December 4, 2016

Editorial: Bonuses and raises for administrators send the wrong message

College administrations earn large salaries and get large bonuses. That is the standard for those jobs, and proportionate to the amount of responsibility that a university’s top decision-makers bear. When an educational institution falls on hard times, however, administrators should be willing to tighten their belts along with everyone else. That willingness is what has been lacking from Webster University’s president and provost.

Tax documents revealed that Webster’s President Elizabeth Stroble and Provost Julian Schuster received a total of $152,868 in bonuses, raises and incentive pay. Both received more bonuses and larger raises than the previous year, despite a third consecutive budget shortfall. Susan Polgar, head coach of Webster’s chess team, received the third highest compensation.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average college professor makes just under $70,000 per year. The average student works 25 hours per week, for $7.50 an hour, and can expect to graduate with $35,000 in debt.

Last year, Webster made several tough financial decisions, including choosing not to automatically fill vacant positions and to reduce the budget for student employment. Enrollment of undergraduate and graduate students is continuing to drop, while investments in projects like the Interdisciplinary Science Building and the Gateway Campus are perceived as risky and not guaranteed to pay off, and certainly not quickly.

Illustration by Amber Williams

Illustration by Amber Williams

None of this, apparently, has had any effect on the monetary gain of the university’s top administrators.

When The Journal reported on Stroble and Schuster’s compensation, we received responses from students and even some faculty members that were united in one thing: whether they expressed anger, sadness or just frustration, members of the Webster community felt their concerns were not what the university’s administration was prioritizing.

It’s no secret that Webster is experiencing some financial difficulties and is on its third consecutive year of budget shortfalls. The Journal reported revenue came up short this year by a total of $7 million. A freeze on raises and bonuses for administrators would not fill the gap between what the university is spending and what it has. Still, it could help us begin to build a bridge across that distance, and another use for that money – almost any other use – could make a much greater difference.

This is a time when many Webster faculty and staff members are worried about the future of their programs and careers while many Webster students are worried about whether the decisions being made are the best for their academic careers. How can students and faculty trust that the administrators are prioritizing the right things when we can clearly see that they are not willing to sacrifice their own financial gain for the good of the university?

The level of compensation an administrator receives is just one measure by which their performance should be measured, but for the sake of faculty and student retention and new student enrollment as much as anything else, image does matter.

Stroble and Schuster are leading the Webster community at a time when many people are looking for strong leadership, and moves like accepting large bonuses and raises show that they are not working to earn the community’s trust. Sometimes captains have to be willing to sink or swim with their ships. Right now, Webster’s students, staff and faculty feel like administrators are isolated from the consequences the rest of us will face.

The amount of money Webster administration is taking in while many students, faculty members and academic programs struggle to stay afloat makes us uncomfortable. It should make the administrators uncomfortable too.

This editorial is the view of the editorial board, which is comprised of 12 editors. You can find their names posted in the masthead.

Correction: The national average of college debt after graduation is $28,950. The Journal apologizes for this error. 

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