The State Board of Regents wants Utah to be competitive when it comes to hiring and retaining presidents of public colleges and universities. The regents understand what that requires and have rightly approved pay hikes of up to 24 percent.
While that sounds like an awful lot, especially compared to the meager pay raises faculty members have received in recent years, the regents' goal this year is just to bring the presidents to 15 percent below a median calculated on presidential salaries at similar institutions nationwide.
That is a reasonable goal, and the next goal should be to bring faculty and staff to that same level as quickly as possible.
The median compensation for presidents at U.S. public colleges and universities rose by 4.7 percent in 2011-12 to about $441,000. A study by the higher education commissioner's office found that the salaries of Utah college presidents were well below the median in some cases the disparity was 20 to 30 percentage points.
Any increase would require final approval from Utah Commissioner of Higher Education David Buhler based on positive presidential job reviews. But the change would give Buhler and a presidential compensation committee the option to give annual raises until the salaries are at the median and keep them there as pay changes at comparable schools.
The pay scale for academic leaders is market-driven, in the same way the pay is set for football and basketball coaches who often are paid substantially more than presidents. University of Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham earned $1.9 million last year.
The top people can demand top salaries and get them. And Utah needs to attract the best.
Apparently, that became clear to the regents as they launched a nationwide search for a replacement for former President Michael Young at the U.
Young earned $394,000 in salary and other compensation before accepting a job at the University of Washington with a salary of $768,000 last year. Michael Benson more than doubled his salary to $400,000 when he left Southern Utah University for Eastern Kentucky this year. Current U. President David Pershing's compensation, at $624,000 in fiscal 2012, puts him 44th in the nation, but he gets $175,000 of that total paid from an endowment five years into his tenure
No matter how good the sales pitch, Utah simply cannot make up for a low salary offer with promises of high quality of life or pleasant working conditions. A busy college president only has so much time to ski and hike in Utah's mountains. In the end, a job offer is all about the money.