The 11 gubernatorially appointed members of Kent State University’s board of trustees seem to be robbing the poor to pay the rich, if their recent decision to increase tuition and award the university president a hefty bonus is any indication.
The trustees voted to hike tuition by 3.5 percent while rewarding Kent State University President Lester Lefton with a staggering $100,000 bonus. If that weren’t high enough, his contract also gives him an additional $70,000 longevity bonus that will grow by $10,000 each year he remains with Kent State.
In-state students will pay more than $9,000 a year at a university that the U.S. Department of Education already ranks among the most expensive public universities by net cost in the nation.
What’s going on?
Tuition increases are not inevitable. Nor are full bonus awards. The student financial aid website FinAid.org lists nearly 80 examples of colleges, universities and university systems freezing tuition, many for years on end. From Ivy Leagues such as Princeton University to William Jessup University, a religious institution in California with an enrollment of 721, colleges and universities across the country are rejecting the alarming rise of tuition whenever possible.
And that includes Ohio. Take a look around the state: Ohio State University, Cleveland State University, Hiram College, even Kent State. They’ve all–at one time or another–frozen tuition. Ohio is proof positive that there are alternatives to making cash-strapped students dole out hundreds of additional dollars; institutions can find ways to do better with what they have.
But if trustees do increase tuition, at the very least, they should think twice before awarding the president a 25 percent bonus. And a president should think twice before accepting it. A March 2011 report from The Chronicle of Higher Education shows that fewer than 12 percent of the 185 chief executives it tracks were awarded bonuses during the 2009-2010 school year. It looks like Lefton will be on the list again and again.
Trustees are fiduciaries–responsible for guiding their institutions when they’re thriving and nurturing them when they’re not. They’re also responsible for ensuring transparency. However, transparency doesn’t seem to be among the trustees’ top priorities, as evidenced by the fact that the minutes for the 2011 meetings have yet to be posted on their website.
Especially in these troubling economic times, trustees need to demonstrate to the public that they are striving to use the public funds entrusted to them wisely, and presidential pay and tuition increases should not be exempt from close scrutiny. Families in Ohio and around the country are hurting. Is now really the time to raise tuition and reward the CEO?
And what does it say to the faculty? Jane Buck, former president of the American Association of University Professors, wonders whether ever-rising executive pay could “signal the demise of the best of the academy.” Buck contends that presidential pay should be no more than twice the median salary of a full-time professor.
According to StateUniversity.com, the average 2009 salary for a full-time professor at Kent State was $67,264, a fraction of Lefton’s salary. (And, coincidentally, less than Lefton’s longevity raise this year alone.)
The trustees’ decision to award the president his bonus means Lefton now has a compensation package (base pay, bonuses and deferred compensation) that exceeds $580,000 a year–nearly tenfold that of an average full-time professor at Kent State and well above the median household income ($46,318) in Ohio.
There’s nothing wrong with making money and being successful. That’s the American dream. However, when the president is making $170,000 in bonuses this year alone while many Ohio taxpayers struggle and many college students take out loan after loan, it’s time the trustees are asked if they are making the best use of hard-earned taxpayer dollars.