Linking Fortunes: From Those of the Top to the Bottom

St. Mary’s College of Maryland is considering a radical proposal to link the college president’s salary to the lowest-paid worker.

If approved, the president’s salary could be no more than ten times greater than the lowest-paid employee.

At a time when lower incomes are stagnant and higher incomes quickly growing, a wage-tied system ensures equitability, and guarantees that if those at the top are given raises (or simply wages that are adjusted for inflation), those at the bottom are not ignored as they tend to be today.

Transparently linking the fortunes of those at the top and those at the bottom of an organization prevents structures from becoming less just and promotes solidarity.

It would be an important statement of our values if EMU linked its highest and lowest annualized salaries.

The real impact would likely be small, depending on the ratio. I would optimistically propose something like 8:1, which would cap the highest salary at $120,000 (barring a very expensive increase in EMU’s minimum wage, which is probably not on the table) and would probably nudge many other salaries a little bit down the scale.

The result would be a more authentic, more just, and slightly better endowed school.

This suggestion is no commentary on our administrators at EMU; they strike me as excellent.

With a presidential salary around $170,000 (and then benefits) and a few other administrators who are paid six figure salaries, EMU is already likely close to where St. Mary’s and many cooperatively operated businesses would like to be.

We should do better, though.

Throughout EMU’s faculty and staff, there is a pervasive sense that educators are here to serve, even at meaningful material cost to themselves.

Yes, EMU pays enough that most (though not all) are basically well taken-care of. However, salaries are significantly smaller than at other schools, and workloads are often higher, with less space for research and heavier course loads.

For adjuncts and those who are the primary earners in their families, this difference of a few thousand dollars greatly affects quality of life, opportunities to develop skills, and chances to save for the future.

In the world of administrative salaries, however, those dollars represent status, not human needs.

High salaries are typically used to attract stronger candidates, but EMU does not and should not play the numbers game that most universities play.

It is not a school where all of the students are there because they were unable to get into any place “better,” as most schools are, and the same is true of our faculty and staff.

If we hired a hard-charging, no- nonsense, university-as-business bureaucrat from outside our broad community to be president, it would be awkward, even comical.

Those who administer this institution do their jobs so well in large part because they share and even exemplify the institution’s values, goals, and sense of peoplehood as a community of faith.

But we all betray those values when we compensate some greatly in excess of what they need while others struggle and sacrifice heavily.

If it is indeed the case that we are here in large part to serve, those of us who have been selected to lead should be paid modestly as befits an organization that values (and relies on) solidarity and personal service, and we must nurture leaders in our community who don’t measure themselves by their salaries and don’t demand excess from our school’s limited resources.

In any case, leaders are best equipped to make the financial sacrifices that are implicitly asked of our faculty and adjuncts every year.

Perhaps it is necessary to use salaries that are many times larger than what people need to convince gifted administrators to do their jobs.

Tragically, this is the case in the broader American business community, and we pay a terrible economic and moral price for it all of the time.

If this is the reality, perhaps EMU must work within it.

This does not make it just, however, and this is absolutely a conversation we should be having, even though our culture considers discussion of income taboo.

David Jost,
Masters of Education student

Categories: Opinion

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