by NICHOLAS DESHAIS
Washington State University President Elson Floyd instituted a hiring freeze last April, he cited "an increasingly uncertain financial future for the state and the nation." Four months later, at the end of August, the university's regents voted to raise his pay by 20 percent, or $125,000, bringing him to $725,000 a year. On top of that, Floyd will pocket $500,000 if he stays through 2012. The university also supplies him with a vehicle, a presidential house in Pullman and a condo in Seattle.
Floyd, by all accounts an effective administrator, probably wasn't too worried about the economy's health when he got the news. Others, however, find it all a little distressing.
"We're increasing student tuition 7 percent a year. Do [Washington state legislators] realize that means every seven years, tuition doubles? What is that doing to the middle class?" says Ken Struckmeyer, a professor of landscape architecture and former faculty senate chairman. "Are faculty salaries doubling? No."
As the leader of a public university, Floyd finds himself in a profession where wages are skyrocketing and "headhunters" are hired to poach competing institutions -- not unlike professional sports teams. But with tuition on a relentless upward trajectory and faculty wages going nowhere, the 24,000 students and 7,500 employees under Floyd may have reason to be a little concerned.
"There is a trend and it is disturbing," says Robert Atwell, president emeritus of the American Council on Education. "As long as the board of trustees comes from corporate America, we're going to see an increase [in presidential compensation]."
"Increase" is putting mildly. With his raise, Floyd's now on par with University of Washington President Mark Emmert, who pulls in a cool $750,000. (Both sit atop the Pac-10 payscale and both make a truckload more than Gov. Chris Gregoire, who brings home $160,000.) Floyd declined to comment for this story.
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, just 18 presidents at public universities made more than $500,000 in 2004. Three years later, that number had jumped to 45. Still, not everyone is disturbed.
"It's kind of like a coach in the NFL," says WSU student body president, Brandon Scheller, who is supportive of Floyd's hike in pay. "You're going to pay more to keep a good coach."
Students like Melinda Kaiser aren't convinced. A junior studying interior design at WSU's Spokane campus, Kaiser expects to come out of college as your average student -- that is, more than $20,000 in the hole. And with Floyd's salary 36 times the average debt, she and others are miffed.
"I figure $600,000 is enough," the 24-year-old says of Floyd's pay before the raise. "I don't know how much more than that you need."
Francois X. Forgette, chairman of the university's board of regents, tells a different story, one of competing institutions "headhunting" for top administrators amid a dwindling pool of talent.
The current generation of university presidents, older and close to retirement, is on the way out, Forgette says. The incoming group, which contains Floyd and his peers, is small and the competition for their recruitment is fierce.
"You just can't be pennywise and pound-foolish when it comes to the person in that position," Forgette says. "If you make a bad choice, your institution is going to pay for it one way or another for a long, long time."
Forgette points to a few programs marking Floyd's success, including his work securing a $25 million grant for the university's Global Center for Animal Health and the upcoming capital campaign, which Floyd will lead.
The previous capital campaign raised more than $275 million before ending in 1997, but Forgette wouldn't comment on the goals of the latest fundraising effort.
ACE's Atwell says the president's job is no longer about academia. Success as a university leader, he says, comes almost strictly from fundraising prowess. As someone who used to lead presidential searches, he told candidates, "Don't kid yourself. The number one job is raising money."
Aside from Floyd's ability to raise large amounts of money, at which he has already proven adept, he is being credited with increasing enrollment. Last year's freshman class was the largest in WSU's history, with 3,208 new students plying the halls. This year's class, still not tallied, is expected to exceed last year's record.
The amount of new students likely isn't the fault of the new president, says Forgette, but simply a blip in demographics. Regardless, the upward trend in enrollment coupled with the hiring freeze can lead to only one outcome: more students for every professor.
"I understand the supply and demand [argument], but does it really need to be that much?" says grad student Amanda Cosand. "Where does it end?"