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Board of Higher Ed gives tentative nod to president pay raises


Members of North Dakota’s Board of Higher Education are raising questions about new pay standards that would make the university system’s campus presidents eligible for hefty salary increases. One president compared the changes to being generous with a team’s coach while shortchanging its players.

The board, meeting Thursday at Minot State University, voted 7-1 to give its tentative approval to new presidential salary guidelines. The ranges run from $290,000 to $325,000 at North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota, to $130,00 to $160,000 at the system’s two-year schools in Bismarck, Williston, Devils Lake and Wahpeton.

The compensation issue will be revisited during board meetings later this year, said the board’s president, John Q. Paulsen.

“This is a work in progress. It’s very complex. It’s very important. There are a lot of implications,” Paulsen said in an interview. “I don’t think it’s unusual or unreasonable that we’re just kind of edging our way to a decision … We took some good steps (Thursday), but we’ve got more work to do.”

NDSU President Joseph Chapman and UND President Charles Kupchella now get state salaries of $211,686 each, topped up by deferred compensation from the two schools’ respective foundations. Earlier proposals put the minimum state salary at $300,000 for both jobs.

The salary schedule discussed Thursday also makes the remaining eight campus presidents eligible for generous raises. The pay figures were compiled using salary data from comparable universities in other states, and the suggested North Dakota ranges provide at least 89 percent of the average of those outside salaries.

Pat Seaworth, the university system’s attorney, said the proposal allows the pay raises to be spread over three years. Each college president’s pay is typically reviewed once each year.

Ellen Chaffee, president of Valley City State University, said the plan allows college presidents to be paid at least 90 percent of the average salary of comparable institutions, while faculty members languish at just over 50 percent of what their peers in other states receive.

Chaffee said she hoped the board would renew its efforts in the Legislature to get money to move up faculty salary averages.

“It’s like a coach. At some point, when they offer you more money as a coach, you say, I’d rather have it in funding for my team. I need to be able to recruit the team,” Chaffee said. “Because, no matter how much you pay me, I cannot be successful without the team. And the North Dakota university system is at that point.”

Board members on Thursday debated how the changes should affect presidents’ supplemental compensation and whether incumbent presidents who have housing and car allowances should be allowed to keep them for as long as they have their jobs.

The new policy seeks to phase out each president’s annual $11,000 vehicle allowance in favor of paying the same mileage rate that state employees get for business use of their personal vehicles. Housing allowances would be eliminated for the presidents of North Dakota’s two-year colleges at Bismarck, Williston and Lake Region.

Incumbent presidents would be allowed to keep the housing and vehicle perks, the policy says, but they will not be offered to the people who come after them. Board member Duaine Espegard suggested eliminating the benefits when each incumbent president’s contract comes up for renegotiation.

The allowances make less sense, Espegard said, if the Board of Higher Education also raises presidents’ salaries near the levels at comparable schools in other states. He said he was not suggesting that presidents take a pay cut.

Espegard said any privately raised, supplemental compensation paid to university presidents should be capped at the top end of the salary range, in part to prevent school foundations from paying the majority of a president’s salary.

“We take care of it. We take the politics out of it. We take the questions out of it. The foundations would know how far they could go,” Espegard said.

The UND Alumni Association and Foundation is paying Kupchella $50,000 in deferred compensation for this year and last. He will be able to collect the $100,000 in a lump sum next year when he retires.

The NDSU Development Foundation has been paying Chapman deferred compensation for five years, including $150,000 for this year and last. At the end of the current school year, he will have built up $460,000 in deferred compensation.

Board member Richie Smith, of Wahpeton, dissented in the vote on the pay guidelines, saying he first wanted information from each school about its number of employees, its campus student population and how many academic programs each institution offered.

“These salary ranges need to reflect how many kids (the presidents) are taking care of,” Smith said.

The pay guidelines accompany a revamped university system policy on compensation for top executives. Both the salary schedule and the compensation policy could get the board’s final endorsement in the next two months, Paulsen said.

The board’s tentative approval of the salary ranges Thursday was needed because it gives search committees that are recruiting new presidents for UND, Lake Region State College and Dickinson State University an idea of what salary to offer, Paulsen said.

“Those (salary) numbers are considerably different than the numbers that are in place for the three incumbents,” Paulsen said. “I think it was important to give those committees a sense of what our likely direction is going to be.”

-Associated Press

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