The trouble with UNC’s big pay raises? It’s not really the raises

The Observer editorial board

After a pay raise, UNCC Chancellor Phil Dubois will make $387,500. That’s still under the median for U.S. college administrators.
After a pay raise, UNCC Chancellor Phil Dubois will make $387,500. That’s still under the median for U.S. college administrators. COURTESY OF UNC CHARLOTTE

Let’s get one thing out of the way regarding the generous raises given to University of North Carolina system chancellors last week: The administrators should not give the money back.

That’s what some faculty and protesters have said this week about the pay hikes, which ranged from 8 percent to 19 percent and went to 12 of the 17 UNC system chancellors. In one online petition, the raises were called “greedy” and “immoral.”

Yes, college administrators make a lot of money. But in education as well as business, some positions pay more than others. Until college faculty, who often make well over $75,000 a year, decide to donate part of their salaries to K-12 teachers, who often make well under $50,000, they should probably think twice about telling others what to do with their paychecks.

In themselves, the raises for chancellors make at least some business sense. They seem to bring UNC salaries more in line with what university administrators make across the country. Even after the raises, 15 of the 17 chancellors made below the national median of $428,250 among 238 public university leaders.

That said, North Carolinians should have a few concerns with what the Board of Governors did:

▪ It’s not clear exactly what was behind the pay hikes. That’s because the board hasn’t released the minutes of the closed-door meetings in which the raises were decided.

As such, the public isn’t sure how board members arrived at the figures, why some administrators received big raises and some none at all, or why the board thought this was the right move at the right time.

Given how some board members howled last month about the lack of transparency surrounding Margaret Spellings’ ascendance to the UNC system presidency, you’d think they might be a bit less secretive about their first big decision since.

▪ There’s no escaping that the big raises come at a time that college continues to become less affordable for N.C. families. A 2015 report by the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities shows that tuition at N.C. public universities rose 35.8 percent between 2008 and 2015, outpacing the financial aid offered to students.

It’s a troubling cycle in North Carolina and across the country. Administrator pay keeps rising, as does college tuition, and families are less equipped to afford it.

▪ There’s also no escaping that while the people who make the most in the UNC system are about to make a lot more, faculty and employees got a comparatively puny, one-time bonus of $750 this year from the N.C. legislature.

Lawmakers have clearly decided that making salaries more competitive for N.C. faculty, not to mention K-12 teachers, isn’t the same priority as fixing what N.C. administrators make.

We just don’t get it. If it’s important to take the long view on the men and women who lead our strong universities, why wouldn’t we do the same for all the people who make them great?