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Instead of tuition surcharge, cut officials’ pay

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | NOVEMBER 04, 2009 7:20 AM

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As the Public Enemy said in its 1989 classic, students need to “fight the powers that be.”

Amid a $24.7 million hole in the UI’s budget, all we’ve heard in the past week from those powers that be is how students must bear the budgetary burden. Last week, UI President Sally Mason wrote a guest opinion calling for everyone — students included — to pitch in and help the university. UI Student Government President Michael Currie wrote much of the same, arguing our education would suffer if students didn’t pitch in. Both of these guest opinions were supposed to justify the potential $100 spring surcharge.

But there are better ways to bring in money, including asking the athletics department and the UI’s highest-paid employees to take pay cuts.

Last week, the Editorial Board suggested the athletics department contribute funds to the university. While some argued that as a self-sustaining organization, athletics shouldn’t have to give to the university, it’s not unreasonable to ask an athletics department — even an independent one — to make contributions.

Nor is it without precedent.

The University of Michigan asks its athletics department to give $1.5 million every year to the athletic fund. We’re only asking for a one-time gift. Athletics doesn’t have to give money, nor should the university force it to donate. But financial help from athletics would help the university tremendously. The athletics department spends 35 percent on its budget on payroll. It is the largest expenditure and goes to pay the state’s two highest-paid employees: Kirk Ferentz and Todd Lickliter.

The total payroll expenditure is approximately $23 million. If athletics diverted 10 percent to the university, the UI would receive approximately $2.3 million — a little more than the projected total of the surcharge. There are large pay differences among athletics staff, so not everyone would need to give up 10 percent of her or his salary. The athletics department could divide the funds any way it saw fit, but we’d like to see it graduate contributions based on pay scale. This voluntary pay cut would be similar to gifts athletics seeks from its season-ticket holders.

In addition, other university employees could give up part of their salaries. Mason has already declined her $80,000 bonus for next year, but the giving doesn’t have to end with her. A quick look at all UI employees making more than $350,000 a year shows the university could save more than $3 million if all those employees volunteered 10 percent of their salaries. This could be a one-time gift and would easily surpass the money garnered from the tuition surcharge.

These individuals are not struggling TAs or first-year professors in fear of losing their jobs. They are the top administrative officials with incomes well above Iowa’s cost of living. Even with a 10 percent pay cut this year, it’s doubtful these individuals would suffer greater than students already struggling to pay tuition and living expenses.

Furthermore, they are the leaders of the UI community. They should act as stewards and lead the community through good times and bad. If administrators ask the community to make sacrifices and share in the burden, they, too, must make sacrifices and share in the burden.

Mason is right that everyone must pitch in to help the UI. But she is wrong in assuming students don’t contribute enough already. State employees will have to make sacrifices like smaller contributions to retirement funds and furloughs, but the state and the UI are still paying them a salary.

It is the exact opposite for students. UI students pay tuition and have only seen it skyrocket in the last decade. Pay cuts — and perhaps furloughs — for highly paid UI and athletics department officials would set a great example and make it easier for students to share the financial burden.


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