In a recent editorial, the Daily requested that University faculty and staff accept wage and salary freezes in order to curb tuition increases and improve undergraduate education (The real cost of pay raises, 01/07/2010).

With all due respect, Daily editorial board, you can pry my 3.4-percent raise from my cold, dead hands.

And you can expect the same attitude from all the custodians, food service employees, librarians, lecturers and landscapers if you want them to hand back their hard fought wage gains. Fine, so that’s overdramatic, but the editorial’s naïveté bothered me on several levels.

First, it asserted that salaries played a major role in the spiraling tuition costs. Then, citing a December University report, the editorial board lauded the leadership roles of 19 senior administrators who are voluntarily forgoing merit pay increases this year. They then implored other employees to follow the example of our selfless leadership.

But in their hurry to swallow a University press release that highlighted deans and administrators refusing merit raises, the intrepid researchers on the editorial board forgot to, well, do some research.

If they’d actually bothered to do some simple digging in the Faculty and Staff Salary record – which the Daily ironically provides access to on its website — staffers would have uncovered a larger pattern of generous salary increases for major university administrators that easily outstripped other employee compensation increases over the last decade.

Let’s start at the top. In 1997, then-University President Lee Bollinger earned $275,000 in base salary. In 2008, current President Mary Sue Coleman earned $553,500. That’s a total raise of 101.3 percent. During that same time frame, the provost’s salary has increased from $230,000 to $366,000, an increase of 59 percent. Finally, the LSA dean’s base pay has increased by 88.4 percent, from $207,000 to $390,000.

In contrast, GSI salaries increased roughly 40 percent from 1997-2008. Other unionized employees had similar or smaller raises during that time, as did most non-unionized staff, though exact numbers are more difficult to calculate in those cases.

During that same time period, in-state tuition rose 93.3 percent. Do you notice how top administrative salary increases tended to be a lot closer to the tuition increase than other employee’s salaries? And these numbers don’t include goodies like deferred compensation, housing, car allowances and the like, which pushed Coleman’s total compensation package to nearly $760,196 last year, according to the Daily. Finally, notice how the three positions I cite draw all their compensation from tuition and state funding. I haven’t even mentioned the 47-percent raise the new athletic director will get this year.

In addition, over the last year benefit cuts have affected most employees, who have little choice in the matter. All non-unionized and some unionized employees have been forced to increase their contribution to their health insurance premiums. I suppose the Daily could be forgiven for not praising their sacrifices, because a bunch of librarians, custodians and IT people don’t contribute to undergraduate education, right? That is, they don’t matter unless you care about finding materials for a research paper, having your dorm bathroom kept clean and keeping your wireless network working.

Administrators have also increased their health care contributions as well, but paying 30 percent of the roughly $7,200 annual family health care premium hits a custodian earning around $29,000 a year much harder than it hits LSA Dean Terrence McDonald’s $390,000 salary. (For the record, McDonald got a $63,000 raise in 2008, while some custodian got well under $1,000)

The limited data of the salary history shows that retaining individuals generally doesn’t seem to cost as much as hiring new ones – especially outside candidates. For example, Coleman’s salaries since her hiring have generally tended to increase in three to four percent increments – from $475,000 in her first year to $484,000 to $501,000, $516,000, $531,000 and finally $553,500. The big jump came in the year of Bollinger’s departure and Coleman’s arrival, in which the president’s salary jumped by at least 30 percent.

A similar story pertains to the provost’s position. In 2007 and 2008, University Provost Teresa Sullivan earned healthy but hardly noteworthy raises of 3.5 and 3.9 percent. In contrast, the first year that she took the position, the provost’s base pay jumped 16.4 percent. I can’t wait to see what the new provost’s salary package looks like. If it’s a raise similar to what Sullivan had, the new salary could move to nearly $450,000.

When the Daily reports on the new provost and relays the usual breathless administrative banalities about what a magnificent hire she or he is, maybe then the editorial board will remember to ask for some leadership on the salary front. Perhaps, then it might sound a bit less tone deaf than it did two weeks ago.

Patrick O’Mahen can be reached at pomahen@umich.edu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.