Funding Higher Education

27 February 2009 at 2:04 pm 4 comments

| Dick Langlois |

Inspired by Peter’s post about salaries at private universities, I thought I would write a bit about public universities, notably my own. It was big news in Connecticut this week when Jim Calhoun, our head basketball coach, got nasty with a self-styled activist who attacked him at a post-game press conference. The activist, who had gotten in on a photographer’s press pass, wanted to know how Calhoun could justify his $1.6 million salary at a time of massive state deficits. Calhoun pointed out that, essentially because of him, the basketball program is a big profit maker for the University: it apparently brings in on the order of $12 million and costs about $6 million. The controversy arose because of the less-than-genteel way in which Calhoun made his case, prompting Governor Jodi Rell to issue a rebuke.

It turns out that Calhoun is not only the highest-paid University employee, he is the highest-paid State employee. (See here for a roster of the top state salaries.) The next two on the list are football coach Randy Edsall ($1.38 million) and women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma ($1.31 million). The next three are physicians at the UConn Health Center — in the same specialties noted in the Chronicle article Peter cites: reproductive medicine, dermatology, and neurosurgery. (Basketball may not be brain surgery, but Calhoun won his 800th career game on Wednesday, and Auriemma’s team is a juggernaut likely headed for another undefeated season and a national championship.) UConn president Mike Hogan is seventh on the list. (There is an old story about the university president who was asked how he felt about making less money than the football coach: “he’s had a better year than I have,” was the answer.)

What does it imply that the top wage earners in state government work at the university? To me it is further evidence that universities and state governments are odd bedmates. They are very different enterprises, with few (or perhaps even negative) administrative synergies.

I recently took part in a panel after the last Board of Trustees meeting. The issue of the day, here as elsewhere, is budget cuts. The trustees were scheduled to discuss a tuition increase, but they postponed discussion, apparently under pressure from the governor, who doesn’t want tuition to go up — which puts the university in a catastrophic bind. So here we have a Republican governor who, instead of seizing an opportunity to make the University more independent of the State (by allowing us to earn more of our own money), has chosen to increase State control. The Public Choice analysis is obvious, I suppose; but in some states crisis has worked in the other direction, forcing state universities to become almost private. (I’ve often heard UVA mentioned in this context.) At the panel discussion, I pointed out that subsidizing higher education by keeping tuition low for everybody is almost certainly regressive, and certainly more regressive than raising tuition and then providing rebates to the needy in the form of scholarships. Fortunately, my remarks didn’t get me into the same kind of trouble as Calhoun. Then again, he’s had a better year than I have.

Entry filed under: - Langlois -, Education, Institutions, Public Policy / Political Economy.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. david  |  28 February 2009 at 9:15 pm

    What a great topic. I hope to see this fleshed out in the next iteration of your organizations slides. It is a wonder that equity only gets brought up on the low-end (helping poor people) and not the high-end (heavily subsidizing rich people) in the state university tuition rate discussion.

    I think the apocryphal wage story is from Babe Ruth and the US president.

    Over at Michael Munger’s blog, he is continuing to fight the good fight about coaches and schools going to the bank on the backs of the performers.

  • 2. Rafe Champion  |  1 March 2009 at 3:11 pm

    Andrew Norton, editor of the CIS jourral “Policy” in Australia is a prolific commentator on the follies and foibles of uni funding.

    For some of Andrew’s contributions.

  • 3. Cliff Grammich  |  2 March 2009 at 11:11 am

    Ruth and Hoover were the characters I recall in the apocryphal wage story. (See and The latter has a great line from Red Smith: Ruth knew too little about politics for the story to be true.)

    Digression: I recall another story (some discussion, including how apocryphal it may be, at about Ralph Kiner asking for a raise after the 1950 season, in which he led the National League in home runs but Pittsburgh trailed the league in wins. He was told the Pirates could have finished last without his home runs, hence no raise. I’ll let others speculate on the applicability to academic departments.

    Perhaps a bit less of a digression, on the low-end subsidizing the high-end: it never ceases to amaze me that there isn’t more outrage about state-run lotteries that fleece the poor and dumb (or should I just say profit from the purchases of those possibly less knowledgeable about probaility?) to support the education of the rich and smart.

    I also suspect the story Dick Langlois tells of Connecticut applies many other places. Indeed, some Texas colleagues have told me similar things, although I don’t know what has happened with tuition and subsidies there in recent years.

  • […] Over at Orgs and Markets,  two posts on university salaries. This one on public schools and this one on private […]

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