The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Thursday August 11th

Op-ed: UNC should cut from the top

Administrators at UNC have told employees to brace themselves for large budget cuts. Given their numbers and high salaries, the cutting should begin, and perhaps end, with the administrators.

Chancellors' salaries tend to get all the attention, and Kevin Guskiewicz's $620,000 per year is indeed impressive. His immediate subordinate, the provost, doesn't do too badly either, at $493,182. Still, the University also has 28 vice chancellors of different ranks, with an average salary of $253,393. They include a vice chancellor and associate vice chancellor for "University communications." Together, they bring in over $549,000 per year. Their offices did not exist before 2013.

Yet, the University's ability to communicate to the public has hardly improved since 2013. Recall: the academic-athletic scandal; the sexual assault scandal, including the coverup of the U.S. Department of Education's report on UNC's multiple Clery Act violations; the illegal $2.5 million payoff to the Sons of Confederate Veterans; the campus reopening disaster. The millions of dollars in salaries paid to these two experts since 2013 yielded little.

Let's not forget the 12 sub-provosts. Average salary? $231,591. Some of them perform vital services. But what does the associate provost for "strategy and special projects" do for nearly $200,000? Or the official who is now being paid $270,000 to establish "the University's vision and unified strategy for a future-directed, sustainable digital learning institutional environment?"

To provide perspective, I reviewed the salaries of endowed professors (highly accomplished and highly paid) in three departments in the College of Arts and Sciences.

The average annual salary for the 11 physics and astronomy superstars? $166,657. The four distinguished professors in philosophy? $200,412. Their peers in religious studies? $163,497. (The non-chaired faculty in these and other departments make far less.)

Faculty with named professorships have decades of experience, copious publication records, book prizes, research grants and many graduate students. They symbolize what higher education is supposed to be about. Yet their salaries, on average, are not quite on par with those in the Office of the Provost.

UNC has 127 deans of various ranks, many with salaries in the $200,000 to $500,000 range. And how about the 811 directors, associate directors and assistant directors? Some of their salaries are modest, and others perform "director" services as part of their faculty appointments.

But consider the head of the Ackland Art Museum: $216,000. The director of the Nutrition Research Institute: $342,000. The director of licensing and innovation support: $217,422. The executive director of the Arts and Sciences Foundation: $280,476. The director of the Global Research Institute makes $291,003, while the director of the Alumni Association gets by on $284,506. I could go on.

None of this is surprising. At public research universities, the ratio of full-time professors and staff to "professional or managerial administrators" declined 40 percent between 2000 and 2012, and administrative bloat has since accelerated. Faculty salaries have stagnated for at least two decades, with average salaries at public institutions improving only by four percent between 1995 and 2014, while most Chapel Hill faculty have not had a raise since 2013.

Housekeepers and other staff have distressingly low salaries. When the N.C. General Assembly implemented a $15 minimum wage law for state workers two years ago, the salaries of most UNC housekeepers increased to $31,200, where they remain. Meanwhile, administrative salaries steadily rise.  

Administrators could dip into UNC's multibillion dollar endowment for a one-time-only remedy to the current shortfall; there's plenty to cover the annual deficit while securing the institution's financial future. Failing that, the cutting shears should begin their work at the top, with those paid the most taking the largest percentage cuts. They can certainly afford it.

Jay M. Smith
Professor of History

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