First, it has been reported that the Montana Board of Regents has awarded some big raises to top officials in the University System, headlined by an offer to increase the compensation of Montana State University President Waded Cruzado by $150,000 annually, bringing her salary to $476,000. The Board of Regents made the offer even though Cruzado told them that she is not planning to leave MSU despite a larger offer from a university she declined to name.
The second note is a current job listing on the Montana State web page. It’s looking for a Preschool Teacher, a position described as the “Lead Teacher” and one that requires the applicant to have
The pay? As little as $11.50 an hour and as much as an exorbitant $14.39 an hour.
If we split the difference and give that teacher $13.00 an hour, she is likely to make $26,000 a year, 17% of the raise President Cruzado will receive.
And if she is one of the 51% of Montana State students who had to take out loans to complete the undergraduate job necessary for this position, she has almost $30,000 in student loan debt and owes just under $400 a month in student loan payments.
And while the Regents did approve a 2% raise for all the employees in the system, the $13.26/hour she’ll be taking home won’t pay for much of an apartment in Bozeman. Or Belgrade.
I don’t present these salary items to impugn President Cruzado—she seems to be widely admired for her work at Montana State—and while I might quibble that some of the massive growth at MSU can be explained, in some measure by the implosion of the University of Montana, it’s hard to argue that she has overseen a transformation of the MSU system.
The justifications for Cruzado’s raise should sound familiar. We’re told that her salary is low compared to the salaries of university Presidents at competing institutions. We’re told that she’s an exceptional talent who cannot easily be replaced.
Both may certainly be true, but if MSU is the educational institution it’s supposed to be, isn’t that young pre-school teacher with an MSU degree worth a salary that will let her live in the town where she works? Shouldn’t she be able to pay off her student loans? Isn’t she an exceptional talent who deserves compensation commensurate with her extraordinary responsibilities?
The obscene salaries public institutions are paying for administrators are certainly not Waded Cruzado’s fault, but they reflect a troubling and growing notion in our society: that those at the top of the salary scale should be treated as if they are worth any level of compensation to retain while those who toil in the positions below are interchangeable widgets thought of as expenses to be managed, not assets to develop and fairly compensate. Cruzado’s raise is symptomatic of a culture that justifies obscene personal income for a privileged few and unsustainable wages for so many others.
One could perhaps argue that President Cruzado is worth the salary she’s been awarded if it happened in a vacuum, but it happened in the context of incredibly low wages for others at MSU, whether they are instructors or support staff. Today’s Bozeman Chronicle provides one example:
The regents voted the day after seven students and two faculty members protested how MSU Provost Bob Mokwa went about merging their department, which has 314 student majors. They argued that it’s hurting students because half the faculty isn’t available for teaching, several classes have been canceled, some are being taught by less qualified substitutes, there aren’t enough research opportunities and this could jeopardize students’ futures and chances of getting into medical schools.
And I’m sure adjuncts who work at MSU would be happy to weigh in on their precarious economic conditions. One-quarter of adjunct faculty in the country receive public assistance, and I would be surprised to learn the numbers are different at MSU, where adjuncts are often subject to very challenging work conditions, sudden termination, and uncertain schedules.
This issue, of course, is not limited to Cruzado. Although the Board of Regents used performance to justify her increased compensation, it decided to award an additional $500,000 over
five ten years in deferred compensation to UM President Seth Bodnar, who has not overseen an increase in enrollment during his tenure. In fact, despite endless shuffling of administrators and a truly awe-inspiring amount of PR spin, UM’s undergraduate enrollment dipped to 6,321, far fewer than the semester before Bodnar took over. In fact, as the Chronicle of Higher Education noted this fall, UM has lost more students than any flagship university in the country over the past decade.
One could credibly argue that UM has hardly experienced transformational leadership when its highly paid VP for student enrollment didn’t seem to notice that the expensive system it was using to contact students via e-mail wasn’t actually communicating with students. And as someone who teaches some of the brightest kids in the state, let me assure you that the past two years have not been an improvement. UM is simply not even on the radar for many of my students, something colleagues and I have both raised to UM staff, only to be met with silence.
Again, with no slight intended to President Bodnar, who may turn out to be an excellent leader, it’s hard to imagine anyone making the argument with a straight face that he deserves what amounts to a half-million-dollar bonus for his performance at UM thus far.
But let’s not stop with Bodnar and Cruzado.
Board Chair Clay Christian, who did not have to face a competitive search for the position he holds, who did not need to have the academic credentials that have always been required for the job, who oversaw thousands of taxpayer dollars being misspent for personal travel, and who badly mishandled the Jordan Johnson case, perhaps permanently damaging the University of Montana, will also be taking a raise, one that totals $6,000/year. And let’s not forget that Christian, who will now make $326,000 for what is widely seen as part-time work, two years ago blamed students for the high levels of debt they will accrue as students in the MUS system.
The buck, it seems, does not stop with Clay Christian, who has somehow not been held responsible for the hollowing out of UM that occurred under his watch.
Just his raise this year will take our preschool teacher three months of work. You see, I haven’t forgotten about her—even if the people who run Montana’s universities seem to have done just that.