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Published: Sunday, 8/22/2004

On the 'job' at BGSU

GIVE Bowling Green State University an "A" for finding an imaginative if inappropriate way around tough economic times and a hiring freeze to supplement the income of a president who already makes $286,000 a year. Hire his wife.

BGSU has provided "employment" to Paula Whetsel-Ribeau, wife of university president Sidney Ribeau, giving her the title of interim assistant to the vice president for student affairs. It's a mouthful of a title that's tough to digest, but so is the pay: $66,000 a year for what amounts to vaguely defined duties that include escorting her husband to university functions and hosting others.

For his part, Dr. Ribeau is generally considered to have done a fine job during his nine years on campus, and he has been well rewarded for it. His salary makes him one of the better compensated public university presidents in Ohio. In fact, when his board of trustees awarded him another raise last year, he donated it to scholarships and university initiatives important to him.

That's what makes this newest maneuver so puzzling.

The university's hiring freeze evidently allows for "selective" hires based on need. Ed Whipple, BGSU's vice president for student affairs and nominally Ms. Whetsel-Ribeau's new "boss," says she will be responsible for developing diversity training for the university staff.

A number of other duties are spelled out in the new job's "position summary," but most are general in nature and seem written specifically for her.

One which is not unclear: She will represent the university and/or her husband at BGSU fund-raising and public relations events.

But isn't that what spouses of university presidents traditionally do? Such responsibilities go with the territory, and the taxpayers shouldn't have to pay separate salaries to both partners in the First Couple.

Defenders of the arrangement note that there is precedent at BGSU. They point out that Ruth Olscamp, wife of former President Paul Olscamp, was on the university payroll during her husband's tenure.

But Mrs. Olscamp was a member of the faculty, an assistant professor of communications disorders, and winner of BGSU's Master Teacher award in 1991. She was paid as an accomplished professional in her field, not a university hostess.

BGSU is not alone in its generosity. Ohio University's new president makes $275,000 a year, and his wife will get an additional $25,000 for entertaining on the university's behalf.

At a time when students at Ohio's public universities, including Bowling Green, are hit with annual tuition increases that outstrip the cost of living, and at a time when the university presidents are pleading poverty in Columbus, their message loses some of its clout with these unseemly tactics.



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