Are college/university heads overpaid?

I’ve been swamped with end of fall semester stuff and haven’t posted anything in several weeks. Can you forgive me? This will be my fourth posting.

For a few weeks last fall former UMaine President Robert A. Kennedy was in the news for having been forced to resign from his new post (new as of July 2011) as head of a new board of higher education in the state of Connecticut that gave him responsibility for all Conn. public institutions of higher education save for the Univ. of Connecticut. What forced Kennedy’s resignation was the revelation that he had given some top associates–two of them recruited from UMaine–hefty salary increases even as most Conn. state employees had a pay freeze (as has been the case with nearly all UME System employees, not just faculty, for several years now). Meanwhile disclosure of Kennedy’s financial perks beyond his base $340,000 salary–expensive meals and reimbursement for even short “official” drives, among other things- outraged Conn. legislators and the general public. Kennedy maintained that all of these pay hikes and reimbursements were perfectly legal under his contract, and he apologized for none of them, though he did return at least $20,000 in additional compensation despite its being part of his contract.

On the one hand, lots of other college and university presidents throughout the nation make a good deal more. On the other hand, most of us who went into higher education did not do so in order to enrich ourselves. And those who have become top administrators of major universities with lots of faculty, staff, students, and professional schools have enormous responsibilities that can justify their handsome compensation.  I don’t believe that this was the case in Conn. insofar as the regional colleges and community colleges under Kennedy’s purview were not research centers with law schools or engineering schools or medical schools or dental schools. Moreover, being the on-campus president makes that individual much more burdened with daily pressures not generally part of the job for more distant system administrators like Kennedy. Indeed, as busy as most campus presidents are these days in off-campus fundraising and legislative endeavors, they usually still have a campus home and are visible members of the campus community, including attending various campus events like concerts and sports.

Consequently, on-campus presidents are potentially in the public spotlight 24/7, where those with more “detached” responsibilities rarely are. In his one year in Conn., in my view, Kennedy was very well paid, and then some. In terms of public relations, it’s never a good idea to raise the already hefty salaries of one’s top executives when ordinary employees, many of them who have worked for, in this case, the state of Conn. for years, are receiving no increases at all.

More about this topic in my next blog.

Happy New Year!