It’s odd that this happens so rarely given the financial constraints of academic institutions, but sometimes college administrators really do make big sacrifices for their institutions.

Raymond Burse (below), since June the interim president of Kentucky State University, recently decided to give up part of his own generous salary to ensure that school’s lowest-paid employees can get raises.


According to an article by Lillian Cunningham in the Washington Post:

The 24 school employees making less than $10.25 an hour, who mostly serve as custodial staff, groundskeepers and lower-end clerical workers, will see their pay rise to that new baseline. Some had been making as little as $7.25, the current federal minimum. Burse, who assumed the role of interim president in June, says he asked the school’s chief financial officer how much such an increase would cost. The amount: $90,125.

“I figured it was easier for me to forgo that amount, rather than adding an additional burden on the institution,” Burse says. “I had been thinking about it almost since the day they started talking to me about being interim president.”

While the administrators at public colleges are telling the truth when they point out that they’re under considerable strain from the state to cut costs and keep the institutions going given limited public support, the details of this are usually a little murky.

In 2010, for instance, Rutgers University decided not to give employees scheduled raises since the school was in an “extreme fiscal crisis.”

This was true. It was under considerable financial strain because budget cuts meant the school was getting less money from the state and school wasn’t getting enough out-of-state students coming in to cover the budget Rutgers planned.

But then the next year the school decided to spend $30,000 so that Toni Morrison would speak at commencement. It also decided to pay outgoing president Richard McCormick $335,000 a year, for the rest of his life.

An “extreme fiscal crisis” is a lot harder for some than others.

What Burse seems to realize, however, is that he can suffer a financial constraint a lot easier than many other people who work at his institution. (And he will still take home $259,744 a year, even after the $90,000 cut.)

More institutions should be honest and self-sacrificing like this. These are non-profit institutions, after all, and take advantage of tax breaks under an implied benefit they provide the community and state where they’re located.

A financial crisis means that you’re not taking in as much money as you’d like. But if you can’t pay someone more than minimum wage, or give him the promised salary increases, that’s because you are spending money on something else.

Burse has also agreed to make further cuts to his own salary every time the school hires new minimum-wage employees in order to keep those employees’ actual pay over $10 and hour.

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Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer