A modest proposal: UNC chancellors, return those pay raises


By Dr. Michael C. Behrent - Appalachian State University



Something surprising has happened in Raleigh: Republicans have suddenly become spendthrifts. And they’re even spending money on education, to boot.

Of course, there is a catch: the money in question is going overwhelmingly to the wealthy. When it comes to education, the Republicans are following their national playbook: they’re showering the rich with gold, while keeping the middle class and the poor in a rut.

So maybe what happened on Friday in Raleigh isn’t so that surprising after all. As Jane Stancill of Raleigh’s News & Observer reported, last Friday, the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors (all 32 members of which were appointed by the Republican legislature) voted to approve salary increases ranging from 8% to 19% for twelve of the system’s chancellors (who run individual campuses).

Chancellors are already among the highest paid employees at their universities (though they can’t, of course, keep up with the coaches: even at Appalachian State, the football coach now receives a base salary of $400,000). Thanks to Friday’s decision, Randy Woodson,

N.C. State’s chancellor, will earn a base salary of $590,000, a 13% raise (or $70,000). Carol Folt, UNC Chapel Hill’s chancellor, was given a pay hike of 9.6% (or $50,000), bringing her base pay up to $570,000.

Professors should actually be thankful for the Board of Governors’ decision. Many students and their families seem to be under the impression that those stiff tuition increases—35.8% (or $1,759), according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities—they’ve experienced in recent years go to lavish faculty salaries. In fact, faculty salaries have been stagnant since 2008, while the legislature has slashed funding and university administrators increasingly hired poorly paid and disposable contingent faculty (commonly known as “adjuncts”) to teach students—de-professionalizing, in the process, the entire academic profession.

But at a time when few middle class families are seeing significant pay raises, an 8% to 19% pay increase is hard to ignore. So thank you, Board of Governors, for this teaching moment: you’ve given North Carolinians a much better understanding of where their tuition money goes, and where your “educational” priorities lie.

Of course, the biggest prize of all went to Margaret Spellings, the UNC President designate, who will be starting next year with a base salary of $775,000. This is $125,000 more than her predecessor, Tom Ross, who was memorably fired by the former Board of Governors chairman John Fennebresque for being a “wonderful president” with “a fantastic work ethic” and “perfect integrity.” Spellings is apparently also entitled to bonuses if she meets unspecified “performance goals.” She shouldn’t have much trouble: who understands better than a champion of “No Child Left Behind” that metrics are first and foremost meant to be manipulated?

Chancellors’ and presidents’ salaries are, of course, only part of the much larger problem of the massive expansion of administrative positions on university campuses across the country. People like Margaret Spellings and her ideological compadres have for years been encouraging universities to take inspiration from corporate management techniques. But a funny thing happened on the way to the corporate university: it was discovered that to impose business-style efficiency on universities, a vast cadre of administrators was needed. According to a study of federal figures by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, the number of non-academic administrative and professional employees in American higher education has more than doubled in the last 25 years: that’s a total of 517,636 administrators and professional employees, or an average of 87 added every working day. Friday’s decision is just another step in what Benjamin Ginsburg has called the “all administrative university.” After all, isn’t the reason you pay your tax and tuition dollars — to support the plush salaries of “vice chancellors” and “associate provosts” dedicated not to teaching and research but to “assessment,” “quality enhancement,” “branding” and “strategic planning”?

Seriously, though: as contemptuous as the Board of Governors’ decision is of faculty and students everywhere, chancellors have options. Like a handful of rare but inspiring university leaders across the country, they can resist administrative bloat and academic inequality by simply refusing the new salary hikes. Consider the precedents:

  • In 2014, Raymond Burse, the president of Kentucky State University, gave up $90,000 of his nearly $350,000 salary so that his university’s lowest paid workers could earn a living wage.
  • This year, President Geoffrey Mearns of Northern Kentucky University instructed his campus’ Board of Regents to donate the $25,000 bonus he receives annually to a foundation providing scholarships for first-generation students.
  • Also this year, the administrators in charge of several public universities in Kansas—Kansas University, Kansas State, Wichita State, Pittsburg State and Fort Hays State—announced they would either refuse raises they had been offered or give the monies to their schools. Pittsburg State President Steve Scott stated: “We’ve got some challenges ahead of us, financially…It just didn’t feel right for me to put in place a salary increase for myself without first taking care of the people I work with.”

These university leaders set an example UNC chancellors should follow: they should renounce the Board of Governors pay increase. They should make it clear that they cannot be bought. And they should openly declare that a vibrant system of higher public education means investing in faculty, staff, and students. It does not mean handsome rewarding the agents entrusted with dismantling it.

Dr. Michael C. Behrent is an Associate Professor in the Department of History at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC.

By Dr. Michael C. Behrent

Appalachian State University

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