By Denise Tessier
The Weekly Alibi has run an editorial I’d hoped I would read in the Journal – not exactly as worded by its guest columnist – but the gist of the message is there:
With President David Schmidly’s late-April declaration that he will be stepping down next year, the time has come to contemplate what kind of pay might be appropriate for future UNM administrators.
It’s been hard in recent months to read stories about the University of New Mexico’s financial woes, whether those stories are in the Journal, the Alibi or the New Mexico Daily Lobo, without thinking about the fact that the university president is paid nearly $600,000 a year in compensation. That comes out to about $50,000 a month – more than what most New Mexicans make in a year.
As Justin Delacour, a UNM Ph.D. candidate in political science, noted in his Alibi column (quoting the Chronicle of Higher Education), presidents of both the University of California, Berkeley and UCLA receive less in total compensation than UNM’s president, by $127,044 and $170,000, respectively – and these are highly ranked universities in a state with considerably more wealth than New Mexico.
Compounding this salary strain on the university is the fact that Schmidly added eight vice presidents to his administration in his first two years on the job – bringing to 19 the total number of VPs, who together draw compensation of nearly $4.5 million.
Last month’s Journal editorial commenting on Schmidly’s intent to resign in June 2012 after completion of his five-year contract mentioned that his career was “marked by tensions with the faculty, a no-confidence vote and other controversies,” going so far as to list several of those controversies. But it didn’t mention the potential relief his departure could be for the university in terms of salary – that is, that a successor might be found at a more reasonable compensation, especially in these tight economic times.
It would have been a natural segue to include salary, considering the editorial took the tack that the impending resignation “paves the way for the university to move forward in a thoughtful manner to find his successor.”
On Saturday, the editorial board approached UNM and money in another editorial, “Rationale for Stadium Just a Field of Schemes,” which came on the heels of the announcement UNM would try to raise money by selling to the private sector naming rights for everything from the dugouts to bathrooms in its sport facilities. Its lead-in:
University of New Mexico President David Schmidly makes the pitch that the tough economy and resultant reduction in state funding mean UNM’s educational bargain is unsustainable.
He’s right — especially if the university continues with its lineup of high priced vice presidents and $12 million sports amenities.
This editorial again fell short of taking on Schmidly’s salary in talking about UNM’s financial problems, most likely because his compensation package is what the regents had agreed upon back when Schmidly’s contract was negotiated; all the paper could do at this point is suggest that Schmidly voluntarily take less — not likely a place it wants to go.
But at this point, this isn’t about Schmidly. It’s about the UNM president’s salary and benefits — and, just as importantly, the negotiated retirement package — and trends in university president compensation across the country.
The retirement packages rarely get journalistic scrutiny. By moving from school to school, are university presidents accumulating lucrative packages, some of which the universities continue to pay out to the surviving spouse after the former president’s death? These are things that need to be researched when the regents look at hiring the next UNM president. A candidate who already has a generous retirement package might be more attractive than competitors if it means potentially eliminating the need for UNM to add to that largesse.
Which raises the question: Does Schmidly, who served as president of Texas Tech and Oklahoma State University before coming to UNM, already have two such packages?
The Journal’s UNM beat reporter, James Monteleone, has done a good job uncovering the myriad controversies and challenges the university has faced in the last year. And the Journal deserves props for filing public records requests in 2009 to find out more about the compensation received by UNM’s top administrators.
But in light of the continuing stories about the detrimental effects UNM’s financial troubles are having on students — increased tuition, no weekend student access to the UNM gym and natatorium, fewer scholarships — it might be time to take a hard look at university president packages in general.
And time for the regents to, as Delacour put it, “contemplate what kind of pay might be appropriate for future UNM administrators.”
And time for the Journal’s editorial board to take the official position that perhaps what the president is getting now is a bit too rich for this state.