Much has been written in the Star and elsewhere about the recent decision by the Board of Regents to raise University of Arizona President Ann Weaver Hart’s base pay 5.2 percent to $500,000. She also was awarded $80,000 for housing and a vehicle, and a $115,000 bonus.
What has received much less attention was another item on the agenda for that regents’ meeting: an annual report that describes the state of pay for the university’s other 12,000 employees.
Average faculty salaries of $99,700 are 14 percent below what professors earn at the 15 schools the regents consider the UA’s peers, the report says. Add benefits, and the UA comes in 14th lowest.
As for classified and professional staff members, they have seen “real reductions in net pay” because they are making larger contributions to the state retirement system. The contribution rate, which was 2 percent in fiscal 2003, is now 11.35 percent of pay. The rate is based on what it takes to keep the pension system financially sound.
To catch up to the competitive market by 2017, classified employees at Arizona’s universities need to receive pay increases of 16 percent to 25 percent. For professional staff, it’s 16 percent to 20 percent.
The Legislature has appropriated no money specifically for pay increases since July 2007. The schools themselves have reallocated modest sums to try to make pay more competitive.
Even so, among faculty employees, the UA has actually lost ground compared with its peers.
It’s impossible to quantify how below-market pay has translated into turnover. Employees retire, die and leave for many reasons. But it is logical to assume some leave for greater greenbacks.
What is certain, the report says, is that in the past 12 months, 15 percent of classified staff and 14 percent of professional employees left the three universities. Turnover among UA faculty was 8.7 percent. The report describes classified staff turnover as “a chronic problem, with the universities losing far too many staff positions that are critical to the operation and success of the institutions.”
The schools, which have long had lagging pay, were starting to catch up until the recession hit. Now, even with slow economic improvement, closing the gap seems hopeless. The universities would need $154 million for raises in fiscal 2017 to match market averages, the report says.
Fat chance. The Legislature just cut an additional $99 million from the universities. In response, the UA laid off 44 employees and eliminated 276 open positions.
Which brings us back to the pay package for UA President Hart. How is she doing in these hard times and compared with her peers?
The 5.2 percent increase in her base pay is the first she’s received since she took over the top job in July 2012. She also earned $40,000 bonuses in 2013 and 2014 and $115,000 in 2015. The bonuses were tied to specific goals, such as increasing the number of degrees awarded and improving the freshman retention rate.
As for Hart’s peers, Michael Crow, the ASU president for the last 13 years, also received a raise from the regents, bringing his base to $600,000. He also received $80,000 for housing and a vehicle, $100,000 from the ASU Foundation and a $150,000 bonus.
After those deals were done Regents Chairman Mark Killian asserted that the state’s university presidents are underpaid.
Perhaps. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, median base pay among CEOs at public universities was $428,250 in fiscal 2014, the most recent national data available. It becomes difficult to make precise comparisons beyond the base because many public-school presidents receive no bonuses, and the perks for housing, cars, et cetera varies.
But before these numbers make your eyebrows bounce off the ceiling of McKale Center, keep in mind that presidential income pales next to big-time coaches. Next year men’s basketball coach Sean Miller will earn $2 million before any bonus.
It’s hard to find the logic in the economics of higher education these days. Universities across the country have had their budgets cuts, and are downsizing and searching for ways to reinvent themselves for the 21st century. Students are being priced out of college or incurring greater debt. Front line employees are going without raises and paying for more their benefits.
It’s an era of struggle. It’s a time for sacrifice. Unless you’re a CEO.