Compensation for academe’s top executives has been riding up a steep escalator over recent years, at the same time pay for faculty and staff has struggled just to keep pace with inflation.
The Chronicle for Higher Education recently reported that 42 private college presidents took home more than $1 million in 2011, the last year with data.
Two of these execs made more than $3 million, a take-home almost 200 times the pay of a minimum-wage worker.
Students on these campuses, meanwhile, are graduating into ever greater debt, and all these dynamics combined may help make the nation’s colleges the coming year’s most heated pay ratio battleground.
At St. Mary’s College, a prestigious liberal arts campus in southern Maryland, the pay-ratio battle has already begun.
Students at the public college have been organizing for pay justice for over a decade now. Between 2002 and 2006, their campaign for a campus-wide living wage boosted the lowest annual pay for school employees from $15,700 to $24,500.
But inflation has eroded that minimum wage. Pay for top college administrators, by contrast, has increased. Their pay even rose during what was supposed to be a statewide wage freeze.
This past September, students and allied faculty and staff formally unveiled a response to this newly widening gap: a proposal that would set their college’s lowest pay at 130 percent the official poverty level for a family of four and limit the college president’s pay to 10 times that lowest pay.
This 1:10 ratio proposal will soon be going before the St. Mary’s student government and faculty and staff senates. The next goal after that: approval from the college’s board of trustees.
St. Mary’s activists have a broader goal as well. They’re hoping, as St. Mary’s emerita professor of psychology Laraine Glidden explains, to “not only address the wage inequity on our campus, but also inspire others to similar efforts.”
And those activists appear to be succeeding on that score. Students on other campuses have already made contact with them.
Those contacts will probably multiply in the year ahead.
Excerpted from a column by Sam Pizzigati, an Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow. Distributed by OtherWords.org.