Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

7-27 Are We Paying College Execs Too Much?


Syndicated Columnist

      SANTA FE -- Are we paying our college administrators too much or our cabinet secretaries too little?

   The question arose when Gov. Bill Richardson found it necessary to supplement the salaries of the top two officials in the Higher Education Department by about $100,000 apiece and the salary of the new head of the Health Department chief by $60,000.

      For most of us, a salary of $100,000 would be real nice. We wouldn't complain at all. But this is on top of the regular salaries for those positions.

   It means Higher Education Secretary Reed Dasenbrock will be paid a total of $257,250 a year, the same amount he was making as provost at the University of New Mexico.

   And Deputy Higher Education Secretary Bill Flores will be paid a total of $220,000, the amount he was paid as provost at New Mexico State University.

   No argument was made that these people are $100,000 better than other cabinet secretaries. It was just that it takes that much to get a good person in higher education.

   Silly me. Here I thought all levels of public education were struggling financially. And these aren't college presidents. They are assistants. They're getting paid almost as much as basketball coaches.

   The only people who get paid more are corporate execs and we know they aren't paid on competency. The ones who run their corporations into the ground still receive multi-million dollar bonuses. And if they do happen to get fired, their severance packages are enough for several families to live on all their lives.

   We now are learning that corporate execs manage to jack up their salaries by serving on each other's boards and taking care of their buddies. College administrators don't do that, so maybe they convince their boards that they are corporate execs working in the public sector.

   The Health Department also got into the act, receiving $60,000 from UNM to supplement the pay of its new Secretary Alfredo Vigil. All three retain ties to their former universities, and under very odd circumstances.

   UNM first put Dasenbrock on a sabbatical but then decided it could do so only if he was first fired. Vigil becomes a member of the UNM Medical School faculty. And Flores' duties at NMSU involve dealing with the state Higher Education Department.

   In the case of the higher education execs, that raises some questions of conflicts, since Dasenbrock and Flores will be overseeing  their institutions.

   Public Education Secretary Veronica Garcia, who handles "lower" education didn't receive an extra boost in salary even though she had been superintendent of the Albuquerque Public Schools. Maybe that's because the Albuquerque schools couldn't afford the extra pay.

   So how come our two top universities in the state can afford it? That's a question several state legislators want to ask next January when the college prexies come around begging for money.

   Speaking of legislators, the Legislative Finance Committee has some concerns. On July 13, LFC Chairman John Arthur Smith, of Deming, wrote a letter to Attorney General Gary King questioning the legality and propriety of these "unorthodox arrangements."

   King may throw a monkey wrench into this cozy relationship long before the Legislature has to address it next year. Public officials depending on the attorney general for guidance have been pleased with King's speedy response to their requests for opinions. He hasn't tried to dodge anything.

   The whole question of private support of public education and public institutions is currently pushing the envelope. NMSU has a foundation, which receives anonymous private donations, part of which were used to supplement the salaries of new president, Michael Martin and former basketball coach Reggie Theus.

   Then we see public bodies soliciting money by naming buildings after private donors. Maybe Gov. Richardson could convince some private donors to chip in to boost some of his other cabinet secretaries' salaries. That would present all kinds of interesting possibilities.

FRI, 7-27-07


JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505

(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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