Oregonian Op-Ed on UO President’s Salary


Margaret Soltan, a frequent commenter on academic issues and a contributor to InsideHigherEd.com writes about us on her blog today:

The pun in the blog’s title points to matters of importance on campus (an overpaid president, too many administrators, a sports obsession, a budget crisis, anti-intellectualism, etc.) and the basic attitude of concern among the blog’s authors — their university matters, and its betrayal of fundamental academic principles is so severe that these people have gone public.

She includes a long list of her own previous posts on UO’s administrators. Always appalling, sometimes hilarious.

Ted Taylor has an excellent post on UO matters in this week’s Eugene Weekly:

Underlying nearly all of the discussions on the blog are larger questions of governance and transparency. With Frohnmayer on the way out, this is a critical time to resolve some long-standing equity and fairness issues that are keeping the UO from being as academically strong and competitive as it can be.

Steve Duin of the Oregonian had a column Tuesday on “the bizarre, paranoid and problematic culture of secrecy at the University of Oregon” (his well-turned phrase, not ours.) WWeek provides a link to us as well. UO’s PR office’s E-clips service will email you a daily synopsis of press stories on UO. They play it straight with the good, bad, and ugly, as you can see in this one with a Ryan Knutson story on the USDOJ’s investigation of UO’s Minority Recruitment Plan, and a Greg Bolt story in the RG on Frohmayer’s unusually high pay (before his recent $150K raise.)

An earlier draft of this Op-Ed was published as an Op-Ed in the Oregonian on Dec 8 2008. In this letter OUS Attorney Ryan Hagemann disputed the numbers, and Oregonian columnist Steve Duin posted this rebuttal, showing that OUS was attempting to underreport the true amount of President Frohnmayer’s compensation.

I’m a professor of economics at UO. It’s a great job. I love the research and the teaching, and I earn more than most of the Oregonians who help pay my salary. Maybe I should just keep my head down. But there are big problems at UO. The Carnegie Institution says we aren’t top tier in research anymore, and our prestigious AAU university affiliation is in danger.

One reason for UO’s decline is that faculty are now paid 83% of what they can earn at comparable universities. Last year my department lost 2 out of 20 faculty to offers we couldn’t come close to matching. Other universities also offer the best graduate students – whose efforts are the heart of most university research – fellowships worth twice the $13,000 a year we can offer.

We’re told this is because the state doesn’t give us enough money. But since 2000 the Oregon University System Board has somehow found the cash to increase UO President Frohnmayer’s pay by 325%. His total compensation is now $717,000. Last year presidents of comparable universities got $469,000, and the president of UC-Berkeley – a much richer, larger, and more complex university, was willing to work for just $486,000. After paying a consultant $45,500 for the 10 page report showing this, they gave Frohnmayer another $173,000. No wonder that the OUS hid this report until the Attorney General finally ordered them to give it up.

Here’s another problem. Last year I taught a class of 30 students. In a classroom with 20 desks. That same quarter UO was spending $2.8 million renovating Johnson Hall. Great news! – except that Johnson Hall doesn’t have classrooms, just the offices for UO’s senior administrators. Really nice, big, well air-conditioned offices. My classroom still has 20 desks.

Then there are the “golden parachute” contracts for retiring university administrators, which The Oregonian wrote about in March. UO gave 3 top administrators retirement contracts that explicitly say the intent is to allow them to collect PERS retirement on top of half pay from UO for 5 years. Their job responsibilities are often trivial, and they earn more than when they were working! Sweet deal. President Frohnmayer signed and then vigorously defended these contracts. He’s probably hoping the OUS board will write him one too. Can UO afford this? No.

This year UO enrollment was up 4%. Despite this, department budgets were cut 2%. UO’s administrators will not tell us where they spent the missing money. No wonder. Fat executive pay, golden parachute contracts, executive perks, and a raw deal for the rank and file doesn’t just happen on Wall Street – this is going on at UO too.

Just as with the banks, UO could be saved if the state threw a big bag of money at us. Enough so that we could remodel the administration’s offices, give Frohnmayer his golden parachute, and run a good university too. I’m not counting on this! Instead, the OUS board must take charge of the situation and recognize that UO is about students and the faculty and staff that teach them, not the administrators. Tell administrators that big salaries, perks, and parachutes only come after they’ve prepared a plan to bring UO back to its glory days, implemented it, and got some results. That’s their job, after all.

Meanwhile, it sure would be nice for our President Frohnmayer to take a pay cut, as the presidents of UW, WSU, Stanford and others have recently agreed to do. If he gave UO back $200,000, he’d still be better paid than a lot of his peers in richer states. And my students could finally all have desks!

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