DEAR PRESIDENT WHITE:
YOU OWE US AT LEAST ANOTHER FIVE YEARS
By Nick Gier
Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, University of Idaho
President, Higher Education Council
Idaho Federation of Teachers, AFT/AFL-CIO.
Since 1986, the tenure of an American university president has increased from an average of 6.3 years to 8.5 years. By contrast, the terms of office of University of Idaho (UI) presidents are becoming shorter, and in the case of Tim White, alarmingly so. Presidents Ernest Hartung and Richard Gibb remained in office 12 years, while Elizabeth Zinser and Robert Hoover were on campus for seven years. White is now leaving after four years to take a position at UC Riverside.
The average tenure calculation obscures high turnover rates on other campuses. Eastern Michigan State has had four presidents in six years; Sierra Nevada College has had four presidents in 10 years; and Florida A&M has had two presidents in seven years. Over 11 years at Texas Tech there have been two chancellors and three presidents.
White's $286,187 salary is 392 percent higher than Gibb's, and he will be making $325,000 at his new job. When Hartung was president, he made three times that of new assistant professors, but White's salary has risen to seven times that of new faculty. Adjusted for inflation, average university presidential pay has risen 35 percent from 1996-2006, while faculty salaries increased only five percent during the same period.
The tenure for academic deans is growing even shorter. Studies reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education indicate an average of three to five years. The most recent UI science and liberal arts deans each lasted only three years. These outside deans come with automatic tenure and negotiated step-down agreements with a mere 15 percent reduction in salary. These huge salaries burden departmental budgets, and they also skew salary calculations for determining how far departments are behind their peers.
The new deans of science and liberal arts are not only competent but know the UI well and have deep roots in the community. Studies show that the best CEOs are those who work their way up within their companies, so why doesn't the UI choose capable administrators already on campus to lead the university?
When the faculty union complained about exploding dean salaries and costly searches, UI Provost Doug Baker acknowledged that it was, in contrast to faculty, a very competitive market with very high turnover. Since 1982, UI dean's salaries have risen 240 percent while full professor pay has gone up 187 percent. The Consumer Price Index for the same period is 210.
The departure of a university president, especially so soon after he has been hired, disrupts the lives of faculty and staff as they are forced to adjust to an interim administration. The vast sums of money that are paid to "head hunters" and on interviews mean less money for academics and campus maintenance. New presidents spend lots of time "learning the ropes," and they sometimes bring in new management teams that further disturb the efficient running of the university.
To his credit White has made sure, sometimes by robbing other budgets, that faculty have received some decent salary increases. We are still, however, at the bottom of our peer group because its professors have also received similar raises. I have no means to counter White's claims of a much improved financial situation for the UI, so we have to take White at his word. I can say, however, that White's announcement that 67 new positions were added in 2007-2008 was very misleading. The UI's own figures show a net increase of only 15 positions.
Out of all the UI presidents that I've known, I can say that I had the best personal relationship with Tim White. He has excellent interpersonal skills and he is the best listener of any administrator with whom I've had dealings. Once he excused himself from a very important meeting to meet with me about retaliation against a staff member. White was very attentive to the details that I related about this situation. It was a classic case of an employee paying the price for reporting unsafe and improper actions. After the meeting, I fully expected White to stop the retaliation, but the case dragged on for another 11 months before it was settled. The emotional damage and extra legal fees were both entirely unnecessary.
The faculty union was not directly involved in Joe's Hass' suit against CAMBR, the UI's prestigious Center for Advanced Microelectronics and Biomolecular Research. CAMBR director Gary Maki lost his administrative post, but White ignored attempts by faculty members to convene a much needed post-tenure review for Maki.
After 35 years of handling grievances for the faculty union, my main complaint is that the UI does a very poor job of personnel management. The UI could have avoided some of the legal cases we won by simply following its own procedures and offering better personnel training for its deans and department chairs.
I do hope that the next UI president is more attentive to these personnel matters. I also propose that the contract of any external candidate hired will contain a clause requiring 10 years of service. Such a clause might not be necessary if an inside candidate—I can think of several outstanding choices—is hired.