Perks for university presidents on the rise

December 16, 1990|By Patricia Meisol

A chart in the Sunday editions of The Sun detailing the job benefits of state university presidents omitted the housing allowance for the Frostburg State University president. It is $12,000.

In search of moneyed friends, influence and good will, the presidents of Maryland colleges and universities collectively spent tens of thousands of dollars in state tax dollars and privately raised funds last year.

Sometimes their efforts have paid off grandly, as with remarkable growth in private giving at Salisbury State University and St. Mary's College; sometimes they sour, as at Frostburg State University, whose president resigned amid criticism over how he spent money in an economically depressed region of the state.


The money is but one tool in an array considered necessary for being what the eminent Harvard sociologist David Reisman calls the "living logo" for their campuses. In recent years, state or private money has also been used to pay for presidents' hefty salary increases, houses or housing allowances, cars, maids, travel to foreign countries, and lunch at fancy restaurants.

While presidential perks are not unusual, they are on the rise at public institutions and in Maryland, the result of the need to do more private fund-raising, the changing nature of college campuses, and of competition with private colleges more accustomed to luxury in the pursuit of good students, faculty and donors.

By their own count, the presidents of Maryland's 13 public colleges and universities spent about $438,000 on entertainment, travel and campus events last year. The accounts ranged from $4,625 at Coppin State College to $122,076 at the University of Maryland in College Park and included dinners at the president's house, professional conferences and supplemental salaries to lure star faculty as well as Christmas cards, gifts and flowers.

The money is part of more than $1 million that college and university presidents said they set aside as discretionary funds in their 1990 budgets. The rest is used to pay for every thing from academic equipment and scholarships to airfare for recipients of honorary degrees, faculty travel and receptions, according to information released in response to requests from The Sun.

It comes from a variety of sources. Five campuses -- UMBC, Coppin, Towson and Frostburg state universities and St. Mary's College -- use some tax dollars or student tuition. Eight others depend exclusively on unrestricted private giving or income from vending machines and other auxiliary services.

There are no rules about what is appropriate.

To beautify his campus, the president of Frostburg in recent years commissioned $6,200 in outdoor sculptures, using taxpayers' money. He also spent $1,919 from privately raised funds to curry favor with Maryland politicians, university auditors said last week.

When the president of St. Mary's College gave up his campus house for a faculty club last year, the campus spent $12,000 to refurbish the living and dining rooms of a smaller house rented for him on the St. Mary's River.

In an effort to cut costs, the president of the University of Maryland Baltimore County dispensed with an omelet chef. Now breakfast guests have fruit and muffins.

Today's college president leads a life more akin to that of a politician or an entertainer than a state bureaucrat, University of Maryland Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg said. "They are a lot more like elected representatives," he said.

Once upon a time, he said, universities existed to educate a few male children of well-to-do families. "Now we expect them to educate our work force, to be the engines of our economic development, to redress all of our major societal problems and to provide service to the public whenever and wherever it is desired."

Given what the public asks of presidents and the $1.5 billion enterprise they manage, "they've got to have the leeway to do that," Dr. Langenberg said.

James E. Lyons Sr., president of Bowie State University, says the public misunderstands the role of the president.

"I think people look at salaries, perks, but they don't understand our job is 24-hours-a-day," he said.

"There was a time historically when a university president was a 'Mr. Chips' kind of person who walked around the campus and smiled and waved and you knew all the students and everything was fine," Dr. Lyons said. "Now it's a totally different environment. You have a constituency out there that most people don't have. It is quite an undertaking, and everybody wants a part of you."

In his case, the constituency includes 4,000 students, 300 faculty and staff members, 9,000 alumni, and the public.

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