Following up on last week’s story, briefly discussed here, of University of Colorado President Bruce Benson’s “media relations advice” to quickly pass a large tuition increase on in-state students, citing damaging “opportunities the media has” to question doing so. Coming on the heels of revelations of large salary increases for top CU officials, this little kerfluffle has turned into quite the nasty public relations problem for Benson. The Boulder daily paper and other media continue to make problematic revelations, and students are getting restless.
Friday afternoon, Benson sent out a damage control email to the CU staff and student body. From what we’ve heard about the reaction…Benson may have made his PR problems worse.
The university has had its share of scrutiny from Colorado media recently. In the past month, stories and editorials have covered everything from salaries to proposed tuition increases. Suffice it to say that most have been negative. Many CU alumni and friends have shared with me that they feel the coverage paints an unfair picture of our university. I agree in some cases but not all. Regardless, I want to take this opportunity to address some common perceptions (and misperceptions) in recent reports about CU and provide context that may not always make headlines or sound bites…
Perception: Salaries at CU are out of control, as evidenced by raises for “top administrators.”
Reality: We are in a market economy and are a people-intensive enterprise. Some three quarters of our expenditures are for people. Delivering a quality education at CU means investing in people. Additionally, our business has increased substantially during the recession, with an 11.5 percent increase in enrollment the past decade and record enrollment on our campuses. Degrees awarded over the same period increased 34 percent.
Top administrative raises accounted for a small percentage of the total salary pool. The vast majority went to faculty, who are critical to the quality of a CU education. More than 85 percent of those who received merit raises received less than $4,000. [Pols emphasis]
Perception: Our faculty members [Pols emphasis] are underworked and overpaid.
Reality: While some believe faculty only teach a couple of courses, the reality is our world-class faculty teach many courses, advise and mentor students, conduct scholarly activity, generate research funding, and are active in community and university service…
So folks, please correct us if we’re wrong, but wasn’t the recent scandal over raises given to top CU administrators such as Chancellor Phil DiStefano, who got a $49,000 salary bump last year to nearly $400,000 a year, about administrators? Why then are we talking about “underworked and overpaid faculty?” If we didn’t know better, well, why wouldn’t we think that Benson is making a diversion of faculty members by “defending” them–and not, say, Phil DiStefano?
Of course, by the time you read that, you’ve already had your intelligence insulted with “fact” that “85 percent of those who received merit raises received less than $4,000.” With their great value of a college education, recipients will see this is the inverse way of saying 15% got really big raises, like Chancellor DiStefano! And according to Brittany Anas of the Boulder paper, while only 51% of eligible faculty got raises, fully 71% of administrative staff did.
So other than the fact that Benson’s Republican buddies like to complain about Ward Churchill, why, once again, is he talking about faculty members at all? It doesn’t make sense.
And eerily like the experience of Colorado House Speaker Frank McNulty’s incredibly wrongheaded attempt to conceal the passage of higher per diem pay for rural legislators, Benson may discover that he’s actually made his trouble much worse with these dishonesties. If you look at the pay for even highly-paid administrators, you can see that CU does indeed pay at a consistently lower level for these jobs than the national median. Like Colorado legislators, there’s an objective and very reasonable argument for raising salaries.
Which makes the way it’s been handled by Republicans in both cases even worse.