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Is Georgia overpaying its college presidents while underpaying faculty?

Generous raises to Georgia public college presidents come at a time when tuition is rising and professors are lamenting yet another round of measly raises.

The leader of the state's public college system defended the raises, saying high administrative salaries are essential to keep top talent. According to the AJC's higher ed reporter Janel Davis:

The outcry was instant last month when two state college presidents received pay raises that pushed their total compensation over $1 million a year. Critics accused college administrators of being tone deaf in a time of rising college costs, increasing student loan debt and almost stagnant wages for faculty and staff. There were even calls for the presidents to return some, if not all, of their pay increases.

Despite the outcry for financial restraint, the state's university leaders say the payments are necessary in a higher education industry that has come to resemble corporate America.

Like treasured corporate employees, underpay your college presidents and you're almost certain to lose them, education officials say. That was the concern that fueled the increases for Presidents Bud Peterson at Georgia Tech and Mark Becker at Georgia State, who were earning less than the leaders of comparable schools.

Because higher education in general is becoming so complex and difficult, there is a market for very successful presidents, University System Chancellor Hank Huckaby told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"If you look at the three top presidents, particularly at Georgia Tech and Georgia State, it is market-driven. These recommended salary increases, which the board and their respective foundations supported, is in response to the market," he said.

A Georgia Southwestern State University political science professor shared a letter he wrote to the interim president of his university about the stagnant salaries of faculty and the message conveyed when administrators are rewarded and professors shortchanged.

Gary Kline has had a long and impressive tenure with GSW; he has been the chair of history and political science, chair of the Steering Committee and director for the university's Strategic Self-Study for the college's successful 2002 SACS review; teacher of the year; first GSW faculty member to be the Regents Distinguished Professor for Teaching and Learning and first faculty member at GSW to be elected chair of the Faculty Senate.

To me, Kline seems to be the kind of faculty member a college would want to keep. As a reporter, I have interviewed a lot of talented college professors over the years who eventually left the state of Georgia for better positions elsewhere.

Have the Regents looked at who is leaving and why? Faculty members are the heart and soul of a university, and I wonder if Georgia is doing enough to keep top professors here. What do you think?

Here is Kline's letter to Georgia Southwestern State University interim president, Charles Patterson.

Dear Dr. Patterson,

It is with great reluctance that I once again sign this annual contract, which designates the exact same salary for me that I received last year. Over the past 10 years, in fact, every contract has been either the same or with increments so laughably small that it made virtually no difference to my monthly income. It appears the Chancellor and the Board of Regents have decided that only top administrators are worthy of pay raises.

Faculty and staff members are treated as if we are interchangeable, expendable, and insignificant. After 25 years of hard work, loyalty, and dedicated service to Georgia Southwestern and to the students and citizens of Georgia, I find myself deeply resentful of the way faculty and staff are being treated. To put it plainly, I am insulted.

I am saying what other faculty members are feeling, but may be too vulnerable to express openly. Morale at Georgia Southwestern (and I would venture to guess across the University System of Georgia) is lower than I have seen it since I arrived on this campus in 1990. Only the top administrators of the USG appear to be oblivious to this fact; or (worse) they don’t care.

Frankly, I think the people of Georgia should also be outraged. Tuition costs have risen steadily, year by year, increasing the burden of debt on our students and their families. However, I want the students and taxpayers to know their costs are not climbing due to salary growth of the faculty and staff of these institutions of higher education.

If they want to understand the priorities of our decision-makers and who is absorbing their tuition increases and taxes, they need to look at the Chancellor’s Office and the top administrators, a number of whom are receiving salaries significantly larger than that of the President of the United Stated of America.

Are our students alright with this? Are their parents who are struggling to help them pay for college satisfied with this situation?  (I know because I have been there.) Do taxpayers of Georgia believe the teachers and staff (those who actually interact with the students) don’t need to be fairly rewarded so long as the top administrators are lavishly compensated?

Do the Governor, legislators, and USG decision-makers believe higher education can be run competently by administrators alone, without a qualified faculty and staff who are not demoralized by many years of unrewarded sacrifices?

Will the students of Georgia have access to a quality of education that prepares them for global competition? Georgia is at a crossroad: will we treat higher education like a Wall Street hedge fund and teachers and staff like interchangeable cogs in a machine; or will we fairly distribute the costs and benefits of education so that everyone is treated with respect and dignity?

I sign this contract because I must,

Gary Kline, Ph.D.

Professor of Political Science



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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.