We begin with two items which, to a certain extent, are interrelated.
The first item is apocryphal:
Back in 1930, when Babe Ruth was asked to comment about the fact that he had earned more money in the previous year than President Herbert Hoover -- $80,000 for the Bambino vs $75,000 for the president -- the Yankee slugger purportedly responded, "Well, I had a better year." (In 1929, Ruth hit .345, with 46 homers, 154 RBIs and a .430 on base percentage. Hoover, on the other hand, presided over the Great Crash . . .)
The second item is a certifiable fact.
In Canada recently, faculty members teamed up in groups of four to apply for an advertised position as president of the University of Alberta, which pays in the neighborhood of 400,000 Canadian dollars (about $368,500). The faculty groups claimed that it was a great deal: imagine getting four times the amount of work for the price of one! Without question, the quartets' stunt had precisely two chances of succeeding: absolutely none and even less than that. Even as tempting as getting four-university-presidents-for-the-price-of-one might seem, it would be akin to academic polygamy.
And yet, behind their dido lay a serious point. As they explained, "by job-sharing this position, we would be able to do a better job than any one person could do―and the salary is certainly ample enough to meet the needs of all four of us." A leader of their collective action told a reporter that it was designed to highlight "the disparity between the recent growth of university administration―both in terms of numbers of administrators and in terms of their salaries―and their rhetoric of austerity, which has resulted in program cuts, loss of tenure-track jobs, increasing numbers of poorly-paid, insecure sessionals [adjuncts], and skyrocketing tuition."
The same thing is happening here in America: universities are crying "austerity," cutting budgets and programs and greatly increasing the number of adjunct instructors while lavishing incredible salaries -- and incredible raises -- on their presidents, chancellors and administrators. Need proof? In 2012-13 nine public university presidents earned more than $1 million for their services -- more than double the number from the previous year. (The best-paid, Ohio State's E. Gordon Gee, earned a whopping $6,057,615 . . . plus lavish expenses.) According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, University of Florida President Bernie Machen earned $834,562 in fiscal year 2012. That number was enough to make Machen the nation’s ninth-highest-paid public university president. (On campus, he falls far behind UF men’s basketball coach Billy Donovan, whose salary is $3.3 million, according to Forbes and football coach Will Muscamp, who last year was paid precisely $2,928,971.)
Even at Broward College where my wife has been an adjunct instructor for more than half a decade, their president, J. David Armstrong, earns $454,900 -- at a time when Anna's program is in such dire financial straits that she has to use our home Xerox machine if she wants copies for her students. And, the Broward School System, which is trying to get the public to approve an $800 million bond referendum for building and repairing schools, broken air conditioners, leaky roofs, etc, just this week announced that it had given three administrators -- the chief human resources officer, the director of employee and labor relations and the director of early learning and school readiness -- whopping 22.5% pay raises. District wide, there are nearly 400 employees -- less than half of whom are principals -- who make salaries well into six figures. By comparison, the average teacher salary is just $41,784.
Nationwide, of all college instructors and professors, a whopping 76%, or over 1 million, teach part time. Using adjuncts -- hourly employees who receive no benefits -- is certainly cheaper. A full time professor's salary can average from $72,000 a year up to $160,000; adjuncts, on the other hand, average $25,000 to $27,000 a year. Together, my wife and I, who between us have 6 degrees and more than 20 years college-level teaching experience, make less in one year than the president of Broward College makes in a single month and about the same as the president of the University of Florida makes in two weeks.
So what precisely is it that these college and university presidents do that makes them worth so much in salary, benefits and perks? The same thing that college and university coaches do . . . bring in the bucks. Running a winning football or basketball program can put tens of millions of dollars into a university's coffers through television contracts and both season ticket and ancillary sales. That translates into enormous salaries for the coach and his or her staff. Likewise, what causes university presidents and their team of high-ranking administrators to be paid so much is that they are fundraisers par excellence. According to Lawrence S. Wittner, Professor of History Emeritus at SUNY/Albany, "[University] boards of trustees are often less concerned about education than about money; they are dazzled by administrators who rake in large financial contributions. Against the backdrop of drastically-reduced public funding for universities, attracting donations from the wealthy and their corporations―plus, of course, raising tuition and reducing faculty salaries―is considered particularly desirable behavior in a modern university administrator." (By the way, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Professor Wittner's screamingly funny satiric novel What's Going on at UAardvark?)
If we are really, truly concerned about the future of education -- at all levels -- in America -- we have to totally rethink and restructure our priorities. Professors and teachers are the real front-line soldiers; presidents, coaches and administrators are the rear echelon. Unquestionably, they are essential to academic institutions . . . but not as much as those who teach, inspire and impart. For a college president or coach to make 20 or 30 times the salary of a full professor is absolutely unconscionable. That some universities have more administrators than professors makes absolutely no sense.
Sadly, the reality is that it pays to administrate.
Over the past few decades, we have bcome increasingly incapable of distinguishing between accomplishment and accoutrement -- between quality and quantity. Flashy mediocrity often pays far better than steady professionalism.
Oh how the times have changed.
Want proof? Let's go back to item number one . . .
Back in 1930, Babe Ruth, with his .346 average, 46 home runs and 154 RBIs, made $80,000 -- 6.25% more than the President of the United States. In 2014, San Francisco Giant (and Former Miami Marlin) second baseman Dan Uggla, who as of today is hitting .152 with 2 homers and a mere 10 RBIs is making $13,146,942 -- 3,300% more than than the current president of the United States. And even for those who not are Obama fans, can you honestly say that Dan Uggla is having a better year?
Can you imagine how much the Babe would be making?
©2014 Kurt F. Stone