By Bertram de Souza
A staunch defender of Youngstown State University, reacting to this writer’s criticism of the bonuses paid to 400 employees, sent along a copy of an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education headlined “Kent State U. Says It Will Pay Bonuses to About 800 Professors.”
“In a year when many college employees are going without raises or worse, more than 800 lucky faculty members at Kent State University will get cash bonuses, the result of an experimental incentive program the university started last year,” Kathryn Masterson wrote in the Oct. 16 edition.
Apart from the fact that Masterson’s observation about college employees going without raises certainly doesn’t apply to YSU, the premise of her article is solid.
The idea of public servants receiving bonuses in the midst of an economic recession is enough to trigger a tax revolt.
At Youngstown State, 400 members of the Association of Classified Employees are pocketing $4,500 each. Why? Because of the increase in the university’s enrollment this fall.
What did the members of ACE have to do with the enrollment increase? Nothing. The only reason they got the bonuses is that the administration under President David Sweet and all but one member of the board of trustees wanted to buy labor peace.
What is even more insulting to the taxpayers is that the bonuses are on top of pay raises granted to the employees. And, if you ask them, they’ll say they deserve every dime of the largess.
Now, compare that with what is going on at Kent State. First of all, the bonuses for faculty members — they range from $2,500 to $2,800 — to be included in their paychecks on Dec. 1 are for their performances in three areas of strategic importance, according to The Chronicle story: freshmen retention, external research support, and fund raising.
“Right around Christmastime — that will be great,” said Timothy D. Smith, a journalism professor and first vice president of Kent State chapter of the American Association of University Professors, the union that negotiated the contract. “I think we were as surprised as anybody that we were going to get the money. Delighted, I might add.”
And then Smith made an admission to Chronicle writer Masterson that is deserving of high praise, applause and imitation.
This is what Masterson wrote:
“One reason the bonus might be extra nice: Mr. Smith says he didn’t do much that was different this year to earn it. He teaches upperclassmen, so he doesn’t have much contact with the first-year students the university is fighting to retain, and his department doesn’t pull in the mega grants that the hard sciences do. He’s happy to meet with alumni and donors, he says, but isn’t often asked to help with fund raising.”
Now, there’s an honest professor.
But honesty only goes so far. If he didn’t earn the bonus, he should not accept it.
The idea that university employees are deserving of more than the lucrative salaries and benefits they already receive is mind boggling.
At YSU, the increase in enrollment had nothing to do with all the supposed hard work. It had everything to do with the economic recession.
When there are no jobs and no prospects of any, people return to college — in the hope of improving their marketability. And yet, $4,500 for each of the 400 or so ACE members is pocketed with no shame.
But apart from the obvious greed the bonuses represent in this climate of economic uncertainty, Ohio’s universities and colleges, which were spared major cuts in state funding, could be in for a reality check next year.
As the biennium budget debate revealed, the revenue projections may well be overly optimistic. And, if spending cuts have to be made, higher education will take a hit because every other department and agency in state government has already been slashed.
At that point, trustees will regret the unnecessary giveaways to employees and will have to do one of two things: increase revenues through tuition hikes or cut expenses.
Word of advice to the ACE employees: Don’t spend those bonuses just yet.