It’s time to talk about how much we spend on university administrators

I am a proud alumna of the University of Maine at Augusta, and I can’t say enough good about the institution. Whenever people ask me about the experience, I always say that I was never the oldest student in the room or the youngest or the only pregnant one — the school truly serves nontraditional students in an inclusive atmosphere. The unique make-up of the student population meant I learned as much from my fellow students’ rich experiences as I did from the talented professors there.

So I’m glad my alma mater has a new president, James Coneely, and I wish him well. I benefited greatly from my time at UMA, and I want the institution to continue to succeed and benefit others. Further, I have no doubts about his qualifications or the selection process that resulted in his hire.

But when I read his starting annual salary through 2018 was $192,000, I had to scrape my jaw off the table. Are you kidding me? That’s nearly half of the $400,000 salary presidents of the United States have been earning since 2001.

The U.S. president administers to over 318 million citizens on a national and international level. The president of UMA administers to 6,200 students who don’t even live on campus.

It defies reason, but it does help explain at least part of why the University of Maine System is running in the red. And such salaries should point system trustees in a fruitful direction when it comes to implementing their “One University” model. This model is designed to unify the seven campuses under the same accreditation and allow for reducing unnecessary redundant expenditures and greater academic flexibility between campuses.

The “One University” model is part of a strategic plan to reduce projected deficits in the years ahead. The total anticipated system deficit is projected to be $53 million by 2020. A description of the model (click here) says it “will dramatically reduce and reorganize all administrative functions into a single, integrated administrative structure appropriate to our mission, resources and size.”

The description doesn’t go on to single out campus presidents in that reduction, but one hopes those seven positions are considered. I’m starting to think of UMS presidents the same that I think of K-12 superintendents here in Maine.  I’ve long believed there have to be synergies between districts that would allow for superintendent sharing, and I’m thinking the same is probably true of our seven university campuses and the role of university president.

Could we cut the number of UMS presidents down to three or four?  It just seems like we have too many, and they cost too much.

How much is too much? I did a quick check of their salaries ranging from roughly $137,000 for the president of the University of Maine at Machias to $250,000 for the president of the University of Maine in Orono. All totaled, the salaries of the seven presidents cost roughly $1,265,000 a year. Throw in the $277,000 earned by the chancellor of the system and the $408,000 earned by the two vice chancellors, and the total cost of the system’s top administrative salaries is $1,950,000.

That’s right — almost $2 million dollars a year goes to just 10 positions in a system facing declining enrollments. Over the course of the five years measured in the projected deficit, those salaries add up to one-fifth of the total shortfall.

And that’s just here in Maine, a poor state where incomes are growing slower than all but 10 other states, and the median income in 2014 was $42,071. I’m sure I’d be sickened by administrative costs in other states in both the public and private university system. It makes me think post-secondary administrators may be a little out of touch.

The rest of us have been reading about the high costs of post-secondary education and the obscene loan debt being incurred by recent college graduates. We’ve been reading about program and staff cuts to keep campuses like USM afloat. I think it’s time we started reading about some high end administrative cuts, too.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.