GUEST COMMENTARY: Pay gap continues to grow at U.S. universities

Thursday, January 9, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. CST

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

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Ellis Smith January 9, 2014 | 1:47 p.m.

(1) Good to see that Sam has discovered what most of us have known for a long time.

(2) What these colloege and university presidents are now being paid is truly scandalous! If this trend isn't corraled, compensation for these executives COULD ACTUALLY RISE TO THE LEVEL OF COMPENSATION FOR NCAA DIVISION I FOOTBALL AND BBASKETBALL COACHES. Well we can't have THAT, can we?

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams January 9, 2014 | 4:46 p.m.

I note, however, that Sam fails to identify what salary numbers are "fair" at the top. It's real easy to gripe about another person's salary when you don't have to identify what it SHOULD be.

The market should make the decision. For example, there are ca. 2500 4-year colleges/universities in the US. The market is saying there are less than 2500 people in the US that can do the CEO job really well.

Same thing sports coaches. In fact, more so.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz January 10, 2014 | 9:25 a.m.

Actually the letter did identify what it should be pegged to, but not the actual figure - no more than 10 times 130 percent the official poverty level for a family of four. What that number is for St. Mary's, I have no idea. Actually, I did a quick Google search and found an article with this information:

Proposal Details: Under the St. Mary’s Wages plan, a benchmark salary for the lowest paid employees would be set at 130% of the poverty line for a family of four, currently $29,976. This would ensure that no family of four with one full-time wage earner would need to depend on SNAP (formerly called food stamps). Other salaries would be subject to minimum and maximum pay levels based on multiples of the benchmark salary. For example, the President’s salary would be free to adjust based on market forces anywhere between a minimum of 7.5 times the benchmark (currently $224,820) and a maximum of 10 times the benchmark ($299,760). Assistant Professors would start at no less than 2 times the benchmark ($59,952) and all faculty would be capped at 4 times the benchmark ($119,904).

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams January 10, 2014 | 9:41 a.m.

You're right, John. I missed that.

What does capping salary do to the pool of candidates?

(Report Comment)

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