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The unseemly specter of campus payout culture

People shouldn’t be making absurd salaries in higher education

The University of Oklahoma should be deeply embarrassed by the revelation that it has shelled out nearly a million dollars in “retention payments” to numerous campus administrators. These employees—vice presidents all of them, because every university these days needs no less than two hundred vice presidents—all received generous percentage-of-salary bonuses to stay in their positions; some of them received and continue to receive sizable extra donations into their pension plans. One vice president received a $400,000 parting gift after he was fired.

This is campus “payout culture:” The tendency of university administrators to pull down gargantuan salaries that for all appearances are disproportionate to their positions. But more than the weird imbalance of it all, one must concede that it is almost perversely unfair that campus employees as a rule should receive anywhere near this amount of money in a time of sharply rising tuition and expense costs in American higher education. The University of Oklahoma, for one, has seen costs shoot up 50 percent over the last decade.

It seems strikingly unjust that students should be struggling to afford a college half as expensive again it was just ten years ago while armies of bureaucratic staffers rake in significant six-figure salaries.

Campus payout culture exists in large part because so few people question it: Most seem to assume that the modern college campus, which is beset by vast administrative complexes employing hundreds and hundreds of staffers whose positions are superfluous and best and deleterious at worst, simply is the way it is and can’t be change. But that’s not really the case. College trustees could demand more efficiency and less waste in campus administration; students could threaten to refrain from attending unless their schools stop paying countless employees for jobs they don’t need to be doing. Schools like OU should also ask whether or not four hundred grand is an acceptable use of university funds for one single vice president.

The decision to pare back the campus managerial class and wind down payout culture would not come without its difficulties. But it is hard to imagine our current university system sustaining itself in the long run. “Retention payments” aren’t going to do any good if in the long run your students can’t afford to attend your school and eventually stop going.

MORE: For the sake of education, colleges should cut back on administrative bloat

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