The Overpaid President Becomes an Overpaid Professor

The happy news this week that University of Illinois President Michael Hogan will resign was followed by two disturbing pieces of information. First, a state appeals court ruling that adjunct faculty at the University of Illinois at Chicago will not be allowed to be part of the tenure-track faculty union at UIC.

Second, the news that Hogan will be paid $285,100 a year (plus annual raises) as a distinguished history professor, after (of course) a one-year paid sabbatical.

I am a firm believer that college presidents should come from the ranks of the faculty and should not have to give up tenured faculty positions in order to take administrative jobs. But I am an even firmer believer that ex-presidents who choose to return to the faculty should be treated like faculty.

One of the worst trends in academia is corporatization, and one of the worst trends in corporate America is the golden parachute, where millions of dollars are handed out to failed leaders like Hogan.

If Hogan wants to be a history professor, then he should be paid like a history professor and treated like any other history professor. If he wants a sabbatical before he starts his job, it should be unpaid, as it would be for any other professor.

Board of Trustees chairman Christopher Kennedy declared last night, “I think he’s happy that that’s done now.”

I’d be happy too, if I was paid an absurdly large salary after being a failure at my job. In addition to being overpaid as a history professor, Hogan will be paid an extra $67,500 in 2015 as part of a five-year retention bonus. Got that? He gets part of his five-year retention bonus, even though he only stayed in the job for two years. Why? Because his buddies on the Board of Trustees wanted to hand him lots of money. What part of “five-year retention bonus” don’t they understand? He’s supposed to make the money only if he stays for five years as president. And it’s a “retention” bonus to keep him in the job, not a “resigning in disgrace” bonus. Why would you simply hand over big piles of money to a man who already announced his resignation?

Of course, for Hogan this is a massive salary cut, since he was making $651,000 this year as president. So I’m sure he feels that he’s being very generous in agreeing to leave without even more piles of unearned money. Hogan’s successor, Robert Easter, at least has the rare virtue of having worked at the University of Illinois for a long time and agreeing to a salary of merely $450,000 a year.

The dramatic increase in college president salaries has not produced better leaders. In fact, I believe that if college presidents were paid a maximum of three times the average faculty salary, colleges would have much better presidents.

While the University of Illinois trustees have simply handed a massive salary to Hogan, they refuse to treat adjunct faculty fairly and have spent vast amounts of money on lawyers to try to ban adjuncts from the faculty union at UIC. Perhaps with a change in leadership, Easter can change course and stop denying the fundamental rights of faculty to unionize. Even after this court ruling, the University of Illinois is still free to recognize the elected faculty union at UIC representing all of the faculty.

Unfortunately, in the corporatized university, paying ridiculous salaries to administrators, giving golden parachutes to failed leaders, and trying to undermine unions are all part of the same corporate mentality that has been such a disaster for higher education.

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