FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

University Presidents Are Laughing All the Way to the Bank

by

Is economic inequality growing in American higher education?

A report just issued by the Institute for Policy Studies―The One Percent at State U―indicates that it is. Surveying public universities, the report finds that the 25 highest-paid presidents increased their income by a third between fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2012, bringing their average total compensation to nearly a million dollars each. Also, the number of these chief executives earning over a million dollars in 2012 more than doubled over the previous year. In 2013, the best-paid among them was E. Gordon Gee of Ohio State University, who raked in $6,057,615 from this employment.

The lucrative nature of these positions appears to have had little to do with the intellectual distinction of the universities. For example, in 2013 the second most lavishly-rewarded public university president (paid $1,636,274) headed up Texas A&M University at College Station and the eighth (paid $1,072,121) headed up the University of South Alabama, two institutions that are not usually considered the acme of intellectual achievement. By contrast, the presidents of some of the nation’s most respected public universities―the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of California-Berkeley, UCLA, and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst―received total annual compensation that ranged from $400,664 and $467,699.

Nor is it at all clear that the top income recipients at universities merit their extraordinary compensation. Graham Spanier, the highest-paid public university president in 2012 (Penn State, $2.9 million), was fired from his post for his apparent role in the cover-up of sexual abuse of children by his university’s assistant football coach. E. Gordon Gee, the highest-paid public university president in 2013, resigned his position amid a trustee uproar over his disparaging remarks about Catholics.

Meanwhile, as the incomes of the 25 best-paid public university presidents soared, the livelihoods of their faculty deteriorated. This deterioration resulted largely from the fact that tenured and tenure-track faculty were replaced with adjuncts (part-time instructors, paid by the course) and contingents (temporary faculty). Median pay for adjuncts in the United States is reportedly $2,700 per course, forcing them to cobble together enough courses or jobs to ensure their survival. Many have incomes below the official poverty level and receive food stamps. As for contingents, they face low pay, few if any benefits, and no job security. In recent years―as the income of the 25 best-paid public university presidents grew dramatically―their hiring of adjunct and contingent faculty far outstripped their hiring of regular faculty at their institutions. Consequently, although tenure and tenure-line faculty at these 25 universities outnumbered contingent and part-time faculty prior to the fall of 2009, the situation was reversed by the fall of 2011.

Of course, this change in the working conditions and economic circumstances of college and university faculty is not unusual. In 1969, tenured and tenure-track faculty comprised 78 percent of all instructional staff in higher education. Today that situation has been turned on its head, and the American Association of University Professors estimates that 76 percent of college and university instructors are contingents, adjuncts, and graduate students. Consequently, most college and university teachers are now in an economically marginal status. The plight of the faculty is particularly remarkable at the 25 public universities with the highest-paid presidents, where its growing marginality occurred in the context of soaring incomes for the top administrators.

And the inequality may be even greater at private universities, where a great many more presidents have outlandish incomes. According to the data provided by the Chronicle of Higher Education, there were fourteen times as many private as public university presidents receiving more than a million dollars each in 2011 (the latest year for which statistics seem to be available). Consequently, the enrichment of top administrators, coupled with the shift to adjunct and contingent faculty, means that economic inequality is thriving on private campuses, as well.

Students comprise another university constituency that is faring poorly. The rapidly-rising tuition at public and private institutions has sent student debt climbing to unprecedented levels. In 2012, students owed a staggering $1.2 trillion, an amount that surpassed Americans’ credit card debt. Indeed, it is estimated that, in 2013, 71 percent of college seniors who graduated had student loan debt, with an average of $29,400 per borrower. Meanwhile, university spending on scholarships lagged far behind spending on non-academic administration, such as executive administration, general university administration, legal and fiscal operations, public relations, and development. Between fiscal 2007 and fiscal 2012, the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities reduced spending on scholarships by 55 percent while increasing spending on non-academic administration by 44 percent.

Looked at in the framework of individual campuses, it is a disturbing picture.

From fiscal 2010 to fiscal 2012, Ohio State paid its president a total of $5.9 million. Student debt soared, rising 46 percent from summer 2006 to summer 2011. From fall 2005 to fall 2011, the number of adjunct and contingent faculty increased 62 percent―nearly three times faster than the national average.

