Letter: Admin pay in perspective

By Letter to the Editor

Dear Maroon,

As the author of work cited as background to data analyses of a November 21 Maroon article (“Univ. admin pay not outlier, Maroon finds”), I would like to offer both compliments and clarifications.

First off, numbers-driven investigative reporting on higher education is much needed both here and across the country.

Pretty much every institution out there depends on large amounts of taxpayer money received via student loans and research grants, yet many are beginning to produce CEO–level salaries and even crony contracts to purported guardians and benefactors.

Most everyone can agree that money should maximally benefit the larger mission of education and research, and when staff with the right values prioritize institutions over themselves great places like the University of Chicago can become even better.

Second, The Maroon’s analysis of the University’s compensation packages and budget allocations at three peer institutions is a welcome addition to the ongoing conversation but does not seem to fundamentally alter the larger dynamics underlying the perception that the University of Chicago is “the American university that perhaps most exemplifies higher education’s current crisis of mission,” as formulated in my most recent Jacobin article [“Higher Education’s Aristocrats,” 9/27/2014].

To clarify, original data analysis in my two Jacobin articles indicated:

1)   President Zimmer’s three years of $115,000 to $320,000 pay raises were 3 to 7.5 percent higher than normal and his 110-percent, $1.76-million pay spike attributable to deferred compensation constituted an outlier, compared with changes at the other top 20 private universities by endowment.

2)    Over five years, eight high-level administrators received $7.6 million via 40- to 135- percent pay increases, each receiving a total of $450,000 to $3.3 million from raises alone even as the UChicago moved toward and received a credit downgrade.

Additionally, consolidation of previous reporting from The Maroon and elsewhere outlined larger areas of concern mostly unmentioned in the most recent Maroon article:

1)    The large amount of money diverted ($2.5 million in increased staffing costs per year, for just eight people);

2)    The large amount of debt simultaneously acquired (equal to half the endowment, and the largest relative debt among peer institutions);

3)    Administrative competency and accountability (for example, secrecy around who originated the restrictive Admin Building elevator policy and why);

4)    Transparency (also involving further diversion of funds, through misuse of the News Office as an in-house P.R. firm for those whose actions are harming the University); and

5)    Ethically inappropriate contracts to trustee-associated companies (Aramark and Hyatt, and attempts to benefit White Lodgings).

Sadly, parallels to most of these can be found elsewhere, although their concurrence at UChicago is striking and the credit downgrade is an exacerbating circumstance that likely contributes to judgments such as that of former Harvard Dean Harry Lewis, who termed the admin pay raises an “amazing run-up in compensation.”

Overall, UChicago is a wonderful, wonderful place for education and research—and thus this diversion of money and the values responsible should strongly worry every taxpayer and especially every true Maroon.

I very much look forward to more such numbers-driven investigative reporting from your newspaper in the future.

-David Mihalyfy (Ph.D. candidate in the History of Christianity at the Divinity School)