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My Turn: UA executives can change the system

Posted: September 28, 2011 - 12:02am

More than a year ago in a My Turn on Feb. 10, 2010, I wrote to this paper concerning what I considered to be irrational pay scales for the University of Alaska’s president and its three chancellors.

In FY2009 the combined salary total for all four (Mark Hamilton, Fran Ulmer, Mark Rogers and John Pugh) amounted to $1,015,277 and in FY2010 it was slightly up with a grand total of $1,020,277 with the UA’s new president Patrick Gamble.

All of this is not including the other benefits including housing, a car and retirement benefits that each (excluding housing for Pugh) UA chancellor receives — tacking on well over $50,000.

I live abroad these days, but I still check up on Alaska news and recently saw that the Board of Regents has approved a pay raise for the newly anointed and apparently successful Gamble whose pay has quickly gone from $295,000 to $320,000 — around $8,000 more than the ending salary of UA’s past president Hamilton. Not including benefits, of course.

This is great news for Gamble, but I think points to a larger irrational aspect of the U.S. (now struggling) economy that must be addressed.

If one looks at top administrative costs, throughout private and public education institutions, as well as beyond to banks and large multinational corporations, we see overall trends towards ridiculous executive compensation and benefit packages.

In the 1980s top executives received around 40 to 42 times the pay of the Average Joe worker. Today, this has skyrocketed to the point where top CEOs are earning upwards of 400 times what an average worker receives.

Now, I realize comparing top CEOs and top educational institution administrators is quite a stretch — but when one looks at the numbers, the same seemingly irrational pay raises are applicable.

Every conservative and solid business approach usually attempts to decrease administrative costs to promote development and investments in other areas of its operations. Why isn’t this common sense being applied when thinking about educational heads or other top executives?

The UA system recently published an informational handout titled “Facts Not Fiction,” which speaks towards why UA administrators get the pay they do and that they actually earn less then their equivalent counterparts.

There is the problem — the system.

To justify its pay scales the UA system points to others and says, “they give more and if we don’t pony up we won’t get the talent and smarts we need to grow.”

If this is primarily the case for bloated executive salaries, than I propose that top educational executives nation wide, with UA administrators leading the way, partner with comparable public and private institutions to adjust pay scales towards a more rational and equitable amounts.

Prove to students, to citizens and to the faculty you manage that you have bigger commitments towards furthering education than increasing your own salaries. And for all those who say “impossible,” I say, who better to lead this change than presumably the best and brightest — our top educational executives?

• Kvasnikoff, who is currently in Latvia, is originally from Port Graham.

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