In an article Wednesday explaining how the salaries of the five shiny new deans of the incipient medical school are already costing the university $1.37 million a year*, the Provost explained that the salaries are comparable to those of other medical schools. Isn’t it interesting how the inflation of administrative salaries is tied to what other universities are paying, and lacks any correlation to the cost of living?
Just like Wall Street, universities follow the creed that if you want the best, you have to pay as much as (or more than) the rest. Dean Yoder, at $385,000, makes about $6500 more than MSU’s dean, though I am fairly certain that the cost of living is significantly higher in East Lansing. In fact, you almost have to go to East Lansing to spend the kind of money we’re talking about. (Mt. Pleasant has some fine restaurants, but you just can’t burn through a $1000 in an evening here the way you can in more affluent areas.) I really do wonder how much of our administration’s salaries are spent locally. Ever tried to imagine President Ross and Provost Shapiro chatting while standing in line at Ric’s with full shopping carts?
What really got me to put down my grading pen and put on my social commentary hat (a fedora, by the way, with an obviously phony press pass in the band), though, was a second article which explained that Ross is not alone among university presidents in moonlighting at a for-profit company. Is it possible that—all evidence to the contrary—administrative salaries are not high enough? If Ross, who I’ve always thought of as one of those guys who doesn’t have to buy his suits at Goodwill—if he has to go out and get a second job to make ends meet, then perhaps $350,000 (plus up to $70,000 in bonuses) doesn’t go quite as far as I’ve always assumed.
Of course, the flipside is that, (gasp!) if he has so much time on his hands that he goes fishing for positions like this during his first year as president, maybe the work he is doing here isn’t, in fact, as demanding as the salary would suggest. Even though the position on the Furniture Brands International Board of Directors only involves “four annual meetings,” there must be some work involved between meetings for it to pay close to $50,000 a year.
Now, this may just sound like the bitter grumbling of someone who would count himself lucky to be making $45,000 a year, and to some extent, it is. For the last two years I have taught full time (12 credits/semester) for $24,600 a year (“temporary faculty” are one of those groups whose wage freezes helped the university cut $5.2 million from the budget this year, though no one asked us if we were willing to take one for the team). Unlike President Ross, I have no stipulation in my appointment letter that says I am entitled to a bonus of up to 20% of my salary each year if I perform up to expectations (isn’t that called doing your job?). In fact, one of the conditions of my employment is that I obtain permission from the chair of my department if I decide to take on another job while teaching at CMU. Throughout the summer I work full time at my other job (driving a forklift), which brings my total annual income to about $30,000. Now, I understand that I could have gone to school for something that would have proven more lucrative in the long run, but I made a decision not to do so, and I am happy with it.
What concerns me is the message President Ross’s moonlighting sends. The idea that you can never have too much money is anything but new, but it’s unfortunate when an institution like CMU endorses it with such gusto. It is evident in the seemingly inexorable erosion of the intrinsic “value” of education in favor of its actual financial paybacks. This rift is plainly visible in the ongoing addition to the six-year-old Health Professions Building, while in the aging homes of less glamorous programs (Anspach, Brooks, and Pearce date from the 1960s—not old enough to be historic or charming, but old enough to be obsolete) the basic infrastructure crumbles.
There appears to be no remedy to these imbalances—after all, administrators are appointed by other administrators, and University presidents are appointed by the Board of Trustees, most of whom are moonlighting from their real jobs. My fear though, is that of all the lessons students take away from their time here at CMU, the one that sticks will be that money is success, and that you can never, ever have enough.
* I would like to take the opportunity to point out the glaringly obvious fact that the two male deans make $710,000 between them, while the three female deans make a total of only $660,000—I’m sure there is a reason that has nothing to do with gender—there always is.