High on the hog: UNC salaries dwarf other state agencies’

By Jesse Saffron and Jenna A. Robinson

Chapel Hill, NC – The average annual income in North Carolina is just over $40,000. But senior-level bureaucrats in the University of North Carolina system’s General Administration (GA)—who take home six-figure salaries—say they need a raise. This Friday, the system’s Board of Governors will vote on a proposed salary range increase that will “assure that [UNC] has the ability to match and, when necessary, lead market in compensating hard to recruit or retain executive talent.”

Living High on the HogThe increases are “designed to [promote] good stewardship of State and University budgetary resources,” which certainly sounds as if system officials intend to perform the remarkable act of keeping costs low by…raising costs.

While it is not clear how the state higher education establishment’s upper crust can, in the name of fiscal prudence, ask for such raises with a straight face, it is clear that top-level employees in the GA and across the state’s 16 public universities are among the highest-paid public employees in the state.

For instance, UNC system president Thomas Ross, who heads the GA, earns $550,000 per year, $30,000 more than the chancellors at UNC-Chapel Hill and NC State University (other chancellors in the system earn between $240,000 and $325,000). The GA employs 68 people who earn more than $100,000 per year, and 8 who earn more than $200,000.

But that’s just for starters. The system’s 16 universities employ 47,894 people. Of those employees, 1,039, or 2.17 percent, earn more than $200,000 and 6,243, or 13 percent, earn more than $100,000. Compared to the rest of state government, these are astounding figures. Of the 87,364 state employees (from the departments of commerce, transportation, health and human services, and so forth), only 56, or 0.06 percent, earn more than $200,000, and just 1,900, or 2.17 percent, earn more than $100,000.

Many argue that chancellor, system administrator, and professor salaries are based on higher education’s market rates, and that if they were to be reduced, top talent would flee to other states and university systems. Let’s, for the sake of argument, ignore the steady stream of scandals and politically correct inanities emanating from some UNC campuses—which would suggest the “talent” may not be as “top” as advertised—and assume that our “public servants” in the UNC aristocracy don’t come cheap. Some other university positions, however, don’t come close to passing the smell test.

For instance, taxpayers may cringe to learn that UNC-Chapel Hill’s Chief Diversity Officer, Taffye Benson Clayton, earns $195,000 per year, or 38 percent more than Governor Pat McCrory. Clayton heads the university’s Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, which hosts campus events, diversity “training” sessions for students and faculty, and seminars, such as “Interrupting Heteronormativity in Research.” The office employs ten full-time employees as well as graduate and undergraduate staff members. Its second- and third-highest paid staffers earn $101,000 and $72,000, respectively.

A related but far more egregious example of lavish campus administration comes from North Carolina State University. Its Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity (OIED) employs 30 people. Total salary expenditures exceed $1.85 million annually. Three employees earn more than $100,000 and only 2 staffers earn less than $40,000. The office includes, among others, a gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) center, a Women’s Center, and an African-American cultural center.

Like UNC-Chapel Hill’s diversity and multicultural affairs office, NC State’s OIED has a strong “social justice” emphasis. It hosts events and “educates” students and faculty via seminars, workshops, and conferences. In October, for example, the GLBT Center is hosting a workshop titled “Recognizing and Responding to Microaggressions.”

Administrative excess is not limited to progressive pet projects, however. For instance, East Carolina University’s department of student involvement and leadership, just one branch of the university’s student affairs division (that division’s vice chancellor makes $203,000, by the way), employs roughly 30 administrators and has total annual salary expenditures of about $1.6 million. Additionally, the director of UNC-Greensboro’s art museum makes $124,395 each year, and the bookstore manager at Appalachian State earns $140,448 annually.

There also are at least two policy think tanks within the UNC system with million-dollar salary budgets; the public spends roughly $2.6 million each year to employ 37 people at UNC-Charlotte’s Urban Institute and NC State University’s Institute for Emerging Issues. The latter’s director makes $185,289 per year.

Along with administrators who are paid extravagantly, there is another problem: too many administrators. UNC schools employ dozens of “support specialists,” “technicians,” “associates,” and “executive assistants,” positions which in some instances appear to be redundant. The Pope Center has long argued that universities have room to trim their budgets, particularly when it comes to administration; the most recent employee information bolsters our case.

Whenever state leaders float the idea of tightening the UNC system’s budget, university officials claim that students will be negatively impacted. That happened several years ago when, after the Great Recession hit, the UNC system had to manage a $400 million cut. But the sky did not fall. More than 500 vacant faculty positions were eliminated (vacant positions are part of “management flexibility” appropriations, and many view them as slush funds), as well as some administrative positions, but degree programs were not affected.

Today, state appropriations account for roughly 43 percent of the UNC system’s revenue (nationally, that figure is about 28 percent). As a result, average in-state tuition is lower than that of all neighboring states. The system is a $9.5 billion public enterprise; the claim that there aren’t areas to create administrative efficiency falls flat.

The evidence is in, and it’s disconcerting: UNC employee salaries are beyond the pale. University leaders need to zero in on plum administrative jobs that have little to do with education and eliminate them posthaste. Even in the case of necessary administrative functions, officials should consider consolidation and outsourcing. If the latest data are an indicator, there is much to be reined in.