growing cadre of adjunct instructors.

TDP’s recent four-part series shone a light into a shadowy corner where higher ed officials would prefer the public not look. Across the nation, administrators are pricing the vast majority of today’s young people out of an education. Though NSU’s recent hike is relatively modest, it’s one in a series occurring like clockwork on all campuses. And the added burden might not have been necessary if such a big chunk of the budgets weren’t earmarked for salaries and perks of employees who have no direct impact on the educational process.

Many area residents agree. When they got a glimpse into how much money some university officials are pulling down, compared to the meager wages on which most local folks must subsist, they were stunned. Some were angry.

A number of employees called TDP to report certain individuals in the NSU hierarchy had expressed outrage because the newspaper published their salaries. That information is a matter of public record, and the beneficiaries know it. But acknowledging the public’s right to the information is one thing; seeing it in black and white, and realizing how the average Cherokee Countian will react, is quite another.

Yet the salaries of NSU administrators themselves, as exorbitant as some may seem, aren’t as disturbing as the overall disparity on the payroll. Hard-working custodians, who must clean up after slovenly students and messy mucky-mucks, average around $18,000 a year. They get a decent vacation package, along with health insurance, but the retirement system is where lower-paid employees get a raw deal. An employee must contribute 7 percent every month until he hits the $25,000 mark each year. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that whereas the $18,000-a-year employee will never catch a break, the NSU president - who makes $222,000 a year - gets almost all his retirement courtesy of Oklahoma taxpayers.

Dr. Steve Turner’s pay is about par for the course for a university leader at his level. But he also gets a car to drive, access to a travel budget, and a house to live in that, by local standards, is essentially a mansion. And when it comes to maintenance and utility costs, the university picks up the tab. Still, Turner’s compensation package isn’t the main problem. After all, he has years of experience, a doctoral degree, and presumably a proven track record. The same is true for presidents of the other presidents in the Regional University System of Oklahoma. The glaring issue is the top-heavy administrative staffs, which are squeezing out tenured professors, keeping long-time lower-end staffers on poverty wages, and forcing more young people into perpetual debt. With self-serving and short-sighted legislators devoting fewer dollars every year to higher education, the top-heavy trend is untenable.

Some RUSO administrators have nebulous duties and sparse credentials, yet they take in high five-figure or even six-figure salaries. New positions have been created for friends and relatives of prominent patrons. Since it’s difficult to give raises to employees unless they’re across the board, some were promoted to boost their pay. It’s a gambit university officials have long used to reward employees who do an exemplary job - and unfortunately, some who are adept at little except bussing the bums of their superiors.

It would appear Turner wants all his vice presidents to have advanced degrees, and that’s a reasonable goal. NSU and other universities are in the business of selling education; it’s an insult to those who study there to have top-level officials who can’t or won’t advance past a bachelor’s. In fact, all executive officers should have higher degrees; to put it bluntly, anyone working in higher education who can’t get a higher education projects a pretty poor image for his own institution.

Associate and assistant vice presidents, who are presumably moving up through the ranks, should also be working on advanced degrees. And unless he or she has decades of practical experience, anyone who is a director, assistant director, or holds any other position of substantial authority, should have at least a bachelor’s degree. Again, if you won’t buy your own product, what does that say about its quality - and what does it say about you?

The NSU budget sends an especially disturbing message to highly qualified professors; theirs are among the lowest salaries in the state, in stark contrast to administrator pay. Several tenured professors have told TDP they’re beaten-down, unhappy, and just biding their time until retirement - and who can blame them? While almost all of them have master’s degrees, and many have doctorates, administrators with far less education, experience and observable skills are paid much higher salaries. It’s an insult to the professors, and an affront to education.

What can be done about this situation? It starts with our elected state officials, who approve the increasingly skimpy higher education budgets. Then it moves to the regents, who have their own agendas to push, and their own flatterers to reward. Until public outcry reaches such a cacophony that elected officials fear being booted from their lofty perches, the people working in the trenches of higher ed will continue to be marginalized, while the more connected desk-riders who know little, and do even less, will be rewarded again and again. Faculty and staff morale will plummet, the quality of education will slip, the reputations of universities will falter, and ultimately, a degree won’t be worth the price of the parchment it’s printed on.

Story Continues →