As a life-long Alaskan and a graduate of the University of Alaska system, I am want to express my great concern at the salaries of the university president and its three chancellors.
While the decisions on these salaries are made by the Board of Regents, as the Alaska Legislature reviews the University of Alaska's budget, I urge legislators, as well as every constituent, to consider the following.
First, the university is moving to ever-larger classes and several students, particularly at University of Alaska Southeast, cannot graduate in four years because of the lack of faculty to teach classes. It was only through the generosity of faculty, willing to provide independent study classes, that I was able to graduate.
To reduce the president's and chancellor's salaries by $100,000 would enable needed faculty to be employed and move to achieving the outright objective of the university -teaching and graduating students.
It appears, in fact, that top administrators would be willing to work for much less. In 2003, President Mark Hamilton commented to Sen. John Cowdery after the senator complained about his salary, "If that (my salary) is standing in the way of funding the university, I will work for a dollar next year and be proud of it."
At the time of Hamilton's comment to Cowdery his base salary was $250,000. Despite his bravado in 2003, the following fiscal year Hamilton's base salary was increased by $6,500 and by 2006 he was awarded a $100,000 bonus for fulfilling a three-year contract.
Second, Hamilton is currently one of the highest-paid Alaska executives, with a price tag in 2009 of $300,000 - and that is not including $9,250 for a car, $70,000 in deferred compensation, $34,847 worth in retirement pay or the price for the house in which Hamilton lives that is financed by the state. The running total for Hamilton alone for 2009 amounts to more than $414,097.
Third, UA chancellors throughout the system since 2006 have been making more than $200,000, not including benefits for cars, a house and bonuses. Chancellor John Pugh, for instance, who administers about 80 full-time faculty members and under 1000 full-time students at UAS, pulled in $204,570 in 2008, and that is not including his housing allowance and car provided at state expense.
For comparison sake, consider that the chancellor at the University of California Berkeley, Robert J. Birgeneau, received $467,556 in total compensation for 2008-09. This means that Birgeneau, with a total enrollment of 35,396 Students (97 percent of them were full-time) can be said to be "earning" $13.21 for each student who enters U.C. Berkeley.
Comparatively, Chancellor Pugh hypothetically earns $69.25 (26 percent of them were full-time in 2008-09) for every student entering the University of Alaska Southeast.
Pugh, then, is making approximately five times more per student than the chancellor at the University of California Berkeley - a well-established and fairly prestigious university. Keep in mind, also, the fact that in June 2009, the Juneau Empire ran an article which indicated that Chancellor Pugh was facing a vote of "no confidence" from faculty members at the University of Alaska Southeast. Apparently, the size of one's salary isn't indicative of administrative tact.
Finally, expenditures for administrative purposes have risen sharply throughout the UA system. One has to wonder why the UA system hasn't made concerted internal efforts to trim the fat a bit concerning administrative costs. Perhaps, no one notices or cares that President Hamilton is making nearly 3.5 times as much as Alaska's governor, and the chancellor, at the smallest campus in the UA system, is making about $75,000 more?
Make no mistake: I am certainly aware that administrative costs for top university executives have been on the rise and will likely continue. But, it is difficult to pretend that Alaska legislators and their constituents would support a public system, ostensibly dedicated towards the noble goal of higher education, which irrespective of its size and purpose, irrationally rewards a few at the expense of expanding and improving purely educational ventures.
Forest Kvasnikoff is a recent graduate of the University of Alaska Southeast. He lives in Juneau.