… provides a way into the latest report on overpaid university personnel.

“When you have college presidents making $1 million, you’re going to have $800,000 provosts and $500,000 deans,” said Patrick M. Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. “It may be reasonable for these people to be well paid, but if faculty’s getting 2 percent raises, I don’t see why senior administrators who are already high-paid should get much larger increases. It reflects a set of values that is not the way most Americans think of higher education.”

If Alabama’s Coach Saban makes four million, all other university coaches expect their salaries to bump up. If Wall Street money managers make thirty-five million, Harvard’s money managers make thirty-five million. If the university’s president makes a million, provosts make close to a million.

And what sort of fool would make an issue of it? The market’s everywhere, including the university, and the only compensation mechanism in play is what other people are making, or what an employee could earn elsewhere…

But what’s that thing at the end of Callan’s statement about a set of values at odds with higher education? What the fuck is that?

Hell I dunno… He probably means like, uh, people think people at universities are motivated by things other than greed.

Whatever. That’s a dead end.

But hey what about this. What about this whole universities-are-non-profits thing.

Why do universities get spectacular tax breaks and other advantages for-profits don’t get?

Well, because our government thinks people at universities are motivated by things other than greed. Public good, you know. Universities are more into educating people than they are into raking in money. The government thinks this is great, and through excellent tax breaks encourages universities in their commitment to this civic activity.

For instance, as Charles Grassley notes:

Donations to colleges are tax deductible. Taxpayers pay for federal tax incentives to make higher education more accessible and affordable through college-savings plans and tax deductions for tuition and student-loan interest. Such tax credits and deductions cost U.S. taxpayers about $17 billion a year.

Universities are obligated to use this special tax status for maximum fulfillment of their charitable purpose of educating students. And Congress is obligated to make sure such tax policies are working as intended.

That’s just one way in which universities are extremely special when it comes to money – money the government gives them, money benefactors give them. As non-profits with a civic mission, universities get that money with the understanding that they’ll use it responsibly, to educate Americans.

Or think about it in terms of tuition. American parents pay immense sums in tuition. I don’t think they go into debt saying This is okay, because it will provide the provost with a fifteen percent raise this year. I worried, when the provost was only making $500,000, that the quality of our daughter’s education would be compromised.

So. If you think the university is a market creature like anything else, and your administration’s all set up to keep feeding the creature, then eventually the rest of Congress will see what Charles Grassley’s getting at, and they’ll begin to remove various tax and other advantages.

Sure, they will only start seeing it in the larger context of a collapsing economy, where disproportionate reward suddenly jumps out at everyone. But they will see it, and, depending on how self-serving your university has been, you can expect to attract some attention.

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3 Responses to “The Ever-Quotable Patrick Callan…”

  1. Joe M. Says:

    "How these sons of the great universities, these legatees of Jefferson, Emerson, Thoreau, William James, Frederick Jackson Turner, William Lyons Phelps, Samuel Flagg Bemis, and the other three-name giants of American scholarship–how these inheritors of the lux and the veritas now flocked to Wall Street and to the bond trading room of Pierce & Pierce!"

  2. econprof Says:

    Who is afraid of reasonable salaries?
    “When you have college presidents making $1 million, you’re going to have $800,000 provosts and $500,000 deans,” then the next thing will be 300,000 professors?

    Why should this be a bad thing? Apart from the obvious advantages for us, it would help recruit good people for a career as a professor. Many bright young people, who now decide to pursue careers in law or medicine, would go into academia. (Look at graduate programs in almost everything connected with mathematics: They are dominated by "Foreigners", so it seems that potential American candidates move into more lucrative areas).
    Clearly tuition might rise, and parents might complain. I do not think these complaints would be that serious: You might want to entrust your children to people who are at least as in demand as a doctor or lawyer ("You should value your kids’ education not less than your liposuction").

    Financing the tuition should not be a serious problem. Any university convinced of the value of her education should see no problem of giving a loan and structure repayment as a fraction of future income. This would be just a formalization of the present business model where alummni who hit it big contribute to the financial well being of the academic community.

    So it would not be that much of a difference from today’s situation. It would, however, be more honest.

  3. david foster Says:

    "(Look at graduate programs in almost everything connected with mathematics: They are dominated by "Foreigners", so it seems that potential American candidates move into more lucrative areas)"…have you compared the salaries for those with graduate degrees in "things connected with mathematics" with those for grad degrees in "things unconnected with mathematics?"

    Might it be that the relative scarcity of native-born Americans in some of the math-related areas has more to do with (a)failures on the part of the American K-12 school system and of undergraduate education, and (b)the whole "self-esteem" movement, which has tended to devalue sustained effort of any type, than any lack of lucrativeness in these fields?

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