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‘Former administrator’ faculty should get faculty pay

Newspaper editors are pretty good judges of one small subset of public opinion: news value. For centuries, editors have scrutinized the day’s stories with an eye to finding those of both high interest and high importance, then put those stories on the front page.

And the more important the story, the more prominent the display, as readers know.

Which is why Thursday’s front page of The Forum in Fargo should have prompted North Dakota State University administrators to sound General Quarters:

“EX-PROVOSTS EARN TOP DOLLAR,” the banner headline proclaimed across the top of the page.

Beneath that was a subheadline, “NDSU defends pay of former administrators now in professor roles.” And beneath that was the clincher: A full-color photo lineup of the institution’s top 10 highest-paid executives, plus their six-figure salaries.

From the executives and their institution’s perspective, that’s never a good thing.

Higher education institutions can be stubborn at times, but for NDSU, this should be the proverbial whack on the side of the head. Clearly, The Forum — NDSU’s hometown paper — bannered the story because it sensed intense public interest in a situation about which virtually every reader would say, “This. Is. Wrong.”

The readers would be correct, because the salary situation that The Forum describes is indefensible. The university should end such spendthrift practices and start being a lot more frugal with public dollars. And if other North Dakota or Minnesota institutions have picked up similar bad habits (this means you, University of North Dakota and the University of Minnesota), they should do the same.

The job of provost brings “one of the highest salaries on most campuses,” the newspaper reported.

“But at NDSU, both former provosts still on faculty continue to draw some of the school’s top salaries.”

So, a former provost who’s now a physics professor still is earning his administrative wage of $286,808; in September, that salary will drop to “only” $234,661, still more than twice the pay of the head of the physics department.

Likewise, another former provost who’s now a professor of pharmaceutical science still “receives a salary comparable to what he earned as provost,” The Forum reported. That means north of $200,000, compared with the average salary of $108,000 for a full professor at NDSU.

It’s bad enough that administrative titles have proliferated and administrative pay has soared in American higher education, without noticeable improvement in the classroom experience of students.

But the fact that faculty can ascend to deanships and other administrative posts, serve for a time and then return to tenured positions while keeping their executive-level pay borders on an abuse of the system.

Remember, professorships come with benefits that generally aren’t available in the private sector. The lifetime job security of tenure is one. A guaranteed pension is another.

Originally, these perks were meant to make up for the comparatively modest pay that was available in academia. But when the system can be played to secure permanently high pay AND job security for life AND a guaranteed pension that likely also is higher thanks to the high pay …

The North Dakota Legislature passed a constitutional amendment to replace the Board of Higher Education with a full-time, three-person panel. Presidents and other senior University System administrators reportedly oppose the move; but if they’re hoping to convince voters that the current system is being operated in a fiscally responsible, always-mindful-of-the-taxpayers way, they’re not doing a very good job.