Fair employee compensation in a climate of administrative bloat

Anyone who doubts that U.S. higher education is increasingly based on corporate values need look no further than the compensation packages being offered to university administrators. And these dizzyingly high salaries and VIP perks aren’t only a feature of elite institutions, but are also becoming a fact of life at affordable regional universities like Western Michigan University. With the WMU-AAUP in the thick of negotiations over faculty salary and benefits, and after a year of sacrifices by WMU employees, this is surely a good time to look at what WMU thinks is a reasonable compensation to offer administrators.

According to documents the WMU-AAUP obtained from WMU by FOIA (after being required by WMU to pay a fee), we learned that:

  • the President, in addition to receiving a $450,000 salary, also has housing (and house maintenance and housekeeping) and car paid for, as well as club memberships, e.g., The Park Club and the Kalamazoo Country club, if he wishes. He is also provided an additional $50,000 per fiscal year as an “executive retirement benefit,” and up to $10,000 per year reimbursement “to purchase life insurance to cover the costs of health insurance coverage for his spouse in the event of the President’s death.”
  • the Vice President of Marketing, with a $230,000 salary, was offered a $12, 000 “bonus” simply for signing his contract. In addition, he receives a $625 monthly automobile allowance, club memberships, and was offered up to $10,000 for moving expenses.
  • the head of legal counsel takes in a $175, 000 yearly salary and a $625 monthly automobile allowance. This position is only one of several WMU in-house lawyers (and is in addition to what WMU is now paying a private law firm)
  • the Provost, who earns $315,000 annually, receives a $625 monthly automobile allowance, club memberships, and was offered up to $10,000 for moving expenses

In decades past, university administrators were often primarily professors, individuals with long service as faculty members who often remained rooted in, and primarily motivated by, academic values and concerns. As university administration has become more professionalized over the years, presidents, provosts, deans, and myriad others may have had relatively little experience with students or research, or with the critical dynamics of shared governance. Instead, such individuals are often hired for their willingness and potential to “manage” people, as well as campus and public opinion. Whatever the backgrounds and motivations of particular contemporary university administrators, many are extravagantly compensated.

Over the years, many faculty members, staff employees, and students have become accustomed to accepting the rock-star salaries of elite administrators. We may even have learned to make jokes about it. But when we watch our university happily hand administrators the sun, moon, and keys to the kingdom, at the very moment they’re telling WMU employees that we’re too expensive — sometimes even suggesting that we’re lazy or greedy— the time for humor has ended. Western Michigan University shows us how much it values its administrators with every paycheck and perk it provides to them. Just so, the employee compensation it now agrees to at the negotiation table will be the clearest possible expression of what WMU thinks the rest of us are worth as well, not to mention how much WMU values its core academic mission.

To show your support for fair pay, and the dignity and worth of the WMU employees who make WMU possible, join our outdoor rally on Wednesday morning, August 18th at Montague House, 814 Oakland Drive. We’ll convene at 9:30. Please wear red if you’ve got it, and bring friends and family. Let’s celebrate and support our university, our students, our negotiation process, and one another.

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