When Kimberly de los Santos took on additional duties in her role as associate vice president of Arizona State University’s Office of University Initiatives, the promotion came with a hefty increase in pay. Her salary jumped from $130,000 in 2008 to $195,000 in 2009.
The increase is in keeping with a policy—in place at both ASU and the University of Arizona since the recession began in 2008—mandating that raises only be given to employees who are promoted, take on additional duties, or are likely to accept higher-paying positions elsewhere. Yet, as de los Santos’ case shows, when an employee does meet these qualifications, the raises can be substantial. Files obtained under Arizona’s public records law revealed numerous raises of $50,000 or more over the last three years.
Among ASU employees who were already making $150,000, one in three has received a pay raise since 2007, university records show. For other employees, raises of any amount were hard to come by. When the entire workforce is considered, about one in every 14 people received a raise.
About 3 percent of ASU’s workforce makes at least $150,000 a year. At UA, it’s about 4 percent. The universities insist that the raises in this group are necessary to retain and reward the best and brightest educators. Many substantial increases, however, went to employees whose roles were predominantly administrative rather than teaching-related.
De los Santos was one such employee. Though she did not return repeated phone calls and e-mails asking for clarification of her role and salary, an ASU spokesperson explained that her raise was given because of an expanded role in overseeing university initiatives, as well as to retain her services. According to the office’s website, these initiatives include fostering “entrepreneurship, social embeddedness, university innovation and education at ASU.”
Public records showed that administrators like de los Santos were well represented among the top salary increases at ASU. At least 45 highly-paid employees were given base salary raises of 20 percent or more over the last three years. Of the employees in this group, 18 were professors and associate professors, six were exclusively administrators, and another 16 were in mixed but predominantly administrative roles, including deans of colleges. None of the administrators taught more than one regularly scheduled class, though several are listed as advisors for “independent studies,” according to ASU’s website. The remaining five were coaches of sports teams.
For Dr. Matthew Ladner, vice president of research at the Goldwater Institute, administrative bloat is a symptom of the inability of Arizona’s public universities to control their spending—and at a time when many private citizens are making do with less. He said the universities have continued to spend well beyond their means in spite of the recession, which wiped out a third of the state’s revenue, according to state fiscal data.
“The universities have largely been shielded from the effects of the downturn, and they are spending more now than they’ve ever spent,” Ladner said.
Ladner stressed that university employees who accepted raises hadn’t done anything wrong, and they may have been deserved. But he questioned whether such policies should continue in light of the cost to Arizona’s private sector, which has lost 300,000 jobs since 2007. The universities’ priorities, he argued, don’t reflect the reality of an Arizona with a greatly diminished workforce and yearly budget deficits in the billions of dollars.
“They’re handing out a great deal of taxpayer money,” Ladner said. “Right now, this is taxpayer money we can’t afford to keep paying.”
The universities have increased the number of employees making at least $150,000 in each of the last three years, and employees within this group continue to see significant raises related to promotions and retentions, according to records obtained by the Goldwater Institute.
One such promotion was ASU’s Richard Rogerson, a Regents’ Professor in the W. P. Carey School of Business. To keep him at the university, his base salary was increased from $295,000 to $495,000 in 2009. ASU authorizes such raises to prevent its most prestigious and productive faculty members from accepting higher-paying positions at other institutions. In Rogerson’s case, the salary boost may not have done the trick. ASU would neither confirm nor deny whether he will be keeping his position for another year, and Rogerson did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
The university also opted not to divulge the names of the institutions that had triggered retention-based increases for Rogerson by offering him higher-paying jobs. Terri Shafer, associate vice president in the Office of Public Affairs, wrote that the university doesn’t typically keep documentation of offers from other institutions, and would consider such records to be beyond the scope of Arizona’s public records law in any case.
As for the salary increases, Shafer said that they are a useful tool for retaining high-performing faculty, even if such efforts aren’t always successful. Some employees are recipients of large research grants from federal agencies, she explained, and the university can offer better pay to prevent its best faculty members from taking their grants to another institution.
“You might have a faculty member who has hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars’ worth of research grants,” she said. “When that faculty goes elsewhere, they take the research grant with them.”
Students who were taught by top faculty members were more productive when they graduated—making them vital resources for a lagging state economy, according to Shafer.
Ladner questioned whether educating students was as high a priority for the universities as it should be. Four-year graduation rates at ASU, UA, and Northern Arizona University are significantly lower than comparative universities, according to data provided by the Education Trust. And while Ladner agreed that well-educated students benefit the state, the universities purposefully overstated their economic importance in order to gain more funds.
“To listen to the university you would think, well, if you put $3 billion in you’re going to get $12 billion out—the super multiplier effect,” he said. “It’s not the case. We can’t simply raise our taxes sky high and give all the money to the universities and all be rich.”
An August 2010 study commissioned by the Goldwater Institute echoed Ladner’s concerns about the importance placed on education at the universities. Jay Greene, head of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas and the study’s lead author, found that the number of administrators per student had skyrocketed relative to the number of teachers at public universities nationwide. Arizona was no exception. ASU’s administrative bloat was worse than most other universities surveyed: between 1993 and 2007, the university actually decreased the number of teachers per student while nearly doubling the number of administrators per student. UA experienced a similar, though less dramatic, increase in administrative bloat.
Administrators also have better average pay than other employees, including teachers. While a report to the Board of Regents claimed most employees were compensated poorly when compared with employees at peer institutions, administrators’ pay at ASU was on par with market rates.
The universities said the policy of limiting raises to promoted and retained employees was one way of managing administrative bloat. When Melissa Vito took on additional tasks as vice president of student affairs at UA in 2008, increasing her salary from $210,000 to $250,000, her new position was the result of consolidations. She wrote that even though her salary increased, the promotion saved money because another position was eliminated.
“In essence, my role assumed the responsibilities that had previously been managed by two separate Vice Presidents,” Vito wrote.
Despite the universities’ willingness to consolidate and eliminate positions, the number of highly-paid employees increased at both universities in the last three years. UA added approximately 50 employees at the $150,000-and-up level in FY 2008-2009, and another 50 in 2009-2010.
In total, 23 ASU and UA employees were asked to comment on their raises. Six offered explanations—additional duties, promotions, and retentions. The remaining employees, 17 in all, refused comment or did not respond.
Robby Soave served as the Goldwater Institute’s Ronald Reagan Journalism Fellow in the fall of 2010. Mark Flatten is an investigative reporter for the Goldwater Institute, an independent government watchdog based in Phoenix, Ariz.