January 11, 2007

How'bout this for a Change: Pain & Pleasure as a Two-way Street

Students and Faculty Asking for Reason to Prevail

Recently, the New York Times published an article about the clashes taking place in many higher-ed institutions between those running them and those who are teaching. The students are always part of the mix, since they suffer most of the effects of bad policy. It's rather common nowadays that college presidents make 3-4 times more than the President of the United States. This doesn't sit well with students--who have to pay a fortune to attend--and faculty that feels is underpaid and under-appreciated. Throw in some free speech issues and you have a very volatile mix, as it is the case at Pace University.

I think an obscenely high salary may be justified when there's a "finder's fee" clause in the contract. That is, if the president of a college brings in donations, increases the endowment fund, etc, he could get a 5% finder's fee. Otherwise, he should be compensated as much as the highest faculty member of that institution. The extra perks and the honor of being at the top of the pyramid and of facilitating Education should be more than enough for good qualified people to be attracted to such positions.

Some may say, this is a free market system, so higher-ed institutions have to compete for talent, and therefore they have to offer high salaries. This is not entirely true. Yes, there's competition, but it's not a free market approach. The board of directors, for the most part, are all of the same mind-frame and of same socio-economic class. They've bought into the culture of excesses much like Wall Street. I'm willing to bet that if a college offered reasonable compensation, say $100,000 a year plus benefits, there would be many qualified & eager persons to serve. Such people are already serving as faculty and/or staff. It's time to shed this top-heavy bureaucracy and the myth that supports it.

If a president can raise lots of money for his college, the finder's fee will compensate him generously. I don't think there would be a shortage of highly-qualified persons for the job. Why, this marketplace idea would tie compensation to performance, unlike the present system whereas a president can make millions during his tenure without the Board of Trustees demanding that he meets the stated strategic goals of the university. Not to mention, that many talk about responsibility without any serious consequence, and while a failed president can afford to retire after a few years of work, thousands of students struggle to stay in school because of the high costs.

How can these high salaries are justified when faculty and staff get no pay increases or below the inflation rate? I reckon that some $500,000 a year (cut from an obscenely high salary) can be used for hiring a couple extra faculty [new exciting courses, less class crowding, etc], or give a dozen students some serious financial aid. Isn't better to increase the opportunities for those who are eager & able but can't afford the high cost of education than to buy another yacht for a college president?

A president's salary is only a fraction of the total budget but there has to be some measure of reality here. In a land of starving people where sacrifice is one way street, the king can't lead an opulent, far-removed existence. Unless, he doesn't really care about his ..subjects, in which case the latter have a job to do!

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