Michael Young, former president of the University of Utah, earned $394,000 in salary and other compensation before accepting a much-better-paying job at the University of Washington. In fact, Young's new employer sweetened his previous compensation by 58 percent.
But when the Board of Regents announced it planned to raise the U. president's salary by a measly 3.3 percent, Gov. Gary Herbert and at least one legislator balked. In fact, the governor insisted that the board put the raises for presidents at all Utah colleges and universities on hold.
He wants to see the results of a survey so that the regents will know exactly how much those presidents are underpaid, by market standards.
But Rep. Bill Wright, R-Holden, doesn't give a hoot about the study. He seems more on top of this issue than the governor and admits we already know what the study will show. But he says he doesn't care if the top administrators at universities in other states make more than those here. "We're not competing," he says.
Really? And would the good legislator say the same thing about the U. football coach? The basketball coach? Of course not. Everybody knows that in order to win lots of games you've got to get one of the top coaches in the land, and you only do that by offering compensation that is, as they say, in the ball park. Kyle Whittingham, the U.'s football coach, is paid $1.2 million per year, and former U. basketball coach James Boylen earned more than $884,000. In both cases, the coaches' pay includes radio and television dollars, fees for appearances and sponsorships that go with the mantle.
What Wright may not understand, but should, is that academic posts are as competitive as sports. That lesson has been reinforced as the board tries to recruit a top-notch administrator to replace Young. True, the taxpayers don't get the pleasure of watching their college presidents strategize, call plays and stride the sidelines, but the work that college presidents do quietly in their offices and out in the community is at least as important as what coaches do. Some might even go out on a limb and say it's more important. But in Utah, college presidents are not paid on a par with their peers elsewhere. In many cases, the same is true for faculty members.
The total bill for all the pay raises the regents want to give the presidents amounts to just $100,000, a good deal less than a 10th of what Whittingham makes in a year.
It's a small enough investment to help Utah continue to put up Ws in the win-loss record of Utah higher education.