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Education Featured Montana Politics

Massive Raises for University Administrators Are Indefensible

Two items.

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 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.
an undergraduate degree in Early Childhood Education and years of experience. The list of responsibilities is quite extensive, ranging from writing and implementing curriculum, meeting with students and families outside of work hours, and even providing feedback for fellow employees and volunteers. The successful applicant will have some serious responsibilities.

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.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

12 Comments

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  • The $150,000 is a bonus not a raise for President Cruzado. Her salary is in the $326k range, not what you quoted. Please correct this misinformation. She has done incredible things at MSU and I believe her salary and bonus are both fully deserved. That campus has a energy and vibrancy that are palpable. Of course there are problems, as any institution of that size and complexity will have. I hope Dr. Cruzado stays for a good long time at MSU so we can reap the benefits of her leadership over the next decade and beyond. Of course teachers across this state (and pretty much everywhere else) should be paid well, and they are not. That is nuts and should change.
    Perhaps a look at the salaries of athletic coaches across the system would be worth your time.
    You might disagree but at least publish the correct info!

    • Your disagreement is probably with the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, who opened their story this way today:

      Awarding a $150,000 pay raise to Montana State University President Waded Cruzado has sparked swift reactions.

      Critics called it ridiculous and out-of-line with ordinary Montanans’ wages. Supporters said it was a smart move to keep a successful leader from leaving for a bigger offer at a larger school.

      And every other media outlet in the state that covered it.

      • No Don, my disagreement is with you writing this:
        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.
        ——-
        What they actually voted on is a 2% pay raise, so compensation goes $300-$326k for Cruzado, Bodner and Christian. The $150k is a bonus, not salary increase.

        Facts are important in this climate of hyperbole and disinformation.

        • You could be right, Patty.

          Of course, that would mean that every news outlet in the state is wrong and you are right.

          From KRTV:
          “The Regents said they’re willing to offer President Cruzado a pay increase of $150,000 a year, which would put her at more than $476,000 a year.”

          From the Great Falls Tribune:
          Members of the Montana Board of Regents are voicing support for a $150,000 pay raise for the president of Montana State University to keep her from leaving for a higher paying job at another university.

          From the Bozeman Chronicle:
          The Montana Board of Regents said Thursday they’re ready to offer a $150,000 pay increase to Montana State University President Waded Cruzado to keep her from leaving for a job at another university that would pay even more.
          Combined with the regular 2% raise awarded to all state employees starting in January, the increase would raise her pay next year 48.8% to $476,524.

          We can agree on one thing: disinformation is wrong.

    • Name three incredible things. And what on earth does someone do at a university that is worth almost half a mil? Please note that I have taught at three land grant institutions, including MSU. Bonus or salary—its really all the same.

  • Awesome essay.
    MSU has become a cancer on the Bozeman community. Whether it’s non-tenure faculty positions, severely underpaid administrative staff or simply the impact of all the additional people on local infrastructure, it’s pretty clear that MSU is not the community leader it fancies itself as. And all the bobcat logos at city commission meetings won’t change the fact that half of their problems with growth, housing and infrastructure are because of this parasitic university taking them and the community for all they’re worth.

  • I’d like to also say that it’s not just the teachers whose pay is disproportionate. It’s seemingly anybody who not a vp or in the cabinet level. Imo part of UMs budget issues was they were too top heavy. All of the pay was going to management and then those under management wouldnt stick around long because they were left with the pennies. It’s a trickle down effect. I left UM in their It department 9 months ago and even though my pay was very good it still wasn’t “in line” with the same type of position outside of UM.
    On the other hand, I don’t think these issues are isolated to just MUS. Colleges and Universities across the country are facing the same issues… And it’s not just public institutions it’s private too.

  • “The regents also supported a $150,000 bonus for Montana State University President Waded Cruzado in an attempt to keep her in Montana, as other universities around the country have sought to hire her away.”

    From Fox Montana website

  • One generation after my time at MSU, prices for my children had more than doubled … there is no excuse.
    Not every student has wealthy parents; many putting themselves through –
    This is one example of what I call ‘legalized crime/theft –

  • When I left MSU I took a 50% pay increase for a similar position. When MSU re-posted my position they cut the salary significantly. That is Cruzado’s legacy

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