The University Record, January 24, 1994

LETTERS

‘Thanks’ to Flexible Benefits Advisory Committee

Many thanks to the Flexible Benefits Advisory Committee for all the work and careful thought that went into the comprehensive report contained in the Jan. 17 University Record. It was an unexpected pleasure to receive a publication on staff benefits from the Univer-sity that was thorough in its disclosures and honest about tradeoffs and costs. I support the Committee’s recommendations.

Hopefully this same Committee will oversee implementation of flexible benefits. The recommendations are sensible, but a lot of judgment will be required in the execution and revision each year.

I am most worried about the pricing of benefit options. The Committee urges that prices should reflect the actual value of each benefit. Determining that value will often be a difficult task, given the complexity of some of the benefit programs and the absence of any precisely analogous product available outside the University.

It will be tempting to overvalue benefits (and thereby overprice them) when the University’s budget is tight. Similarly, it may be tempting to pursue other policies through the pricing structure (such as subsidizing University medical facilities by overpricing other facilities, or subsidizing the life insurance of older employees by charging younger employees more than private market rates). These temptations, which are inconsistent with the philosophy of flexible benefits, have sometimes driven staff benefits policies in the past. Unless some independent committee oversees pricing in the future, I fear we will repeat these mistakes.

Kent D. Syverud, professor of law

‘A sad commentary on the state of higher education’

Since the announcement that President Duderstadt received a 14.2 percent raise to reach $206,070, Provost Whitaker 9 percent ($192,042) and Financial Officer Womack 12 percent ($186,056), numerous letters to newspapers have objected strongly to these raises and salary levels. On Dec. 13, the Senate Assembly passed a resolution which began: “Senate Assembly notes with concern the extraordinary increases in salary among the top administrative leadership the past year.” On Dec. 17 the Ann Arbor News criticized these raises and pay levels: “The U-M shouldn’t be allowed to consider itself untouchable when it comes to spending the public’s money. ...Such high pay increases don’t jibe with economic realities that Michigan taxpayers and businesses have to cope with... Most of the administrative pay increases run far above inflation, which continues to hover at about 3 percent.” On Jan. 7 under the headline “State should put these fat cats on a diet,” the Michigan Daily wrote: [For the President to accept] a salary hike that is two-to-three times larger than most employees’, while jacking up tuition, undermines both students and faculty. If Duderstadt is so oblivious to morale on campus, then maybe he should go elsewhere. Somebody must put a stop to this madness. If the Regents just don’t care, then it’s time for legislators who are actually accountable to the public to step in.”

What, then, has been the response of the University administrators to this chorus of dismay?

First, sidestepping the specific complaints about the pay of the top three officers, the provost’s office released figures purporting to show that “Compensation increases for Ann Arbor campus tenure-track faculty this year averaged 5.43 percent. This compares with the 5.85 percent for academic administrators.” However, no one except the provost himself seems to believe these figures, and one professor objected “to what appears to be an attempt to defuse the controversy by misleading statistics.” The Senate Assembly’s committee is now gathering its own figures.

Second, on the theory that the best defense is a strong offense, Duderstadt himself declared that “Independent studies showed that salaries [for selected executive officers] are roughly 15–20 percent below those of leading public universities” and their total compensation falls 35–40 percent behind that at leading public universities. In other words, administrators’ salaries, which are now about $200,000, ought really to be about $240,000, and about $280,000 in total compensation.

Related is Duderstadt’s argument that administrators have to be paid this much (preferably more) so as to fend off competitive offers. This phantom of outside offers, however, was nicely rebuffed (Ann Arbor News, Jan. 3) by a local businessman: “Why care for a moment what other institutions may offer to seduce the administrator on the march, so long as the present salary package is eminently respectable? ... The Duderstadts should respond to the Regents’ additional offers of tribute by ‘That’s enough!’ Get rid of the CEO for-profit mentality and live by example as teacher.”

Lastly, one top administrator says that he himself really isn’t interested in how much money he gets but argues that the salaries are needed to attract qualified applicants for his post in the future.

The top administrators seem now to be adopting the strategy of hunkering down and waiting for the fuss to die down. CEOs speak a different language; they just don’t understand why non-CEOs are complaining. Their tactic may well work because many members of the University community are already so disillusioned by the behavior of top administrators that they despair of the possibility of change. This is all a sad commentary on the state of higher education.

John H. Humphrey, professor of classical archaeology and Latin and research scientist and curator,
Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

Photograph stereotypes

In a society where women’s math and quantitative abilities are so frequently denigrated or dismissed as “unfeminine,” we who are in education are doing our best to encourage fair treatment of both sexes. It doesn’t help when I see your publication run a photo of three smiling women accompanied by a caption that says, “A quantitative reasoning requirement did not appear to be uppermost in the minds of these students as they traversed the Diag...” I realize that the remark was intended quite casually, commenting on people who look as if they were having fun, but if we all make an effort to stop dissociating women with math ability, we might chip away at an unfair stereotype.

Nina Liu, teacher,
Pound House Children’s Center