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At a time when officials were leaving faculty positions vacant, firing secretaries and talking about raising tuition as much as $1,000 per student, top executives at Arizona State University were getting hefty raises.
And President Michael Crow was getting ready to redecorate his office.
Between September and October of last year, nine ASU honchos were given salary increases totaling close to a quarter of a million dollars.
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The raises were part of a reorganization of university senior administration, says ASU spokeswoman Nancy Neff. She says the university surveyed comparable positions nationally and adjusted salaries to the midrange of the findings.
Too bad ASU isn't making the same comparisons -- and adjustments -- when it comes to faculty. In fact, according to figures provided by Neff, ASU is rapidly losing tenured professors, and the student-to-faculty ratio is increasing.
The university was well aware of this in September, when it started handing out executive raises. This past summer, ASU eliminated about 75 faculty positions -- twice as many as the previous year -- in response to budget cuts. About 40 clerical positions also were axed.
But in December, the cuts grew much deeper when the Legislature met for a much-anticipated special session to address a huge shortfall. A document provided by Neff details more than $16 million in midyear budget cuts designed to satisfy the Legislature's demands.
Research facilities and libraries will be hit hard. There is no mention of eliminating those executive raises -- or eliminating any executive positions -- but instead the memo details further faculty cuts. In the 1990s, ASU's student-to-faculty ratio climbed from 26:1 to 31:1. As enrollment climbs, the number of faculty hired will drop, increasing that ratio. The December round of cuts, for example, will force vacancies in 28 faculty positions.
ASU officials voice concern in the memo, explaining that the use of part-time and temporary faculty has increased alarmingly, and that students are complaining that they can't schedule classes at convenient times, which could increase the time it takes them to graduate. The memo also says that under the present budget cuts, the ratio of students to academic advisers will increase to 500:1.
Neff did not say whether the executive salary increases were in reaction to Crow's hiring salary last summer, which at $390,000 forced the Arizona Board of Regents to increase the salaries of presidents at Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona. (UofA President Peter Likens gave back his raise.) In a few short months, Crow -- who came to ASU last summer from Columbia University -- has already earned a reputation for flashy behavior.
Were it not for bad publicity in ASU's newspaper, Crow's office would now be in the middle of a $200,000 renovation. In December, the State Press broke the news that the university was planning $3.6 million in renovations during the winter break, including redecorating Crow's office. The school delayed the projects shortly after the State Press story appeared.
In an editorial following the decision, the paper commented that Crow's office is so outdated "that there are pinholes in the walls from previous picture frame hangings and tape covering some parts of the carpet." The air conditioning doesn't blow very well.
"Our response," says the State Press: "Live with it.
"The proposed tuition hike, supposedly needed because of the state's under funding of public universities, will take an additional $500 to $1,000 out of the pockets of students who already can't afford new air conditioning for their used cars. Many will be forced to drop out of school altogether."
The student paper apparently hadn't caught wind of the executive promotions and raises, which included:
From: Senior Vice President and Provost, at $206,450
To: Executive Vice President and Provost, at $250,000
From: Vice President-Administrative Services, at $157,700
To: Executive Vice President-Administration and Finance, at $200,000
From: Vice Provost for Research, at $146,200
To: Vice President for Research and Economic Affairs, at $195,000
From: Vice President for Student Affairs, at $154,650
To: Senior Vice President and Secretary to the University, at $190,000
Charles Backus, Vice President and Provost-ASU East Campus
(This is a retention raise, to keep him from retiring for another year.)
From: Associate Vice President/Dean-Student Affairs, at $132,156
To: Interim Vice President for Student Affairs, at $154,650
From: Executive Director-Purchasing and Business Services, at $112,049
To: Associate Vice President-Administration, at $122,000
From: Comptroller/Treasurer, at $109,578
To: Associate Vice President-Finance and Treasurer, at $119,000
From: Associate Director-Purchasing, at $80,230
To: Director of Purchasing and Business Services, at $90,000
Neff says many of these raises came with increased responsibilities, eliminating, for example, the need to create a position for a chief financial officer for economic development.
Now that's a job that, perhaps, ASU could really use, given the current scramble to make even more cuts, beginning later this month.