Tuesday, May 20, 2014
The New York Times ran two articles this week about administrator and executive pay that struck a chord with me. One piece was about a new report linking student debt and highly paid university leaders. The article discusses a study, “The One Percent at State U: How University Presidents Profit from Rising Student Debt and Low-Wage Faculty Labor.” The study reviewed “the relationship between executive pay, student debt and low-wage faculty labor at the 25 top-paying public universities.”
Then-Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee was the highest-paid public university president for the time period review. The study found that
Ohio State was No. 1 on the list of what it called the most unequal public universities. The report found that from fiscal 2010 to fiscal 2012, Ohio State paid Mr. Gee a total of $5.9 million. [$2.95 million per year.] During the same period, it said, the university hired 670 new administrators, 498 contingent and part-time faculty — and 45 permanent faculty members. Student debt at Ohio State grew 23 percent faster than the national average during that time, the report found.
[In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that President Gee is the president of my institution, for the second time, and he’s my neighbor. He also makes considerably less money here.]
The other article was about the health care industry, titled: Medicine’s Top Earners Are Not the M.D.s. That article reports that doctors, “the most highly trained members in the industry’s work force,” are in the middle of the pay scale for medical salaries. The article explains:
That is because the biggest bucks are currently earned not through the delivery of care, but from overseeing the business of medicine.
The base pay of insurance executives, hospital executives and even hospital administrators often far outstrips doctors’ salaries, according to an analysis performed for The New York Times by Compdata Surveys: $584,000 on average for an insurance chief executive officer, $386,000 for a hospital C.E.O. and $237,000 for a hospital administrator, compared with $306,000 for a surgeon and $185,000 for a general doctor.
And those numbers almost certainly understate the payment gap, since top executives frequently earn the bulk of their income in nonsalary compensation.
Is there a place where it isn't the case that administrators make more than those actually carrying out the endeavor? Maybe sports and entertainment, to a degree. There has been a significant change in those areas over the past 30 or so years. Owners (and production entities) often still make tons of money, but top player salaries often dwarf those of key executives, coaches, and managers. That was not always the case. Take the NBA for example. The average NBA salary in 1970 was $35,000 (equal to about $207,000 today.) Today’s average salary: $5 million. Actors and musicians take home a lot more than they used to, also, at least among those at the top.
I am not one to bash educational administrators. I have been one, so that may be part of it, but even before that, I appreciated that there are things that need to happen to deliver the full educational experience that are not part of the classroom. Still, it also seems that the number of people who are there to support the delivery of services, like education and medicine, continue to grow at an absurd rate. Even counting contingent and part-time faculty, Ohio State hired more than 1.23 new administrators for every new teacher in the test period.
Law faculty members can legitimately disagree about the best way to educate law students. But our goal should be to provide the best education we can, within the cost constraints we face. If professors at some law schools don’t take that responsibility seriously, we might lose students to schools focusing more on enrollment than education. If so, it’s sad for the profession, but at least we’ll go down fighting for what we know is right.
The same is true at the administrative level in law schools. We should commit to allocating resources to administrative support that supports the educational process of preparing students for practice and for ensuring students actually get to practice, if that is what they seek. This is often true for areas like career services, bar passage, and experiential learning. We should be educating students to be able to be good lawyers and sound professionals, but we also need to help ensure they have things they need to practice (e.g., bar admission) and the ability to practice (i.e., a job).
Sometimes that means new administrators in new or expanded roles, but that may mean reallocating resources from one area to another rather than adding new roles. The challenge, of course, is knowing whether the new administrative hires are delivering services that our students need or are they jobs that are serving the institution at the expense of our students. All institutions need to make a serious attempt to answer that question because it's not just about the number of administrators. It's also about what those administrators do.
Doing what’s right for our students is not always the same as doing what they want. Still, as faculty and administrators, we also need to be clear that doing what we want is often not the same as doing what is best for our students.