HIGHER education in the United States has become big business. Unfortunately, attitudes common to CEOs and corporate boards of directors are all too common behind the ivied walls of America's public seats of advanced learning as well.
This week, the Chronicle of Higher Education released its annual report on what the presidents of public two- and four-year colleges were paid in salary and other perks during the 2008-2009 academic year. The evidence suggests that while some academic leaders understand the depth and seriousness of the current recession, others still don't get it.
Overall, public college presidents in the United States were paid 2.3 percent more last year (1.1 percent when adjusted for inflation) than they received the previous year. That's down from the 7.6 percent increase they got in 2007-2008. College presidents and their boards believe they are doing good. Look at the tiny raises, they're saying. Aren't we being fiscally responsible?
Indeed, the Chronicle survey shows that about a third of the college presidents surveyed didn't get a raise last year, and one in 10 actually received lower total compensation than he or she had the year before. Of course, that means two-thirds got raises - many more generous than 2.3 percent - despite a terrible economy that has meant state funding cutbacks, tuition hikes, less financial aid for students, pay cuts for faculty and staff, and job losses in many parts of the country.
Some college presidents have given money back to their universities.
In Ohio, public college budgets so far have fared better than in some other states. Gordon Gee, president of Ohio State University was paid nearly $1.6 million, making him the highest-paid public college president in the land. Last year, Mr. Gee donated more than $300,000 in bonus money to help fund a scholarship, and this year paid a music student's way out of his own pocket.
Among others who have rejected or given money back are Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan, and James Ramsey, president of the University of Louisville. They are all to be commended, but they shouldn't be a rarity. With presidential compensation packages in 2007-2008 averaging more than $426,000, any increase is going to be viewed as excessive by students, parents, faculty, and staff struggling to pay their bills.
Perhaps the two-thirds of public college presidents who don't understand that need to go back to school.