When Chancellor Erroll Davis was told by legislators to make further budget cuts at the University System of Georgia, he put up several ideas for consideration.
You could raise tuition 35 percent or so, Davis said, as well as charge students an "emergency fee," shorten semesters, lay off some employees, or discontinue popular programs such as 4-H and county extension offices.
Interestingly, the one thing Davis indicated he will not do is trim the salaries of the University System's highest-paid employees.
"That's certainly something we're not going to recommend or even contemplate," he told lawmakers.
A lot of lawmakers are asking: Why not? That's a question tax-paying Georgians should be asking as well.
Gov. Sonny Perdue was paid $139,339 during the last fiscal year. I sometimes disagree with Perdue about the decisions he makes or the actions he takes, but you can't deny that the governor holds the most important job in state government. If Perdue said tomorrow the governor's salary should be doubled, I would not argue with him.
Now look at the salaries paid to college presidents and administrators.
University of Georgia President Michael Adams's salary was $607,417 in the last fiscal year. Arnett Mace, the former provost who is now a "special assistant" to Adams, was paid $338,100. Jere Morehead, the current provost, was paid $219,364, while student affairs head Rodney Bennett was paid $223,694.
Adams's chief of staff, Meg Amstutz, was paid $137,000 - which means she made almost as much as the governor of the state.
Daniel Papp, the president of Kennesaw State University, was paid $266,956 last year. One of his staffers was paid $152,534 - in other words, an assistant to a college president made more than the governor of Georgia.
Patrick Schloss, the president of Valdosta State University, had a salary of $267,256, while David Potter, the president of North Georgia College, was paid $220,991. Gainesville State College President Martha Nesbitt made $181,119.
Daniel Kaufman, the president of newly established Georgia Gwinnett College, was paid $216,566. One of Kaufman's staffers makes $153,350 a year. Again: an assistant to a college president is being paid a higher salary than the governor of Georgia.
These people have impressive credentials and important responsibilities. I don't doubt that they work hard for their salaries and do their jobs well.
On the other hand, I doubt any of them work harder than a teacher struggling to educate middle-school students in a cash-poor school system. I doubt that they have to cope with the physical dangers faced by state troopers who patrol our highways. I doubt that their jobs are as stressful as the corrections officer who makes sure convicted killers don't escape from prison.
Teachers, state troopers and prison guards have all had to take furloughs and salary cuts this year. Why should college presidents and administrators be any different?
Davis contends that if highly paid University System officials actually had to cut their salaries, the state would see its "best and brightest leave us" as other states raid Georgia for its academic talent.
Chancellor, let me put your mind at ease. Every state government and university system is facing a deep budget crisis right now because of the recession. Other states, like Georgia, are struggling to provide even basic services like K-12 education, public safety, and health care.
You are not going to see other states raid the University System's talent. Just like Georgia, they don't have the money. If the University System required its most highly paid people to take the same salary cuts required of other state employees, the great majority of them would stay on the job.
"We cannot allow our students and programs to bear the brunt of these impending cuts," said Sen. Seth Harp, R-Midland. "True leaders are the first to make sacrifices for the betterment of others. I am calling on the leaders of our state's greatest universities to share in the sacrifice."
Cutting the salaries of college administrators will not solve all of the state's budget problems, but it's a start, and it would show that everyone is sharing the burden as we struggle to get through these hard times.
It is time for the employees of the University System to assume their share of the burden.
(Tom Crawford is the editor of The Georgia Report, an Internet news service at www.gareport.com.)
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