University at Buffalo President John B. Simpson has ambitious and laudable plans to elevate his university's standing among public institutions, in part by recruiting top professors. That takes money, something that's always in short supply. Until now.
He has at hand at least $3.1 million to attract some academic superstars. He just has to remove holdovers first.
As News reporter Stephen T. Watson recounted last Sunday, UB has 17 former administrators earning $200,000 a year or more, while basically in retirement, for teaching a few classes or performing other light-lifting duties. This is an affront to students paying ever-rising tuition, lesser-paid professors carrying heavier course and research loads and to taxpayers who, unbeknownst to them, packed these golden parachutes.
The checks go to a former SUNY chancellor; former UB president; former medical, dental, social work, engineering, law and business school deans; a past provost and some assistants. At UB, and in the State University of New York system, it is possible to earn more after you've been retired, fired or transferred.
UB officials don't help their case by avoiding comment and trying to keep such things quiet at a publicly funded university. They surely see how counterproductive and restrictive this practice is. UB history professor Albert L. Michaels put it succinctly: "This inhibits the ability of the university to hire distinguished new faculty."
The University of California system is undergoing similar scrutiny and controversy over high salaries in its system. A bill was introduced in Sacramento last week to give more power to a board overseeing university pay practices. Any takers, Albany? Arguing that "this is how it is done" in public higher education, however, does not minimize the moral outrage felt by the have-nots, who in this case are 100 percent of New Yorkers, minus a handful of lucky insiders.