Administrators’ pay increases not comparing ‘apples to apples’

Obviously, numbers are not the most delightful aspect of being a journalist. I can deal with them easily, but it’s not my favorite part of the job! Still, I pitched this story while perusing the archives of Central Michigan Life. My predecessors laid out the salaries of the top 10 earners on staff. My thought process went like this: Who are those individuals now? And how much more are those top people earning compared to five years ago? In print, that involved a side-by-side list of those individuals. There was a side-by-side story contrasting those figures to tuition increases in the same period of time. (One administrator saw a 50 percent increases in salary compared to their predecessor, while tuition increased more than 200 percent in the same period.)

See the original version of this story here.

Despite recent media attention for administrative pay increases, Central Michigan University administrators say they are just staying competitive in the job market.

While administrative pay has seen an increase since 2005 at CMU, comparing the salary of former University President Michael Rao to University President George Ross is not fair, said David Burdette, vice president of Finance and Administrative Services.

“It’s not apples to apples,” he said.

Reportedly, Rao’s base salary was $232,760 in 2005. Ross’ base salary as president in 2010 was $350,000 — a 50-percent increase. Rao’s salary when he left CMU in 2009 was $302,557.

When Ross was previously employed in 2005 by the university in Burdette’s position, he made $159,529, as previously reported. In 2009, Burdette earned $209,090 — a 31 percent increase, according to the 2009 faculty salary list.

Thomas Storch, previous university provost, had a base salary of $164,430, according to previous reports. As interim provost, Gary Shapiro, earned $177,391, according to the faculty salary list. When he was promoted to provost in 2010, his salary became $253,000 — a 43 percent increase, as reported by CM Life.

With turnover, Burdette said the initial offer to a new employee needs to remain competitive, and the requirements for the position may have changed from one employee to the next.

Colbrin Wright, assistant professor of finance and law and a member of the Faculty Association, said the whole market needs to be examined when watching the trend of increasing salaries.

“It’s not so much about inflation or CMU,” Wright said. “This is market-based.”

Robert Martin, associate vice provost of Faculty and Personnel Services, said initial compensation offers to new faculty members are very competitive.

“When we are hiring somebody brand new, somebody who hasn’t worked for the university before, we would take stock of the discipline and standard national survey data, for faculty at the particular rank we would be hiring,” Martin said.

Burdette said the same process applies when hiring administrators. The president approves all salaries for senior officers after working with Human Resources to determine salary and benefits packages.

“I took Dr. Ross’s place … (and the) market affected my salary,” Burdette said. “When I had my (salary) conversation with Dr. Rao, I had no idea what (Ross) was earning.”

The university is dependent on the College and University Personnel Association, Martin said, because it publishes salary data for universities annually. He said the university compares itself with other public universities with overall budget size and student population similar to CMU’s.

“The combination of salary plus the benefit-package compensation is going to be as attractive as we can make it,” he said.

Barrie Wilkes, associate vice president of financial services and reporting and controller, said the university needs to remain competitive with Western Michigan University and other schools across the country.

“We’re not always successful,” Wilkes said. “Sometimes people do turn us down due to salary and benefit and compensation, so we have to try really hard.”

Burdette said no senior officers have volunteered to forgo their salaries or take cuts in light of Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed budget. Up to 23.3 percent of state funds, or about $19 million, could be lost upon legislative approval.

Steve Smith, director of public relations, said administrative jobs are more demanding than most positions.

“They don’t just show up at 8 a.m. and go home at 5 (p.m.),” Smith said. “They have irregular, demanding schedules that require much more commitment. They’re here to lead the university. It’s not in their contract that they have to do that, it’s an understanding.”

With turnover, the university has not considered reducing the base salary offered to new employees.

“I don’t know that we’ve ever said, ‘We’ve got a budget cut, let’s reduce (salary offers),’” Martin said. “We’re cognizant always of the marketplace. Over time, salaries go up.”

Burdette said while the university does not implement pay cuts, several groups have taken pay freezes, including senior officers.

Presidential benefits

Ross’ salary is reviewed annually by the CMU Board of Trustees.

According to his contract, Ross is provided with a university-funded home with all housekeeping, utility and telephone costs provided for. His salary may be increased, but not decreased. He is allowed $10,000 annually to furnish the home, but anything purchased with that money becomes university property. The university also provides a car for Ross and is responsible for fuel, repair and insurance of that vehicle.

CMU also is responsible for social club dues “pertinent to the position of president and benefit CMU,” but Ross is responsible for taxes on those dues.

Ross’ salary is the second highest on campus. College of Medicine Founding Dean Dr. Ernest Yoder earns $385,000.

Burdette said Ross’ salary is not out of the ordinary.

Martin said the rationale for providing the president with a home and transportation is because “the president is the institutional face to the world.”

“The president can invite officials to a residence that properly reflects the institution’s interests,” he said. “For a fact, the residence afforded to the president of CMU is a very modest residence by comparison. Driving around in a Chrysler is a very modest portion of compensation for CMU’s president.”

In an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, president emeritus and university professor of public service at George Washington University, said many factors contribute to a president’s salary and benefits: the size of the institution, overall experience of the president, if a school is private or public, performance in office and the market.

“The situation with presidential salaries and the compensation of senior administrative staff is similarly influenced by ‘exit options,’” Trachtenberg said in the article. “The CFO of a university could also work in private industry. The vice president of medical affairs could run a major city hospital or research institution.”

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