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Are generous raises for Georgia college presidents defensible or necessary?

The Board of Regents has approved raises for most of the college and university presidents within the University System of Georgia.

University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby defended the increases, which push the total compensation for two presidents to more than a million dollars. Huckaby said the raises were necessary to attract and retain college leaders in a competitive marketplace.

Public college presidents in Georgia have long complained they are losing top faculty to better endowed private colleges, especially in science, math and engineering. It's interesting presidents now are the ones getting the big pay hikes.

As the AJC reported:

The increases come a month after the Regents increased tuition for the upcoming school year between 2.5 percent and 9 percent for students at all 30 of the system’s campuses.

Here are the top 10 highest compensated USG presidents for the upcoming fiscal year.

  1. Bud Peterson, Georgia Tech, $1.09 million

  2. Mark Becker, Georgia State, $1.07 million

  3. Jere Morehead, UGA, $811,353

  4. Brooks Keel, Georgia Southern, $397,304

  5. Dan Papp, Kennesaw State, $352,991

  6. Kyle Marrero, University of West Georgia, $316,369

  7. Chris Markwood, Columbus State, $312,800

  8. Arthur Dunning, Albany State, $303,156

  9. Christopher Blake, Middle Georgia State, $294,880

  10. Steve Dorman, Georgia College and State, $294,00

Gary Kline, a professor of political science at Georgia Southwestern State University, shared a letter he wrote to the Board of Regents, the chancellor  and the campus presidents.

By Gary Kline

This is certainly not the first time I have seen the Board of Regents and Chancellor make a controversial announcement just days after the end of the spring term, as USG faculty and committees disperse for the summer. The timing is so blatantly and politically strategic, though, that it is hard for faculty and staff to miss your intent.

Clearly, you hope that by the time fall term rolls around the anger your decision has generated will have dissipated. But the world has changed, and social media renders this disingenuous strategy less effective today.

A few days ago we heard University System presidents can expect generous salary increases in the upcoming year. These are people who are already well-compensated, receiving either hundreds of thousands of dollars or even more than a million each.

According to reports, one will get a $500,000 increase and another $320,000 – on top of their current salaries. These presidents also enjoy living allowances – for homes, cars, and entertainment.

Unfortunately, the public sees such news and thinks that all of us in higher education are well-paid, which is far from the truth. At my institution, Georgia Southwestern State University, faculty-staff salaries have scarcely budged in the past 10 years.

Today, my monthly take-home pay is within a few dollars of what it was in 2005. While presidents are getting many thousands of dollars more this year, our dean has been given $21,000 to distribute among approximately 50 people in Arts and Sciences. That works out to an average of $420 per person this year, or about $25 per month in actual take-home pay.

I am a full professor with 25 years of service to GSW and to the state of Georgia, and my total annual remuneration is only about 14 percent of what one of these presidents will receive as his salary increase this year!

My annual pay is a much, much smaller fraction of his total salary package. I can’t help but wonder how far these presidential salary increases would go to remedy some the inequities we find below the presidents.

Apparently, the Board of Regents and the Chancellor have no awareness of the deleterious effects that years of salary stagnation have had on the morale of USG faculty and staff. Apparently, too, you have no sense of fundamental fairness.

Dedicated, hard-working people in the USG with specialized skills and advanced degrees are struggling to pay mortgages and doctor bills. These are the people engaged in the actual mission of the universities and colleges – that of educating our students. However, you act as if we are here merely to serve your highly paid administrators.

Administrators are supposed to be facilitating the work of the teachers, helping us to create an environment conducive to learning and student success. Instead, your decisions about funding priorities suggest that you think we are just employees working for you rather than for the citizens and students of our state. The “tail is wagging the dog.”

To be blunt: those of us in the trenches of higher education find that your strategically timed announcement manifests an appalling callousness and a shocking affront to both the faculty-staff of the USG and to the citizens of Georgia who depend on you to make wise decisions about how to allocate state educational funds.

Moreover, you have just announced tuition increases of between 2.5 and 9 percent for Georgia’s students, depending on the institution. Leaving aside my role as an educator, as a citizen and taxpayer of the state I feel betrayed by your decision.

It seems like an act of financial misconduct to raise tuition and then turn around and give scarce funds to the best paid people in the system rather than using it in ways that might enhance teacher morale and quality of instruction or student access to higher education. Did not the governor just commit to expand access to Georgia students? Does your decision in any way promote that goal?

Presidents of the USG institutions should reject their salary increases. There, I’ve said it.  Most of you presidents know how bad things have become for faculty-staff on your campuses over the past decade, being pushed constantly to work harder as we also tightened our financial belts and saw our purchasing power drop dramatically. The stark gap that has developed between highly compensated administrators and rank and file teachers is unhealthy and unfair.

Georgia will suffer over the long run for such misguided policies. We cannot hope to attract or hold on to the best faculty in such a hostile and inequitable climate, and higher education in the state will be (already has been) eroded.

I would therefore suggest to members of the Board of Regents and the Chancellor that you search your hearts and consciences; re-think your priorities. What policies would truly foster a climate favorable to faculty-staff morale and student access and learning in the USG? Large salary increases for the presidents? Or some long overdue rewards for faculty-staff who have endured years of hard work with only pats on their backs to compensate them?

Do the right thing – for the state, for the students, and for all of the USG personnel.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.