Editorial: Mixed reception to university-wide pay raise

By Editorial Board

For a couple years now, NIU has been weathering a terrible storm of financial calamity.

First, state support for the university (indeed, for all institutions of higher education) has been eroding, slowly but surely. Couple this with the fact that the state has not been paying its bills on time, and you have a scenario that has kept a good number of administrators up at the night.

So when you do not have state support, you go to your next revenue source: tuition. But tuition is not a cure all; if you raise tuition too much, then you risk the potential of driving students away with high costs.

It is against this backdrop that the NIU Board of Trustees approved a pay raise for all of its employees on Thursday. In an e-mail sent to all NIU employees, NIU President John Peters wrote, “I have been particularly touched by the plight of many university employees who have been forced to pay out of pocket for health care and await reimbursement because medical professionals have grown weary of waiting for the state to meet its health insurance obligations for state employees.”

As a result, all employees making up to $99,999 will earn a 2.5 percent pay raise, while those making $100,000 to $149,000 will get a 2 percent raise. Finally, those making greater than $150,000 will get a 1.75 percent increase.

We do appreciate that, in the midst of dire economic times, the university is thinking of its employees and trying to help them. But unfortunately, the ones on top seem to be getting the most out of this raise.

For example, the average salary of a building services worker for the fiscal year 2010 (2009-2010 school year) is $37,248. They will get a raise of $931.20, based on the university’s numbers. But let’s go up the food chain to the boss of all their bosses, Eddie Williams, executive vice president of finance and facilities and NIU’s chief of operations. At $293,328, he is one of the highest-paid officials here at NIU. Even though he is on the lower end of the pay increase percentage-wise, his high salary ensures that his raise will be big, no matter how the percentage is. His pay increase turns out to be $5,133.24.

This gap is simple math, really, and it’s no one’s fault. This is how things are. It would be nice for the university to not give pay increases to everyone making above $150,000 or $200,000 and then redistribute that money to those at the bottom. But that’s not fair to those at the top, either. Either everyone gets a pay increase, or no one does.

The good part is that the increase was paid for through the various cuts the university has made within the past couple of years. What’s unsettling is how Peters and the board have reserved the right to “revisit the issue” in case of a “catastrophic fiscal failure.” Even though Peters has said this is a remote possibility, the fact that it is even a possibility that was mentioned in the public is, again, unsettling.

If a catastrophic fiscal failure is an option, wouldn’t it have been better to not distribute the money for the pay raise?