In fiscal 2012, Penn State awarded $2.9 million in salary and severance pay to its disgraced president. From fiscal 2006 to fiscal 2012, it provided another $4.8 million in executive compensation, while student debt grew by 49 percent.

From fiscal 2010 to fiscal 2012, the University of Michigan paid its top executive more than $2.6 million. The number of its adjunct and contingent faculty grew by 1,777, or 64 percent, between fall 2005 and fall 2011, and by the summer of 2012 student debt was well above the national average.

Overall, then, higher education seems to be following the general pattern of modern American life―one that favors the wealthy at the expense of everyone else.

Lawrence S. Wittner is professor of history emeritus at SUNY/Albany. His latest book is “Working for Peace and Justice: Memoirs of an Activist Intellectual” (University of Tennessee Press).

More articles by:

Dr. Lawrence Wittner is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany and the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press.)

November 22, 2017
Jonathan Cook
Syria, ‘Experts’ and George Monbiot
William Kaufman
The Great American Sex Panic of 2017
Richard Moser
Young Patriots, Black Panthers and the Rainbow Coalition
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima Darkness
Lee Artz
Cuba Libre, 2017
Mark Weisbrot
Mass Starvation and an Unconstitutional War: US / Saudi Crimes in Yemen
Frank Stricker
Republican Tax Cuts: You’re Right, They’re Not About Economic Growth or Lifting Working-Class Incomes
Edward Hunt
Reconciling With Extremists in Afghanistan
Dave Lindorff
Remembering Media Critic Ed Herman
Nick Pemberton
What to do About Al Franken?
November 21, 2017
Gregory Elich
What is Behind the Military Coup in Zimbabwe?
Louisa Willcox
Rising Grizzly Bear Deaths Raise Red Flag About Delisting
David Macaray
My Encounter With Charles Manson
Patrick Cockburn
The Greatest Threats to the Middle East are Jared Kushner and Mohammed bin Salman
Stephen Corry
OECD Fails to Recognize WWF Conservation Abuses
James Rothenberg
We All Know the Rich Don’t Need Tax Cuts
Elizabeth Keyes
Let There be a Benign Reason For Someone to be Crawling Through My Window at 3AM!
L. Ali Khan
The Merchant of Weapons
Thomas Knapp
How to Stop a Rogue President From Ordering a Nuclear First Strike
Lee Ballinger
Trump v. Marshawn Lynch
Michael Eisenscher
Donald Trump, Congress, and War with North Korea
Tom H. Hastings
Reckless
Franklin Lamb
Will Lebanon’s Economy Be Crippled?
Linn Washington Jr.
Forced Anthem Adherence Antithetical to Justice
Nicolas J S Davies
Why Do Civilians Become Combatants In Wars Against America?
November 20, 2017
T.J. Coles
Doomsday Scenarios: the UK’s Hair-Raising Admissions About the Prospect of Nuclear War and Accident
Peter Linebaugh
On the 800th Anniversary of the Charter of the Forest
Patrick Bond
Zimbabwe Witnessing an Elite Transition as Economic Meltdown Looms
Sheldon Richman
Assertions, Facts and CNN
Ben Debney
Plebiscites: Why Stop at One?
LV Filson
Yemen’s Collective Starvation: Where Money Can’t Buy Food, Water or Medicine
Thomas Knapp
Impeachment Theater, 2017 Edition
Binoy Kampmark
Trump in Asia
Curtis FJ Doebbler
COP23: Truth Without Consequences?
Louisa Willcox
Obesity in Bears: Vital and Beautiful
Deborah James
E-Commerce and the WTO
Ann Garrison
Burundi Defies the Imperial Criminal Court: an Interview with John Philpot
Robert Koehler
Trapped in ‘a Man’s World’
Stephen Cooper
Wiping the Stain of Capital Punishment Clean
Weekend Edition
November 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Thank an Anti-War Veteran
Andrew Levine
What’s Wrong With Bible Thumpers Nowadays?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The CIA’s House of Horrors: the Abominable Dr. Gottlieb
Wendy Wolfson – Ken Levy
Why We Need to Take Animal Cruelty Much More Seriously
Mike Whitney
Brennan and Clapper: Elder Statesmen or Serial Fabricators?
David Rosen
Of Sex Abusers and Sex Offenders
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail