Higher Ed Salaries
GW English prof Margaret Soltan approvingly cites Seattle Times reporter Nicole Brodeur‘s column chiding the University of Washington for paying its president and provost large salaries during a time of budget cuts and tuition hikes. She likes this line in particular:
We pay [UW president Mark Emmert] more than he could ever possibly need, while students are being priced out of the seats.
Emmert is paid $905,000 annually while provost Phyllis Wise earns $535,000 in “salary and deferred compensation.” Both also make substantial outside income from corporate boards – a practice that I find highly problematic but one that has no bearing on tuition costs. (If anything, the outside compensation arguably reduces what the state must pay.)
Now, these salaries are radically higher than anything I’m accustomed to in higher ed, with the notable exception of coaches in major revenue sports. But are they really coming at the cost of students being able to get an education?
According to its website, UW has 47,361 students on its main campus and about that many again on three satellite campuses in Bothell, Seattle, and Tacoma. That’s a total of 94,722 students.
Let’s go ahead and cut Emmert and Wise to $1 each in state funds. Let them subsist on their outside fees, I say! And let’s divide the $1,434,998 savings equally among the students. Why, that’s $15.15 each!
Shoot, they could all get PhDs with that.
Though presumably these aren’t the only two highly-paid administrators at UW. How much of UW’s budget is spent on administration?
But I think the bigger point here is symbology. At least in the quote you give, I don’t see a claim that cutting the comp of these two fellows would make a dent in the budget crisis. Straw man alert?
I’m having trouble getting through the first sentence here. What does “approving cites” mean? I think we’re missing a word and I can’t figure it out.
Franklin, that’s just a typo: “approving” should read “approvingly”.
It makes no sense to justify inflated salaries just because the cost is spread over so many contributors. Will we soon be justifying governmental waste, fraud, and abuse since it only costs each citizen a few pennies?
High salaries at the top have a pull effect on all of the salaries below. It used to be called keeping up with the Joneses. When the president, provost, or chancellor pulls in a million bucks a year, it impels all of the deans to demand more; when the deans get more full professors start wondering if they shouldn’t get more, etc.
Pure markets are not the operative mechanisms. There’s a herd behavior as well.
Holy crap, I think that Steve and I agree on something.
It’s just as bad or worse in the UC system. Meanwhile tuition soars.
As much as I appreciate a good Friday morning “reductio ad absurdum”, I can’t help but wonder if cost-disbursement is the appropriate analytic tool. I mean, we could divide those two salaries by the total population of the state, which presumably benefits from these endeavors, and have an even more minuscule economic burden to be borne.
On the other hand, a marginal analysis, comparing some other public employee’s salary of a similarly important organization, say the President of the United States of America, might lead us to ask what exactly are the good citizens getting for that additional half-million or so. I mean, besides having another milker on the cow.
I’m not justifying the salaries. I don’t have any way of doing a comparative analysis of executive salaries vice the accrued benefits to their schools.
What I’m doing is refuting the specific linking made by Soltan and Brodeur. There’s just no evidence that paying these salaries — justified or not — is pricing kids out of higher ed.
Right. I didn’t say you were. And indeed you made it pretty clear you weren’t.
And what I’m saying is you’re refuting a straw man (you do that a lot, by the way!). If you hear a mother say to her kid
do you think to yourself, “she’s wrong, if Johnny finished his spaghetti that wouldn’t have a material effect on starvation in Africa”?
I think you misunderstand the straw man concept. Refuting the actual argument being made isn’t a straw man.
That, along with other things. It strikes me as not only a poor motivational technique but an encouragement to overeating.
James, I understand the straw man concept just fine, thanks. I don’t know how many ways I can say this. Look, Soltan juxtaposed the salaries and the tuition hike. But that needn’t mean that she sees a causal link. You read that claim in.
A more plausible reading is that Soltan thinks it’s unseemly to have such high salaries during a budget crunch, not that she thinks that the two high salaries caused the crunch in any significant way. Ditto with Johnny’s Mom. She surely realizes that wasting food doesn’t cause starvation in Africa; rather, she thinks it’s unseemly to waste food when others are starving.
I think you give people credit for far more logical insight than they typically have.
The unseemliness claim isn’t really an argument, subject to the rules of logic, but an aesthetic judgment. It’s usually a bogus one, though.
I haven’t the slightest idea whether UW’s leaders are worth the money but that’s a question independent of tuition affordability.
Well, I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree. (I would have thought an English professor would be precise enough in her use of language that if she wanted to express causality she would have chosen a conjunction that did so rather than “while”. But since you think I’m giving people too much credit for being logical, that’s unlikely to convince you.)
FWIW, while you seem like a reasonable guy overall, I often have this reaction to your “X said something idiotic” posts like this one. They often seem to me to be beating up straw men.
Anyway, thanks for the replies.
I got in a discussion about chairs once. It was when the Aeron was being defined as the icon for dot-com excess. Companies that had never made a dime, who were burning through venture capital, were buying thousand dollar chairs for everyone in the company. It was an in-your-face warning sign that the company wasn’t worried about profit and loss, only about looking good on the way to the IPO.
In the midst of this discussion, a guy, I think at UCLA, piped up that they were buying Aerons for department secretaries. His attitude, not quite connecting the dots, was “hey they can have them in business and we are just as deserving.”
I see these super-salaries as rooted in the same kind of psychological justification rather than market justification. I don’t doubt that they can get just as excellent a president for $500K, and a just as excellent provost fro $200K …
But I also don’t doubt that those 500K/200K guys will start comparing themselves to industry and feeling bad.
It isn’t the invisible hand when it’s a friends-network addressing feelings. It’s a true market when $1M and 500K were set by true competitive bidding.
The key word in that sentence is “wondering” 🙂
plus he gets free housing and two cars.