US faculty ups pressure to curb presidential pay rises

April 23, 2004

A walkout by staff at the University of Hawaii over salary issues has been narrowly averted.

It was the first time a faculty union and its supporters have made a major issue of administrators' salaries, which have increased exponentially while US universities have pleaded poverty, raised tuition fees and put off maintenance.

Hawaii is not the only place where presidential pay is subject to public debate. Florida legislators, incensed at the hike in presidential compensation, have imposed a cap on the salaries of public university presidents.

At Louisiana State University, faculty and students are protesting at a pay rise for their chancellor, who makes $590,000 a year.

Lawmakers in Ohio want to stop any public university president earning more than the state governor, who earns $130,292.

Evan Dobelle, Hawaii's president, is paid $599,500 (£335,000) a year, making him the third highest-paid president of a public university in the US. The staff he manages were in the bottom 30 per cent of US university pay before their contracts were renegotiated last week under threat of a strike.

"People in Hawaii were shocked by that, in that it was more than double that of any university president in state history," said John Radcliffe, assistant executive director of the university's Professional Assembly, which represents the faculty.

"But what made it more shocking was that Mr Dobelle increased the pay and benefits of administrators who were close to him by, to us, incredible amount of money, doubling their pay. It did make people angry, particularly in light of the fact that pay for professors has been so depressed for a decade."

Under pressure from legislators and students, the university agreed to raise faculty salaries by the equivalent of 31 per cent over six years. The average salary for a full professor at Honolulu will reach $113,384 by 2007.

But on the same day union members ratified their contract, the university's board of regents released a report critical of Mr Dobelle's "lavish spending" on "luxuries that bespeak to an insensitivity to the economic and budgetary restraints facing the university and state of Hawaii".

It also blasts the "wholesale escalation of executive salaries". The president dismissed the report as inaccurate.

After contracts had been renegotiated, Mr Radcliffe retreated from his earlier comments on administrators' salaries, saying: "Our position has not been that they make too much. It has always been that our people make too little."

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