During the past four years Western Carolina University has been hit with $30 million in cumulative budget cuts, a university lobotomy of sorts that has resulted in larger class sizes, consolidation of some academic programs and restructurings of certain departments.
Tuition this academic year increased by 9.9 percent, or $399. Fees, too, have gone up by some $151 per student this year.
This means one could easily and accurately argue that students at WCU are paying more for less.
Which goes a long way toward explaining why WCU student Andy Miller, who has taken an active role on campus highlighting what budget cuts there really mean, was less than thrilled to learn that his former chancellor is pulling down $280,000 this year for conducting research. John Bardo retired as WCU’s chancellor last summer but has continued to make his full salary.
“Let us say he is doing research, and even that it is great research. I still think it’s unjust and unfair to pay $280,000 for research,” Miller said.
In addition to the large salary, Bardo receives a fringe-benefits package that includes retirement and health insurance. The retired chancellor did have to give up the university-provided car and free house, however. Those perks transferred to new WCU’s new chancellor, David Belcher.
‘Demoralizing’ to faculty, staff
Bardo is not the only university chancellor in the state who was able to keep his salary for an additional year after retiring. Chancellors across the state have been entitled to the same benefits. The policy was revised, however, in 2010 by the University of North Carolina Board of Governors.
Board members decided the policy, the one Bardo falls under, was overly generous and did not hold outgoing chancellors and presidents accountable for the money they were earning.
The new policy allows chancellors and presidents who are returning to the classroom six months pay at levels that are in-line with other faculty. It also specifies certain work requirements be met and stipulates that before and after reviews be conducted of any research done.
The change in 2010 only applied to incoming chancellors and presidents such as Belcher, not Bardo and a cadre of other UNC university chancellors and presidents. Specifically, the old policy states that Bardo and these other men and women are entitled to an extra year of salary, paid for by their respective institutions, for a year’s research leave if they meet a couple conditions: They must have served for at least five years and must agree to become a faculty member for a nine-month appointment after their 12 months of research is completed.
Bardo meets that litmus test. He served some 16 years at WCU. And, the longtime administrator said he would return to the classroom to teach as a member of the university’s faculty.
“I do not yet know what I will be teaching. Once that is set, I will begin to do specific work related to those classes,” Bardo wrote in an email interview.
The salary Bardo will receive for nine months as a WCU faculty member isn’t shabby: $168,000, or 60 percent of his chancellor’s salary of $280,000.
That’s more than double the average salary for WCU faculty of $74,215. None of these WCU employees have been given raises in four years, making the current payments to Bardo seem, to critics such as Miller at least, especially egregious in such fiscally austere times.
It’s not just a student finding the large sums of dollars being doled out a bit hard to swallow. Professor Daryl Hale, who teaches in the department of philosophy and religion, described the situation as “demoralizing.”
“But, it’s also demoralizing to hear about any number of football coaches who get in excess of $200,000 for losing seasons, or to be told by the UNC general administration that what really matters are continuing athletic programs, no matter what the exorbitant costs,” Hale said in an email. “And then, faculty are constantly given the lame response that all this comes from ‘different pots,’ which even if true, shows no compassion when it comes from those voting themselves huge salary increases … I guess the bigger question to ask (now I step into my role as a moral philosopher): Is this really the sort of university system or society we want to live in and hand on to our students and children?”
And, Professor Catherine Carter of WCU’s English department raised questions about accountability and what precisely the university can anticipate in return for the $280,000 Bardo is receiving.
“I hope WCU can expect some really amazing research, considering that I can’t get funded to visit Berkeley for a week to work with primary sources and live in a very Spartan dorm while I’m there,” Carter said. “And, I certainly hope that as WCU makes its terms with new faculty and administration, it’ll remember this and choose its priorities accordingly.”
Bardo is part of an older echelon of chancellors who have cost North Carolina and will continue to cost North Carolina — of the UNC chancellors who have stepped down since 1994, six (including Bardo) were granted a one-year research leave under their chancellors’ salary. This money is “to retool before returning to the classroom,” said Joni Worthington, spokeswoman for the UNC Board of Governors.
Worthington said the cumulative total of these retired chancellors’ ending salaries was $1.27 million.
But, there are more chancellors in the pipeline who fall under the old policy. Of the 17 UNC chancellors today, 12 will potentially have the option of drawing an additional year’s salary when they retire. Their current annual salaries are a combined total $1.9 million.
That said, as of this month, only seven of them have served as chancellor for five years or more, as required under the policy. Two more will cross that minimum service threshold later this year. The other three have another couple of years to reach the five-year mark to qualify.
According to the American Council on Education, the average tenure of presidents and chancellors at American universities is eight-and-a-half years. But even if chancellors and presidents qualify, that does not mean they’ll want to conduct research and then teach.
“It is highly unlikely, based on past experience, that all of these chancellors would exercise their retreat rights and return to the classroom after a one-year leave,” Worthington said.
Here’s the context: of the 17 men and women preceding this latest crop of chancellors, six resigned to accept positions at other institutions, one retired and chose not to return to the classroom; four resigned their administrative positions with fewer than five years of service and were granted leaves of six months or less. Only six opted to return to the classroom after a one-year leave.
Worthington said allowing senior administrators to take a faculty position (with a certain time period to “retool”) when they retire or otherwise step down has been an accepted practice for decades in American higher education.
In 2003, the board of governors required every university board of trustees to adopt a policy on administrative separation of presidents and chancellors. This was an effort to make UNC campuses more competitive and bring consistency to practices, according to Worthington. In 2005, a uniform statewide policy was instituted, the one now benefiting Bardo.
But following an examination of the policy in 2009, the system decided “that UNC’s policies overall might be slightly more generous than those of public universities elsewhere — both in the length of leaves permitted and their levels of pay — and modified the policy accordingly,” Worthington said.
The new policy isn’t as generous as the old. The leave is for six months, with the possibility of an additional six months if approved by the UNC president. The salary during the leave is to be “commensurate with salaries of faculty members” of comparable rank and experience.
The departed chancellors who take the leave promise they’ll return to classrooms must submit a work plan. This plan is required to include a description of expected outcomes. The plan undergoes review by both the UNC president and board of governors. When completed, the former chancellor is required to submit a “summary report” to the UNC system and the local board of trustees that is involved.
What would $280,000 get the university?
• At $12,551 apiece, WCU could pay for 22 instate, full-ride football scholarships each year to help bolster the struggling football program.
• At an average of $74,215 each, WCU could hire almost four faculty members.
• Administrators come at about $62,674, so WCU could hire at least four of them, too.
• Staff are much less expensive at merely $35,316 or so each; WCU could hire almost eight.
WCU’s top earners
David Belcher, Chancellor
Effective July 1, 2012
Robert Edwards, Vice chancellor for administration and finance
Effective July 1, 2011
Beth Lofquist, Interim provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs
Effective July 11, 2011
Sam Miller, Vice chancellor for student affairs
Effective Aug. 1, 2007
Clifton Metcalf, Vice chancellor for advancement and external affairs
Effective Jan. 15, 2001