The chancellor of the University of Maine System today is defending the decision to approve a $40,000 raise for a top administrator in the midst of a budget crisis. But a recent nationwide report on the economic status of university professors calls administrators' salaries into question.
The $40,000 raise for Vice Chancellor and Treasurer Rebecca Wyke brings her salary to $205,000. It comes at a time when the University of Maine System has to cut $36 million to balance its books for the 2015 fiscal year.
Chancellor James Page said, after much consideration, the university offered the raise because Wyke was being courted for a similar position out of state. "We felt strongly that the cost to replace the position - to fill the position - would be at least as much as we ended up offering."
And it's precisely because of the financial challenges the university faces, Page said, that they needed to keep Wyke on the job. "To have that position vacant at this time would be very detrimental."
Wyke's salary increase was revealed in a recent published report of U-Maine employee salaries. That report shows that her raise brings her salary on par with the vice chancellor for academic affairs, who earns $204,000 a year. But the report also shows disparities in employee salaries: An education professor earns $34,000 a year, while an assistant math professor at the same university earns $48,000.
Researcher John Curtis of the American Association of University Professors said that's not unusual. "There's often a wide range of salaries, even in a given university, from relatively low to quite high."
It depends on how specialized the field is, said Curtis, and how long someone has been employed. The Association recently released its annual report on the economic status of professors. Curtis said there is a troubling conclusion: "Even within the spending that the college or university has available, the priorities have been going increasingly to areas other than the academic mission."
Curtis said there's been growth in more temporary, non-tenured positions. He said these professors need to piece together multiple positions, which diverts their full attention from delivering quality instruction and actively engaging in research.
Curtis said there's also been explosive growth in the number of university administrators - a doubling over the past 35 years. Their salaries, he said, have also gone up.
"The average salary for presidents increased by about 75% over the course of 35 years, and that's after adjusting for inflation," Curtis said, "at the same time that the average salary for even the most senior faculty memebers increased by about 18%."
University of Maine Chancellor James Page said those findings may be true nationally, but Maine faces unique challenges due to the demographics and the economics of the state.
"Even amongst administrators, you won't find many who would say that administration should have increased allocations and increased funding at the cost of our core mission of education and research," he said.
Page said University trustees are actively looking to reduce administrative costs.
A call to the chair of the USM Faculty Senate, Jerry LaSala, was not returned by airtime. USM is facing a $14 million budget cut. LaSala told the Portland Press Herald that the amount of Rebecca Wyke's raise would have paid for an associate professor or a couple of assistants that work directly with students.